ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: Roughing it in a camper cabin

Posted: September 25, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

At Lake Ouachita State Park, outdoor amenities of camper cabins include a screened porch with furniture, two grills and a picnic table.

LAKE OUACHITA STATE PARK -- If you have a tent or an RV, the least expensive way to spend a night or longer in one of Arkansas' scenic state parks is to book a campsite.

If you'd like to splurge a bit, the most comfortable way to bed down at some state parks is to rent a cabin or a lodge room.

Thirty-two of the 52 parks are set up for camping. Twelve have fully equipped cabins, while five offer lodges. Many of the options, designed for families, sleep at least two adults and two children.

But if you're looking for something less rustic than a campsite (as little as $12 or $13 per night for a bare-bones setup) and less pricey than a cabin or lodge (which start at around $100 a night*), Lake Ouachita and Devil's Den parks offer a hybrid. It's called a "camper cabin."

The Schnedlers, long past our camping prime but keeping frugality in mind, decided to spend a night earlier this month for our first time in a camper cabin. Marcia and I paid $65 plus tax to sleep and relax in one of these units at Lake Ouachita State Park, about 70 miles west of downtown Little Rock.

What we got for that midrange sum earned two thumbs-up, more so from me than from Marcia -- with a cautionary note or two.

Bear in mind that we have rarely camped since 1972. Way back then, we roamed Europe for eight months in a Volkswagen camping van (including five ultra-adventuresome weeks motoring through the Evil Empire of the old Soviet Union). With the passing years, we have grown ever more fond of creature comforts, especially at night.

The main comfort absent from our Lake Ouachita camper cabin was indoor running water -- no toilet, no shower, no sink. Marcia said she had a dream that featured her own bathroom. She noted that lack of private facilities is more daunting for a woman than for a man.

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Camper cabins at Lake Ouachita State Park are equipped with a queensize bed and bunks, but visitors need to take their own bed linens.

Also absent was linen -- no sheets, no pillows, no covers for the queen-size bed (or the bunk bed for the children we never had). We toted the needed bedding from our Little Rock apartment.

The cabin, handsomely done inside with pine paneling, did have air conditioning (as well as heating for winter stays). And there was a ceiling fan.

The room contained a table with benches on both sides, along with a dresser. There was electricity and ample lighting to read in bed, although no television or Internet connection (which could be seen as a blessed respite from the 21st century). Everything was spic and span.

Likewise tidy were the communal toilets and showers, a couple of minutes on foot from our cabin -- not an ideal arrangement for two old-timers, but tolerable. The shower water was refreshingly warm.

Qualifying as a bonus on a 75-degree evening was a screened porch with table, two chairs and another ceiling fan. We could have cooked dinner outdoors in the wooded setting at one of two charcoal grills, then eaten al fresco at the picnic table, with a water spigot nearby.

Instead we drove the 25 minutes or so into downtown Hot Springs for a hearty meal of schnitzels and German white wine at the subterranean Steinhaus Keller on Central Avenue. In the morning, we motored back to town for breakfast at a longtime favorite, Colonial Pancake & Waffle House.

We are unlikely to become late-in-life converts to regular overnight camping of any kind. But the Lake Ouachita experience was pleasant enough that we may sometime try a camper cabin at Devil's Den.

Under what the Arkansas State Parks website calls "one-of-a-kind experiences," we could also slumber at five parks in a yurt. Those are Americanized versions of the circular, high-walled tents native to Mongolia.

For an upscale night in a recreational vehicle, we could rent a fully equipped RV at three parks. That would provide the joy of a private toilet and shower, as well as the mixed blessing of a TV set.

And should we ever join the horsey set, two parks (Mount Magazine and Village Creek) maintain horse camps for riders and their mounts. Being urban greenhorns, we'd likely say "neigh" to that notion.

For information on overnight stays at Arkansas state parks, visit arkansasstateparks.com/accommodations. For specific information on Lake Ouachita State Park, call (501) 767-9366.

Style on 09/25/2018

*CORRECTION: For the most part, prices at Arkansas State Parks cabins and lodges start around $100 per night and go upwards from there. The price range was incorrect in a previous version of this story.