Outdoor Activity Idea: Host Your Own Family Fishing Tournament

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission waived all fishing license and trout permit requirements for residents and nonresidents Saturday, March 21 through Sunday, March 29, 2020. (read more about this announcement)

free fishing week

That means it is free to fish this week. Fishing is probably one of the easiest activities to do from a safe social distance. I know I want to stand several feet away from my kids when they practice their casting! I think it would be fun to host a family fishing tournament this weekend.

Here’s how we will organize our family’s fishing tournament:

  1. Grab a pole and some bait – our girls use Disney themed fishing poles like this one. We add a bobber and clip down the barbs on their hooks. We typically use kernels of corn as bait, which works pretty well for perch and bluegill.
  2. Divide into teams; our 3-year-old will need a little extra help, so we will split our family of four into two teams.
  3. Find a fishing spot, keeping in mind that parks probably won’t have restroom facilities open.
  4. Take a picture of any fish we catch. Try to hold them up to a measuring stick to see how big the fish is.
  5. Create fun prizes for biggest fish, most fish caught, and best attitude.
If you catch your first fish, you can print an official AGFC certificate here.

My plan is to pack snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, and some folding camping chairs. I’ll also probably grab a backup activity like these butterfly nets.

I hope I see (from a safe social distance) other people taking advantage of the free fishing week and spring sunshine. If you live in Northwest Arkansas, please share your favorite fishing spots!

The Keyhole – One Slow Step at a Time

9,500 people per year climb to Longs Peak. I am not one of them.

At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Years ago (7 to be exact), my husband and I took a trip out to Colorado with some of our best friends. We went on several amazing hikes during our vacation. The grand finale was our hike to the Keyhole. I wanted to see what the guys had been bragging about when they talked at length about their epic adventure up Longs Peak.

I started out in a cranky mood. I don’t like waking up early.

There are several routes of varying difficulties that lead to Longs Peak. The Keyhole is the most popular. The National Park Service recommends to start before 3 am in the morning. You will see a lot of head lamps heading up the mountain when you start that early. The average time to complete the summit and return trip is 10-15 hours. You have to start early so that you miss afternoon thunderstorms. (Longs Peak via keyhole route)

It’s only an adventure if you travel through a Goblin Forest… that’s what I always say.
My life-long adventure buddy

Since we weren’t going to the summit, we had a little more flexibility with our start time, but we still had to start early because we would be above tree-line and more vulnerable to lightening for a large portion of our hiking day. The hike to the Keyhole is approximately 12 miles round trip. (add 1.5 miles/way to Longs Peak)

Boulder field

Once you arrive at the Boulder Field, the Keyhole is in sight. At this elevation, each step was slow. It took a lot of energy to keep moving and we had to be careful to choose our steps wisely to avoid turning an ankle.

Stepping over rocks soon turned into more of a scramble up them.

Scramble to Keyhole

Finally, I climbed up the Keyhole and looked out over the vast views on the other side. It was beautiful! I could see the trail continuing on my left side. There were large bullet marks painted on rocks to help people stay on the trail. If you are politely wondering why I didn’t just go the extra 1.5 miles to the summit, the answer is I’m scared of the exposure. I have a lot of respect for everyone who ventures on after seeing the drop off. I was ready to turn back.

I’m writing about this hike 7 years later because I woke up this morning facing another day of being stuck at home because of the coronavirus. Living through this fear and uncertainty is something I never imagined. I started thinking of the tough things I’ve done in my life:

-The first few weeks of track practice in high school

-Running a half marathon

-Biking 150 miles for the MS 150

-Child birth

-Climbing to the Keyhole

I may be smiling, but this picture captured my relief from getting down from the Keyhole.

My list isn’t all that impressive or unique, but it helps me remember that I can do this. I can reflect back on when I purposely pushed myself to do more than I thought was possible. I think the ‘Keyhole lesson’ for me is trying to take one moment at a time, using the legitimate fear I’m feeling to take appropriate caution, relying on family and friends for pep talks (the people who still love me when I get cranky), and remembering to appreciate the beautiful moments too.

*I found information about the Keyhole route on the National Park Service’s website.

Hiking Arkansas: Lake Fort Smith State Park

Our family recently took a day-trip down to Lake Fort Smith, which is a 40 minute drive from our hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. We enjoyed the scenic route down Highway 49 through the Boston Mountains. The drive lulled our youngest into a nap.

Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center

When we arrived at Lake Fort Smith State Park, my husband offered to sit with her for a few extra minutes while I took my 5-year-old into the Visitor Center. She loved the educational exhibits about American pioneers.

Covered wagon exhibit at Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center
Covered wagon exhibit at the Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center
Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center
Bird watching at the Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center

From the back of the Visitor Center you can see Lake Fort Smith and the day-use areas that include a nice playground, several picnic pavilions, and the marina where you can rent canoes and fishing boats.

Day use amenities at Lake Fort Smith State Park in Arkansas

ozark highlands trail

Next to the Visitor Center there is an entrance onto the Ozark Highlands Trail. The entire trail is 253 miles long!

Ozark Highlands Trail

As we hiked along the trail, we could see several of the campgrounds that are available within the park. We were impressed by how many people were camping early in the season. Cabins and group lodging options are also available.

Family friendly hiking trail at Lake Fort Smith

This section of the trail was easy enough for our 3 and 5-year-olds to hike mostly on their own.

Hiking trail at Lake Fort Smith State Park

We enjoyed the tall pine trees and views of the lake.

Hiking in Northwest Arkansas

The girls found a couple of boulders along the trail that made great spots for snack breaks.

Hiking Arkansas

The trail crossed over several streams that fed into the lake.

waterfall lake fort smith state park

We hiked to a small waterfall which was about 1 mile from our starting point. We turned around after viewing the falls and returned on the same path.

waterfall along Ozark Highlands Trail in Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas
Waterfall on Ozark Highlands Trail
Lake Fort Smith State Park - Arkansas
Lake Fort Smith in Arkansas

I’m glad we got the opportunity to go to Lake Fort Smith for the first time. We were impressed with the Visitor Center, Ozark Highland Trail, and the camping amenities. We look forward to returning when the weather is warmer, so we can rent a canoe and have a picnic by the lake.

Great american cleanup

If you are looking for a fun way to support the state parks, Saturday, March 21, 2020 volunteers can meet at Lake Fort Smith Visitor Center from 9am – 12pm to help clean up litter. Free t-shirts and hot dogs will be given out (while supplies last) plus a door prize will be given out. Click here to learn more about how to participate.

Camper Flippin Momma – An Interview with Karla Bradley

Camping is such a fun thing to do as a family. The kids look forward to the next camping trip right after we get home from the last one!

Karla Bradley
Gypsy Rambler camper

Kelly: Karla, I met you through sorority life back in college, but since then a lot has changed in both our lives. I know through social media updates that you are a mom of 8 kids, you and your husband are building your dream farmhouse in Arkansas, you flip campers, and now you are writing about all your big adventures on a new blog, www.thebradleybunch.blog . What can readers expect?

Karla: Yes, just a little has changed since our years in Alpha Delta Pi! Haha! I did just start a blog and am tying it in to an Instagram page where followers can come along on our daily adventures, because with 8 kiddos there is never a boring moment! 

I have been told for years that I need to write a book or have a show or a YouTube channel and this just fell into place and we are having a lot of fun with it. The blog will have posts about large family logistics, tips and tricks I have learned over the years that may help other mommas, home decor posts once our new house is built, some camper flipping, and any other random topic I fee like writing about! I want the blog to be a place where moms can go for encouragement and other people can go for lighthearted entertainment and not a place where there is negativity.

Karla uses camper flipping as a fun, creative outlet
One of the nine campers she has restored in the past 5 years.

Kelly: I’m very intrigued by camper flipping. The pictures you’ve posted of the vintage campers that you restored are adorable! How did you get started?

Karla: Thank you! Camper flipping is such a fun hobby. I got started about 5 years ago when we decided to take our family camping and I liked the idea of ‘glamping’ a little more than tent camping. We found a camper that was solid, but ugly and I went to work to make it more aesthetically pleasing before our first camping trip! I had so much fun working on that one that I wanted to try working on an Airstream. Then we moved to northern Arkansas and I became a stay at home mom and decided to pick up camper flipping again as my creative outlet. I have remodeled nine campers- some old and some new, some large and some small. Each one unique, but all have been so much fun to bring back to ‘life’ again. 

Before and after picture of ‘Sweet Caroline’ camper

Kelly: How would someone buy one from you? Do you work with future owners on design/how do you get design inspiration?

When I get done with a camper I sell them on camping groups on facebook and right now my last one that I will be working on before I focus all my time on the new house is pending pickup for this weekend. I have been asked by buyers if they could reserve a camper and have input into the remodel or if I would work on their existing camper to remodel it with them, but I would not have free reign of the creative part of decorating and that is the most fun for me. I complete the design scheme and then I sell the camper. It is so fun to think of the design and how it will all come together. It is a happy place for me to just sit and think about. 

‘Lily’ camper

I get design inspiration just from seeing the camper and then picturing so many ideas in my head! I have looked at Pinterest and Instagram for a few ideas and YouTube has been great to teach me how to do electrical work and various other things. I usually start with one design element- like a fabric that I love or a picture that I want to hang and then I develop the rest of the design around that. 

Playroom airstream
Kids and puppies!

Kelly: Does your family take them camping? If so, where are some of your favorite places to camp?

Karla: We don’t take the vintage campers camping just because we would not be able to fit 10 people in them! I have let a few friends use the campers when I get done working on them to test them out and let me know anything that I could make better before I sell it. 

My family goes camping in a new Grand Design Transcend 29TBS camper that sleeps 10. We usually go camping at Norfork or Bull Shoals which are both about 40 minutes away. Camping is such a fun thing to do as a family. The kids look forward to the next camping trip right after we get home from the last one! I also remodeled the new camper that we use, because even though it was new it was still boring. It is now more cozy and we love camping in it!

Kelly: What other outdoor activities does your family enjoy? Since you live on (160!?) acres, do you still find the need to explore other nature areas when you travel, or are you planning different types of vacation destinations? 

Karla: My husband is a tournament fisherman and will fish any chance he can when he is not seeing patients at the hospital. We enjoy anything outdoors. The kids love when we travel anywhere where there is sand and water. Since we do have a large property with a pond we don’t feel like leaving on a vacation that often. The kids spend almost all the daytime outside when it is nice only to come in to sleep and go back outside the next day! Right now the boys are building a teepee in the woods- there are endless things for them to do. This year we plan on making a vacation out of my husband’s fishing tournament schedule, so we will be in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas a few times. When we are on vacation we usually stay in a VRBO house rather than take the camper mainly because my husband will tow the boat and I will have our big van with the kids and to add a 34′ camper to that is a bit tricky!

Kelly: When I travel with my two kids, I feel like I’m packing up half my house with toys, clothes, etc. Do you have any expert packing tips for families who love to travel? 

Karla: I do! I have a blog post on that. I pack one suitcase for my husband and I and then another one for all the kids. Depending on where we are going I sometimes use big storage containers instead of suitcases because they are easier to take along and store. I roll outfits and set the rolled up clothes in the bin for each child for how many days we will be gone (plus a few extra outfits). The kids don’t bring any toys because the camper has dedicated camper toys in it. We bring a few scooters and bikes for the campground and I bring a stroller. We usually get a Walmart grocery pickup the same day we leave to go camping and just keep the camper stocked with plates and silverware and water. If we forget something we just improvise and figure it out because that is what camping is all about!