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March 13, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As the waves crash into the boat, it’s easy to become distracted by the green Eden along the shore and miss the looming rock that threatens to capsize the raft during a white-water trip.
But Arkansas offers more than just class V rapids. For those interested in floating on the lazy river, pack the canoe and tent, and head to the Strawberry River in Powhatan, Ark.
Nearby Lake Charles State Park has 60 campsites within walking distance from a launch ramp on the river. Choose between a site surrounded by the woods or a water view for only $17 a night. Don’t worry, there is no need for roughing it — each site includes fresh water, electrical hook-ups and warm showers. The park, located in the only county in Arkansas with five rivers, also offers breathtaking views of butterfly-filled wildflowers. Rolling hills combined with stunning vistas offer respite from urban sprawl.
High waters from the spring rain bring low gradients and little white water, which make it the best time to visit. Remember to use a canoe or kayak as unexpected turns are easier to maneuver in the small boats. For those not ready to jump in headfirst, the park offers kayaking lessons to teach the basics. The warm days can be deceiving; Ozark nights can drop as low as 43 degrees through spring. Dress warm and bring waterproof gear to combat the icy whitecaps.
Powhatan has a population of a mere 50 people and no restaurants, but a short 15-minute drive southwest to Walnut Ridge offers different menu options if campfire cooking is too adventurous. However, the nearest alternative to camping, such as the Days Inn, is 25 minutes south in Pocahontas, Ark.
Just an hour and a half past Powhatan, the Mulberry River boasts a much more challenging river rafting experience. Calmer expanses are available for the less vigorous vacationers, but white-water opportunities are sure to capture adrenaline junkies. Pushy, strong currents keep rafters on their toes — or knees rather — while bobbing and weaving the oncoming obstacles. If tossed overboard, more than strong swimming skills will be necessary to escape the hard-hitting, rapidly approaching waves.
If a soft bed is more of a concern than the authentic camping experience, two cabins are available to rent at Turner Bend, 15 miles north of Ozark, Ark.
If a hard day’s work calls for some relaxation, slow down in Altus, Ark., at one of the area’s wineries just 20 miles southwest from Turner Bend. Tours of the Mount Bethel Winery, which has been open since the 1880s, include tastings of traditional wines as well as specialty wines made from locally grown fruits such as blueberries, strawberries and elderberries.
The rushing rivers, rolling mountains and stunning vistas of Arkansas provide a thrill for adventure-seeking, tent-toting vacationers. It only takes driving a few hours south and campsite reservations to strike inspiration this spring, so get out and test the waters.