Ex­plore Hot Springs

Dis­cover the best spots for zi­plin­ing, kayak­ing and moun­tain bik­ing right in your back­yard.

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Beth Bright

H ot Springs and sur­round­ing ar­eas are an ideal back­drop for sum­mer ex­plo­ration and ad­ven­ture. From the wa­ters of area lakes to soar­ing through tree­tops, there are so many dif­fer­ent ways to see this city.

“Hot Springs is such a beau­ti­ful place to get out and do things; even just strolling down­town can be an ad­ven­ture,” said Steve Ar­ri­son, CEO of Visit Hot Springs. “With the sur­round­ing lakes and all the great hik­ing around here, we’ve re­ally got a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing, and it changes ev­ery time you’re here.”

Ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor of vis­i­tor ser­vices, Jimmy Sam­ple, in re­cent years there has been an in­crease in in­ter­est in ad­ven­ture tourism.

“We get calls ev­ery day about white wa­ter kayak­ing and zi­plin­ing, and moun­tain bik­ing which is re­ally pop­u­lar,” he said. “Hot Springs is so unique in that you’re no more than 25 or 30 min­utes away from these places for a quick day trip dur­ing your va­ca­tion to Hot Springs.

“People don’t re­al­ize the cal­iber of state parks we have sur­round­ing Hot Springs and things you can get out and see here.”

For the thrill seek­ers look­ing for a quick get­away to see Hot Springs from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, The Zi­plines and Oua­chita Bend of­fers seven plat­form to ground “zips” just off High­way 171.

“Our zips aver­age about 1,000 feet in length, with the high­est one at 120 feet above the ground, so you’re above the tree­line in a few places,” said Cindy Smith, owner and op­er­a­tor along with her hus­band and son. “The long­est one is 1,300 feet, which is about a quar­ter mile.”

The Smiths’ mid­dle son, Tony, who used the property pri­mar­ily to hunt, came up with the idea af­ter his in-laws rode a zi­pline on va­ca­tion.

“His story is he dreamt it when he fell asleep in the deer stand,” Cindy said. “He’d never hunted on that south­east cor­ner be­fore, but we started re­search­ing it.”

The ter­rain of the south­east cor­ner of the property made it dif­fi­cult for hunt­ing, but per­fect for this at­trac­tion, which has brought in vis­i­tors from all over the world.

“It’s been fun and in­ter­est­ing to see who all has found us,” she said. “We’ve had people from North­ern Ire­land, the Phillip­ines and Korea, every­where. And it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to see why they’re here and the friend­ships they make with other ‘zip­pers.’”

Ev­ery­thing from hon­ey­moons to an­niver­saries and cel­e­bra­tions of life have been booked with Oua­chita Bend, con­nect­ing the em­ploy­ees and vis­i­tors with new friends ev­ery trip.

“We had two women once, one who had sur­vived breast cancer and the other with stage four colon cancer, who were on a cel­e­bra­tion of life tour,” Smith said. “The woman with colon cancer said she didn’t want to die on the couch and was

“We’ve had people from North­ern Ire­land, the Phillip­ines and Korea, every­where. And it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to see why they’re here and the friend­ships they make with other ‘zip­pers.’”

do­ing ev­ery­thing she could as kind of a bucket list. What’s so neat about it is my son, Tony, is a sur­vivor and he was their guide. We make those kinds of con­nec­tions all the time.”

Get­ting people out­doors for a fun and safe ad­ven­ture is what Oua­chita Bend is all about.

Sim­i­larly, the rangers at area state parks who pro­vide guided kayak tours want vis­i­tors of Hot Springs to love the wa­ters here as much as the lo­cals do.

“For some­one look­ing to get into kayak­ing, tak­ing our classes or go­ing on a guided tour with us is a great way to do it,” said Keith Bell, chief park in­ter­preter for Lake Cather­ine State Park. “We mostly get folks from out of town who just want to give it a try, and no ex­pe­ri­ence is needed to join one of our kayak­ing tours.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bell, while kayak­ing is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, the tours are noth­ing new to state parks.

“With the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of wa­ter sports, it’s re­ally a good idea to take our classes to learn wa­ter safety,” he said. “We use the sit on top kayaks which are com­pletely bouyant and easy to han­dle. It’s rare to flip them over, but if you do they’re easy to get back on.”

See­ing the lake from a kayak is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, he said.

“It re­ally frees you up to see things you wouldn’t see in a boat cruis­ing around the lake,” he said. “We take in­di­vid­u­als in the cove, and some­times to the main wa­ters if it’s calm enough.

“And our moon­light cove tours when there’s a full moon are a com­pletely dif­fer- ent ex­pe­ri­ence that people re­ally seem to like. There are a lot of beau­ti­ful things to see in Hot Springs.”

For cy­cling en­thu­si­asts look­ing to see a dif­fer­ent side of the city, Hot Springs boasts many trails for ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers. And Park­side Cy­cle of­fers rentals of moun­tain and road bikes per­fect for a day out­doors.

“In the past few years, Hot Springs has started to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of bi­cy­cle-friend­li­ness, but there’s still plenty of work to be done,” said Jan Hub­bard, of Park­side. “Gen­er­ally our rentals are for people who are hav­ing their bikes re­paired with us, but we do get a lot of people in­ter­ested in rid­ing the trails around here.”

“Most of our cy­clists ride for fit­ness as op­posed to sight­see­ing, but we do like to rec­c­om­mend trails within a two-hour ra­dius like the Womble Trail or Cedar Glades for them to try out,” Hub­bard said. “As long as you know what you’re in for it is a great way to get out and see Hot Springs in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Beth Bright, Mara Kuhn and Richard Ras­mussen

A cy­clist treks through a trail at Cedar Glades Park; Holly Boles and Bran­don Barnes take a ride in their kayaks on Lake Cather­ine; and a group “zips” through the course at The Zi­plines and Oua­chita Bend in Hot Springs.

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