Hiking Arkansas: Elise Falls in the Smith Creek Nature Preserve

Smith Creek Nature Preserve
Signage at trail head

I’m writing this post on an afternoon ‘break’ from my little ones. They are happily playing in their playroom with each other.

How many weeks have we been practicing social-distancing now? I’m starting to lose track. We barely leave our house these days (I’m sure you can relate). When we do, we try to find quiet areas in nature to explore. It’s restorative.

Today, I’m happy to share a recent hike we enjoyed near the Buffalo National River.

smith creek nature preserve

Smith Creek is a tributary of the Buffalo National River. This land is protected by the Nature Conservancy. There are several destinations to explore in the preserve which is located near Boxley, Arkansas. We decided to hike from the main gate to Elise Falls which is .75 miles each way.

The trail begins going downhill. Keep in mind that you have to go back up this hill on the way back, which is a lot harder.

We enjoyed spotting a variety of colorful wildflowers.

Signage points towards Elise Falls. Head left at the junction.

Sections of the trail are narrow and fairly steep, but it was well maintained and easy enough for our preschoolers to hike (mostly) on their own.

Our girls found a nice boulder to rest on to enjoy a snack and water break.

Soon we crossed down into the creek bed. It’s easy to lose the trail at this point. We spotted a waterfall spilling into the pool on our left and headed towards it by crossing over the creek.

Your feet may get wet at this point. Once across the creek, we hiked uphill following the cascades.

This section of the trail looked to be more challenging for our little ones, so my husband went ahead to scope it out.

He arrived at Elise Falls and took a few pictures before heading back.

Elise Falls
Elise Falls

We decided that he would stay back with our youngest who is 3-years-old while I took our 5-year-old up to see the waterfall.

We held hands and took careful steps over mossy rocks and tree roots. The waterfall wasn’t far. This felt like an adventure for our daughter. She loved it!

We headed back along the same trail towards our car. We passed (from a safe social distance) a few other people and pups along the trail, but it wasn’t very busy.

If you are looking for a family-family adventure this spring. We think Elise Falls is a great waterfall hike.

We made it!

Additional resources

I was first intrigued by this hike from a report I read from arkohiker.org. I also found a recent post on lostintheozarks.com and we read some reviews on AllTrails.com. I appreciate the hiking community here in Arkansas. It’s nice to know what we are getting ourselves into when hiking with kids.

more hikes in buffalo national river area

Twin Falls

Lost Valley

What is your favorite spring hike in Northwest Arkansas?

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!

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!