As I lounged in the hot tub on the back patio of the cabin at Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa on Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Arkansas, the soothing sounds of the lake drifted through the night air. Below the deck, I could hear the dainty steps of deer rustling about, and out on the lake, the splashing of fish punctuated the steady lapping of the waves.
Earlier that day, I had walked the dirt paths of Lake Ouachita State Park along the 40,000-acre lake and taken in a stunning, fiery sunset at a lookout point on the resort grounds surrounded by the scenic Ouachita National Forest.
I was hosted for a night at the Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa, one of several luxury lake resorts in the state.
In my opinion, Arkansas is one of the most underrated states in the country. The Natural State is an outdoor delight, with rolling green mountains, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, natural hot springs, diamond fields, and lakes and rivers, including the Buffalo River, America’s first national river.
The state is home to more than 2,400 named lakes and reservoirs. Each has its own unique personality and offerings, and the best way to enjoy them is at a lake resort.
From luxury cabins to all-inclusive resorts, Arkansas offers a great range of lake properties to accommodate any group. Here are just five of the beautiful lakeside resorts in Arkansas worth considering.
1. Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa, Mount Ida
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa has been owned and operated by the Barnes family since 1955, and that family feel permeates the entire 900 acres of the resort. Hal Barnes developed the land and resort along the shores of Lake Ouachita, and today, the resort is owned and managed by Bill Barnes and his daughter Stephanie Barnes Beerman.
Located 30 miles west of Hot Springs, this resort has a wide selection of luxury cabins and lodgings, a restaurant, a fleet of boats to rent at the Mountain Harbor Marina, houseboat rentals, and lakeside conference and wedding venues.
“Our lodging has actually grown because we now not only have our lodging units that you can rent, but we also have a condominium project,” said Barnes Beerman, the director of marketing and communications. “My dad started that in 1982, and the condos are all individually owned units that we can manage and rent out. We also have private homes that are rented out.”
Besides the miles of outdoor wonder and the boating and fishing on one of the cleanest lakes in America, Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa offers Arkansas’s only lakeside spa experience. The Turtle Cove Spa offers treatments ranging from massages to facials, and it has been rated the number-one spa in Arkansas by Spas of America and Spafinder.
While dining in at the Lodge Restaurant isn’t currently possible due to COVID-19, the restaurant does offer breakfast and dinner for pick-up or delivery straight to your cabin -- plus a wildly popular Thanksgiving buffet that sells out every year.
“Christmas is a big time of year at Mountain Harbor,” said Barnes Beerman. “We have 2.4 million Christmas lights all over the property, and on the day after Thanksgiving, Santa comes and flips the switch to turn on all the lights on the property. We are like the traditional summer lake resort. Families and whole generations come back here year after year.”
Pro Tip: The Lodge Restaurant closes after Thanksgiving for the winter, but the cabins all have full kitchens. Do your grocery shopping ahead of time, and if you want wine, you’ll have to get your liquor and libations ahead of time, too. The Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa is located in a dry county, but it’s only about a 10-minute drive from the nearby wet county.
2. Sugar Ridge Resort, Eureka Springs
Located just outside of historic and charming Eureka Springs in northern Arkansas, Sugar Ridge Resort is nestled along Beaver Lake in the Arkansas Ozarks. Famous for its views and sunset spots, this resort offers cabins and suites for couples as well as two-family cabins. The six cabins for two make romantic getaways easy with their vaulted ceilings, 16-jet spa tubs, picture windows, and rustic decor.
The four Lake View Suites for two have their own private entrances and balconies or patios with expansive views over Beaver Lake and the 75 acres surrounding the lodge. Book one of the in-room massages for a truly relaxing experience.
What makes Sugar Ridge so popular is its proximity to downtown Eureka Springs and its Victorian culture, shopping, dining, and entertainment. It’s also minutes away from the newest lake of Arkansas’s White River, the 1,700-acre Dam Site Lake.
3. The Lodge At Mount Magazine, Paris
At 2,753 feet, Mount Magazine is Arkansas’s highest point, and Mount Magazine State Park is a popular spot for hiking, water fun, nature study, and outdoor sports.
The Lodge at Mount Magazine lets visitors take in all the wonders of the state park while enjoying a touch of luxury as well. With 60 guest rooms, the lodge also boasts an indoor heated swimming pool and stunning views of the Blue Mountain Lake and Petit Jean River Valley. The rooms all feature fireplaces, microwaves, and balconies that overlook the natural landscape. Additional perks include a full fitness room, a gift shop, and a business center.
There are also 13 one-, two-, and three-bedroom cabins for a more romantic, intimate getaway, and each comes with a cozy fireplace and outdoor hot tub.
The Skycrest Restaurant is famous for its Southern comfort fare and for its soaring picture windows that boast of some of the best views of the park. Be aware that the restaurant is currently open with limited capacity and hours, and guests must wear a face covering until served. The lodge is close to local dining as well, including The Grapevine.
Mount Magazine State Park is a natural playground that’s popular with rock climbers, hikers, and even hang gliders, who soar with the birds over the vast Arkansas River Valley. Mount Magazine is Arkansas's only state park where visitors can go hang gliding, rock climbing, and rappelling in the same place, but even if you aren’t up for such extreme activities, you can still have fun watching.
Pro Tip: Check out the three nearby Mount Magazine wineries -- Post Winery, Mount Bethel Winery, and Chateau aux Arc -- in nearby Altus. Additional wineries within an hour’s drive include the Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Vineyards and Neumeier Winery. The Cowie Wine Cellars in Paris is also home to the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum, filled with winemaking artifacts.
4. The White River Inn, Cotter
Fishing doesn’t get any better -- or any fancier -- than at The White River Inn, an all-inclusive luxury fishing lodge in Cotter. This 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom lodge is truly an unforgettable getaway, and the back deck is the best spot to take in the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The deck is also a bird-watcher's paradise, with bald eagles and hawks soaring by and hummingbirds and songbirds gathering at the feeders daily.
Owned by Moose and Tina Watson, the lodge specializes in “giving guests an experience they will never forget.”
Beverages and home-cooked meals are included, and the site, located on a secluded 31 acres, is known for its world-class fly-fishing on Arkansas’s famous White River. The White River is a year-round fishery with four species of trout. It’s a great river for beginner and expert fishermen alike, and the gigantic brown trout attracts many visitors to the White. Fly-fishing just doesn't get any better, and the guides at The White River Inn can help even the unluckiest fisherman catch their personal best.
Pro Tip: If you are coming to fish, don’t worry about bringing your own gear. The guides at The White River Inn will provide you with Orvis fly rods and reels and all the flies, lines, and leaders you’ll need.
5. Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, Hot Springs
Back in Hot Springs, take in the simple elegance of Lookout Point Lakeside Inn on the shores of Lake Hamilton. Built in 2003, the property includes custom-designed gardens, streams, and waterfalls, plus a patio down by the lake. The rooms all feature whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, and private terraces or decks, and they’re decorated with lots of Southern charm. If you want to bring your furry friend with you, the inn also has four dog-friendly rooms to choose from.
From April through October, Lookout Point Lakeside Inn offers boat cruises, including a pre-dinner cruise on the lake and a private morning cruise that comes with a bottle of French sparkling wine, orange juice, and fresh-baked muffins. The private afternoon cruise also comes with a bottle of French sparkling wine -- plus a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries!
Pro Tip: Don’t miss out on the two-course foodie-focused breakfast made fresh from ingredients grown on-site.