Around this time last year we made a road trip to Northern Arkansas to experience the Ozark Mountains for the first time. According to Wikipedia, the Ozark Highlands span nearly 47,000 square miles and is the most extensive mountainous regions between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. Located in Central and Southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas, Eastern Oklahoma, and a small corner of Southeastern Kansas, our destination was the small community of Horseshoe Bend in the heart of the Salem Plateau.
Crown Lake, Horseshoe Bend, Missouri
We rented a two bedroom family condominium at Crown Point Resort and enjoyed expansive views of Crown Lake, the largest of three lakes in Horseshoe Bend. For a small free, we purchased a recreational pass that allowed us access to the resort’s indoor pool and equipment rental, including canoes and kayaks. The lake was cold, but not frozen, so we donned coats and life jackets and enjoyed our first ever open water adventure in the month of December.
Grand Gulf State Park, Thayer, Missouri
The Ozarks are a recreational paradise for people to love the outdoors. We took advantage of the region’s temperate winter weather and drove to Grand Gulf State Park located just across the Missouri border near the town of Thayer (about a one hour drive from Horseshoe Bend). Earning the nickname the “Little Grand Canyon,” the park features a grand gulf that stretches along a 130-foot deep mile long ravine. We enjoyed views of the ravine from the main parking lot (as you can imagine, the terrain would be even more spectacular with seasonal foliage).
We walked along a short network of trails and climbed down to the base of the canyon and the kids loved exploring the remains of a collapsed cave system. If you have toddlers, keep a close eye on their whereabouts near the edge of the ravine walls. We enjoyed the natural bridge, a geological formation spanning 250 feet and a 75-foot high opening.
Mammoth Spring State Park, Mammoth Spring, Arkansas
If you visit Grand Gulf State Park, you might as well stop at Mammoth Spring State Park in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas (you’ll pass through Mammoth Spring on your way to/from Horseshoe Bend if you take County Road 9). Forming a scenic 10-acre lake, Mammoth Spring is Arkansas’s largest spring and the second largest spring in the Ozark Mountains. A National Natural Landmark, the spring flows nine million gallons of water hourly. The lake flows over a scenic dam (you can walk across the bridge in the photo below) and forms Spring River, a popular Ozark trout and float stream.
Also located at Mammoth Springs State Park is a 1886 Frisco Depot museum and caboose (if the museum is closed you can still explore the caboose); the Arkansas Welcome Center with gift shop and clean restrooms; and a picnic area and a network of trails, ball fields, and playground equipment our kids absolutely loved. We even found a sign instructing us to keep an eye out for the Ozark Hellbender, a two-foot long near endangered species of salamander that lives in the streams and rivers of Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri. Look! We found one!
All in all, we had a lovely stay in Horseshoe Bend and the surrounding region. The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s no shortage of ways to get out and explore the natural splendor of the Ozark Mountains.
If you liked this story, check out our adventure at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City. It’s our favorite state capital in the US: https://www.roadtripsforfamilies.com/2015/01/touring-the-missouri-state-capitol-building/