The kids were clamoring on top of each other, pushing and squirming to sit near the jets in the hot tub on the back porch of our private lake cabin at Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa in Mount Ida, Ark. “We’re not coming out!” they challenged, although I was pretty sure the ice cream we’d put in the gourmet kitchen’s (full size) refrigerator might be a game-changer.
Earlier in the day, all of us — Mom, daughters, even the dog — had taken a long hike on the steps-from-our-front-door Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT). As hiking and biking routes go, it was Epic. And I mean that literally. The International Mountain Bicycling Association has named LOViT to its list of must-try Epic rides. The same goes for nearby Womble Trail and Ouachita National Recreation Trail. That’s a rarity anywhere in the U.S.
Back at the resort we toured the marina and checked out its rental boats (paddle and power), fishing guide services and dive center. Yes, dive center. Lake Ouachita, on which Mountain Harbor lies, boasts water clear enough for scuba and is one of the few bodies of water in the Midwest where spear fishing is allowed, from June 15 to March 15.
Over a steak dinner at the resort’s lodge restaurant, we learned that in addition to the popular watersports and hiking and biking activities, Mountain Harbor offers horseback riding, a swimming pool, crystal digging and diamond hunting, tennis, volleyball, half-court basketball and horseshoes. An 18-hole golf course is an hour away. And, in this isolated backcountry setting, the stargazing is spectacular.
If you’re planning next year’s vacation and looking for a destination near to home that offers a healthy blend of adventure and relaxation, you’d be hard pressed to find a place better suited than Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa — or one of the nine other lodgings profiled below.
Big Cedar Lodge
Spread across hundreds of acres just south of Branson on the shores of Table Rock Lake, the luxury wilderness resort encompasses several properties focused on the outdoors. Big Cedar is a collection of lodges, cottages and cabins with four restaurants, a spa and salon, five swimming pools and access to land and water activities including hiking and boating. Nearby Top of the Rock has a world-class golf course and the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park offers 10,000 acres for walking or biking, tram tours, trout fishing and horseback riding. All three are owned by Bass Pro Shops. bigcedar.com
Chestnut Mountain Resort
During the summer you can take a scenic boat ride down the Mississippi River, soar above the same on a tandem zipline or race down 2,050 feet of twisting track on an alpine sled. In the winter the slopes are open for all levels of skiers and snowboarders — 19 runs, from novice to black diamond, with a vertical drop of more than 475 feet. The Farside terrain park contains upwards of 25 rails and an array of features. The resort has 100 rooms, on-site dining, an indoor pool, sauna and whirlpool, all just steps from the Village Ski Center. chestnutmtn.com
Huzzah Valley Resort
Whether your group numbers three or 30, this rural retreat and outfitter makes a great “base camp” for a backwoods getaway with family and friends. Accommodations include everything from cozy cabins and A-frames to entire houses with full amenities, or campgrounds and RV sites. The resort’s specialty is hosting safe, fun, quality float trips on the Huzzah, Courtois and Meramec rivers, in canoes, rafts, kayaks or tubes. Other attractions within a short drive include Meramec State Park, Onondaga Cave and picturesque Dillard Mill along Huzzah Creek. huzzahvalley.com
It’s known mainly as a resort community, but this beautiful property of 7,500 forested acres and 100 pristine lakes also offers vacation rentals. Since big motors aren’t permitted on the water here, you can be sure your swimming spot will be safe, your canoeing will be serene and the fish will always bite (well, most of the time). Take a horseback ride or hayride, or hike any of the seven nature trails on your own two feet. A new clubhouse and recreation complex features a spacious pool with lazy river, children’s wilderness playground, on-site dining and outdoor amphitheater. innsbrook-resort.com
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa
Mount Ida, Arkansas
It’s been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, and I can tell you from personal experience that this resort is “home away from home” hospitable. In addition to the features and amenities mentioned above, the Turtle Cove Spa here offers massages, facials, body treatments, holistic therapies and yoga. Stay in a lake-view cabin, condominium or guest room at the lodge. Or, live like a yachtsman and rent one of the resort’s premium houseboats with fully equipped galley, multiple staterooms, sunroof and water slide. mountainharborresort.com
Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort
New for 2017 is the Floating Treetops Aerial Park, a ropes course for all skill levels that has challenging midair obstacles as well as zip lines. It adds to the resort’s portfolio of floating the Meramec, Huzzah or Courtois; hiking and biking on the Ozark Trail; swimming; fishing; volleyball; horseshoes; arrowhead hunting and bald eagle watching. Select from six types of lodging, from motel-style rooms to chalets to camping, for up to 20 people. A unique program from the professional instructors offers snorkeling, canoeing skills, river dynamics and ecological education in nearby creeks, caves, springs and fens. ozarkoutdoors.net
Shell Knob, Missouri
Nestled in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest, Stonewater Cove is an all-inclusive wilderness resort with nearly 500 acres along the shores of Table Rock Lake. Go boating, ATV riding, zip lining, swimming, canoeing, fishing or hiking all day. Or, just relax by the pool, get a treatment at the Treehouse Spa, or enjoy a casual game of mini-golf or bocce ball. End the night with s’mores around the bonfire. Guests get daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as evening hors d’oeuvres and non-alcoholic beverages. Accommodations include luxury rooms, as well as suites with separate bedrooms and living quarters. stonewatercove.com
Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins
For an unforgettable “Swiss Family Robinson” experience, two treehouses in the Shawnee National Forest let you sit outside and watch birds fly at eye level around the canopy. The White Oak Treehouse is built in a 200-year-old white oak tree, while the Maple Oak Treehouse rests over a small creek between a red maple and white oak. The accommodations include multi-level decks, real beds, bathrooms with showers and toilets, kitchenettes with appliances and even heat/air conditioning. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, Timber Ridge also offers antique (but modern) log cabins, as well as whole houses for larger parties. timberridgeoutpost.com
It your idea of perfection is fly fishing all day in some of Missouri’s finest waters and then spending the evening in secluded luxury, this is the place. Westover Farms meanders across almost 600 acres, with spring-fed streams and guided fly fishing lessons, a five-stand shooting range, and miles of hiking and biking trails winding through the rolling hills. Stay at the rustic-yet-refined inn, or choose a hand-hewn farmhouse or century-old stone cabin for more privacy. Westover is a Missouri State Certified Disease-Free Hatchery and practices catch and release other than in certain areas of Dry Creek. westoverfarms.com
Wilderness Lodge Resort
Wilderness Lodge Resort has 26 cabins, cottages and suites on 1,000 acres of property along the Black River. The ambiance is upscale “summer camp,” with areas for frisbee golf, picnicking, lawn games and mini-golf — plus an outdoor pool and hot tub, library and rec room. Breakfast and dinner are included, served in the historic lodge and dining hall, with wine and spirits available in the family lounge. Activities include float trips on the Black River, hiking on the resort grounds or day trips to nearby Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Elephant Rocks or Taum Sauk Mountain state parks. wildernesslodgeresortltd.com
Wildwood Springs Lodge
Historic and elegant are two words you’ll hear a lot around this bucolic estate in Steelville. The lodge was built in the early 1920s and maintains a sophisticated air. Freshly prepared meals are served in the polished dining room, and concerts from acts like Jim Messina and Steve Earle are held in the grand lobby with full-service bar and old stone fireplace. The Floating Package here includes two nights of lodging, two breakfasts, a sack lunch and two dinners (Wildwood itself doesn’t provide the float trip but can recommend an outfitter). On Saturday nights, treat yourself to complimentary s’mores around the campfire. wildwoodspringslodge.com