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.