By JOE MOSBY
SPECIAL TO THE LOG CABIN
For Arkansas recreation, the last century closed out on a high and hopeful note. A state park at the top of Mount Magazine was approved in 1999.
A decade has passed, and the lofty expectations for Mount Magazine State Park have been more than met. It’s now a showplace, and the crown jewel is the lodge, just four years old and already established as a destination.
As with many parks, diversity is a strong suit at Mount Magazine. The young, the elderly, the adventurous and the sedate find activities they can enjoy, tell others about and return for another visit.
One example is at the lodge, which also takes in 13 modern, well furnished and comfortable cabins. In the middle of the cabins is the designated hang gliding launch site. Cabin users can sit and watch daring men and women soar off a bluff with the use of light fabric and metal rigs, kites for practical purpose. It’s a long ways down, and hang gliders know that favorable winds are usually on hand. Hang gliders and rock climbers are required to register at the park office before doing their things.
Trails abound at and near the top of Arkansas’ highest point.
If you are a first-timer, a trails brochure available at the park visitor center and at the lodge provides a menu of eight trails to choose from. Ratings of difficulty go from easy to moderately strenuous. All touch on some historical aspect of this storied mountain.
Will Apple’s Road Trial, 1.6 miles long, is called easy. It is part of the old route used to haul produce of mountaintop farms to the valley below. Signal Hill Trail takes you to the absolute highest point in Arkansas, 2,753 feet above sea level, and there is a stone map of the state to view at the summit. It is 1.4 miles and rated moderate. Bear Hollow Trail is 2.8 miles, moderate, and passes waterfalls and some virgin hardwood forest.
Other trails are Benefield, Cove Lake, Greenfield, Mossback Ridge and North Rim.
The old Cameron Bluff campground from U.S. Forest Service days has been rebuilt into a facility up to Arkansas State Parks standards. Electrical hookups, showers and restrooms are on hand. This is on the north side of the mountain, and signs tell you, “This is bear country. Store all food in vehicles.”
The south side is the site of the lodge, and “spectacular” is not at all out of place in describing it. The site is the same as the old lodge, a smaller, more modest facility that was destroyed by fire in 1971.
Sixty rooms, all with views, are at the lodge. Most rooms have balconies to catch breezes and to enhance the experience and vistas. Elevators help in getting around the three-story lodge.
Skycrest Restaurant in the lodge provides food measuring up to the setting. After some bumpiness when the lodge opened, the restaurant has steadied in its quality and in its service. A recent visitor on a holiday arrived near the end of the noon hour and had a three-minute wait for a table.
Restaurant hosts and servers suggest the buffet, which is a fairly extensive one and popular with guests. Persons with other leanings can order from a varied menu. The restaurant is not inexpensive, but the prices are in line with cloth napkins and what you might expect at a special place like Mount Magazine.
The lodge rooms and cabins also are not inexpensive, but again this is not a chrome-and-plastic chain motel near a freeway.
The park visitor center is another strong point, nearly as much as the lodge. Exhibits can change a visitor’s time from a quick five minutes to an hour or more in the center.
Mount Magazine is remote in that Paris 16 miles to the north on Arkansas Highway 309 and Havana 10 miles to the south on that same Highway 309 are the closest towns. The highway is a pleasant two-lane drive, vast improvement over the old gravel road that wasn’t replaced until the 1970s.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.