By Marla Cantrell | Photos provided by resorts
Trees that have lost their leaves look like pieces of sculpture against breathtakingly blue skies. In the woods, nature lovers walk past waterfalls frozen in place. Squirrels scamper from tree limb to tree limb in forests where the loudest sounds are birdcalls and your own footsteps.
One of the best ways to enjoy this season is to stay in a cabin away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can build a fire in the fireplace, play card and board games, lounge in a hot tub, reconnect with those you love, or start new traditions with friends and family. Another perk is that rates are typically lower in winter.
Here are seven resorts for you to consider from across the region. While some are more remote than others, all should be easily accessible under normal weather conditions. The attribute that ties them together is that guests return year after year. It seems visitors can’t duplicate the experience these cabins give them anywhere else in the world.
Azalea Falls Lodge, Kingston
Azalea Falls Lodge sits on 136 pristine acres and has garnered the interest of those who are looking for a little unexpected grandeur in the woods. The lodges and cabins are decorated with original artwork, most of which is by local artists. Antiques, plush beds and bedding, and all the modern conveniences of home round out the appeal. There are decks and patios at every property, and star gazing is a popular nighttime activity.
While couples come here for alone time, there is plenty of room for families, groups, and for those holding reunions or weddings. (Hiking clubs love the proximity of many trails.)
Azalea Falls Cabin is a chalet-styled retreat with three cozy bedrooms, two-and-half baths (one with a whirlpool tub), kitchen, and a wood-burning stone fireplace. The cabin overlooks the hollow and is just steps from a one-mile hiking loop.
There are also two lodges: Beauty Lodge is constructed of logs and can serve as a four-bedroom bed and breakfast, or rented in its entirety. Azalea Falls Lodge is made of rock, glass, and redwood that is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and has a view of the 85-foot waterfall.
The staff keeps a trove of trail guides and offers a wealth of knowledge about outdoor activities in the area.
Owner Kathy Trimble says one of the nicest compliments she and her husband have received was from a Texas couple who visited the year Azalea Falls opened in 1993, and have come back at least once a year since because they love this spot in the woods.
on the UPPER BUFFALO
One of the biggest perks of living in Arkansas is bragging rights to the Buffalo National River, a waterway that draws a million visitors a year. In warmer weather, crowds arrive to float the world-famous river, hike some of the most popular trails in the country, zip line across treetops, and ride horses.
Lucky for you, the crowds lessen in the winter months, making the Buffalo River area the perfect getaway. Make sure you spend some time watching the bald eagles that winter on the upper Buffalo. See the elk herd that’s often active in the Boxley Valley or the pastureland along Highway 43 this time of year.
Buffalo Outdoor Center Cabins and Lodge, Ponca
The Buffalo Outdoor Center (BOC) Cabins and Lodge has a reputation for going the extra mile to help guests plan their river and trail adventures. They’re also known for their cabins that offer expansive views of the wilderness, and creature comforts such as luxury bed and bath linens. BOC has recently been designated by the Arkansas Dark Sky Association as Arkansas’ first and only dark sky resort, meaning you’ll have a brilliant view of the moon and stars.
All 21 cabins have fireplaces. Couples arrive looking for romantic stays, while families show up looking to make memories that last a lifetime. For large groups, RiverWind is the best choice, sleeping as many as 36 guests, with amenities such as an outdoor hot tub deck and campfire pavilion.
Cabin X is the most popular cabin, due in large part to its view of the Buffalo River country. You can see 30 miles across the upper wilderness from this spot.
Rhonda Mills, with BOC, said winter is exceptionally beautiful because the weather conditions often cause a dense shroud of mist to hover above the river valley floor. This view can be enjoyed from many of the cabin’s front porches and hot tub decks.
Wonder just how popular these cabins are? President Clinton has stayed here, along with a host of other dignitaries.
Treehouse Cottages, Eureka Springs
Feel as carefree as a kid again at the Treehouse Cottages in Eureka Springs. These seven cabins are the creation of owners Terry and Patsy Miller. Terry built the treehouses, and Patsy, a potter, made most of the dishes the guests use.
The cabins, standing 26 feet above the ground, offer everything from wood-burning fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, spa tubs for two, hot tubs on the decks, kitchenettes with custom cabinets, luxury linens, antiques, Tiffany chandeliers and deck-side electric grills. Even the wood floors are heated.
When guests arrive, Patsy will have a gift basket ready with homemade pumpkin bread, soda and juice. After that, cozy up by the fire, enjoy the movie library, or one of the board games. Birdwatch through the privacy of tinted windows, including the ones near the spa tub.
Visit downtown Eureka Springs, where many of the restaurants and shops remain open throughout the winter. If you want a night on the town, the Bentonville/Rogers area is just an hour away, with tons of restaurants, nightlife, and entertainment options.
Patsy says they’ve received many great compliments from visitors. One of the best was from a couple whose marriage had been hanging in the balance. The pair decided to make one last attempt and booked a stay at Treehouse Cottages where they fell in love all over again.
on the WATERFRONT
Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, Mount Ida
The Barnes family has owned and operated Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa since 1955. The property on Lake Ouachita offers luxury cabins, lake-view guest rooms and houseboats. Families gather for reunions, weddings are held here, and groups arrive to relax, and fish, of course.
There are 24 cabins to choose from, all less than a 30-minute drive from Hot Springs. The cabins are equipped with native stone fireplaces, decks with hot tubs, and furnished with an eclectic mix of antiques, local art and luxury pillow-top bedding.
Catered food is available, and the Lodge Restaurant will open for business on weekends in February. It will open full-time in March.
For the pampering you deserve, check out Turtle Cove Spa (named the number one spa in Arkansas by Spa Finder, and ask for the Ouachita Hot Stone Massage. Visit the stable and take a 45-minute horse ride along the trails, or book a carriage ride. Hike and bike along the nearby Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. Reserve a private fishing guide at the marina, or rent a party barge, ski boat, or fishing boat.
Pati Brown, who manages Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, says the comment they most often hear is that guests return for the warm, personal service.
Lindsey’s Resort on the Little Red River, Heber Springs
Lindsey’s Resort on the Little Red River has been operating for more than 50 years and offers fishing guides, 24 cedar log cabins as well as several other motel-style rooms, the Pot O’ Gold Restaurant, a conference center, vacation homes and a campground.
Lindsey White, who serves as general manager, is especially proud of the recently upgraded cabins, which were built by his grandfather who founded the resort, along with family members, and friends, most with timber from the property.
Each cabin has a kitchenette, and many have fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. There are cabins to accommodate singles, couples, or even larger families or groups.
While it is possible to enjoy Lindsey’s without a fishing rod, the resort is known for its premier trout fishing on the Little Red River, where trout were introduced in 1966, three years after Greers Ferry Lake was completed. The river is flanked by wooded hillsides alive with deer, raccoons, eagles and songbirds. Ducks and otters can be seen on waterways.
White says fishing is especially good in winter. You can reserve a fishing guide (fees are discounted in winter) for the expert assistance that will guarantee you get to concentrate on the joy of fishing.
When you’re not on the water, sit by the fireplace in your cabin, or bundle up on the porch to watch the mallard ducks meander by and the trout jump in the water.
too good TO MISS
Silver Dollar City Campground, Cabins & RVs, Branson
If you’re looking for cabin accommodations closer to the big attractions, check out Silver Dollar City’s Wilderness Log Cabins just outside the Branson city limits. Families will love the rustic look of these cabins with weathered exteriors that make them seem as if they’ve been around for at least a century. Not to worry, though. All are heated and cooled, with gas grills, bathrooms with showers, cable TV, small refrigerators, a microwave, and of course, rocking chairs for enjoying the front porch. Some cabins have kitchenettes, and you can even reserve a cabin with a fireplace.
The property also has campsites, an RV park, and trailer rentals, making this an excellent option for friends and extended families who want to gather at the same property while staying in different accommodations. There’s a pool for use during warmer weather, a general store, a game room, and even a shuttle to Silver Dollar City.
Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, Missouri
Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri, is just minutes from the entertainment mecca of Branson. This 800-acre property in the Ozark Mountains harkens back to a simpler time when folks flocked to Adirondack-style resorts.
Today, the property, with a variety of accommodations from lodges to cottages to cabins, sets the standard for what a world-class resort should be, all while remaining unpretentious.
There are 82 cabins in varying sizes, each nestled among the trees, with a wood-burning fireplace, and decorated with rustic charm, and all are within view of Table Rock Lake.
In January, outdoor ice-skating is open. Visit the indoor heated pools and hot tubs. Take advantage of the 5K track that begins at the fitness center. Play a round of miniature golf or shuffleboard. Spend some time fishing. Plan a trip to the gift shop that offers everything from snacks to home décor.
Looking for a little “me time?” Book a massage at Cedar Creek Spa with its grotto pool, ice room, saunas, steam rooms and calming pool.
Dining choices abound. A few are the recently renovated Truman Café and Custard for breakfast, lunch or snacks. The Buzzard Bar offers everything from burgers to prime rib and has its own singing cowboy.
Just a few minutes away is Big Cedar’s Top of the Rock, with a world-class golf course, a museum, a cave tour, as well as several more dining options, from the Osage Restaurant with its upscale regional cuisine to Arnie’s Barn, which serves Mexican food. Don’t miss the End of the Trail All-American Wine Cellar.
It is possible to spend your entire trip at the Big Cedar Properties, doing as much or as little as you like. What makes this resort top-notch is their attention to detail. The grounds are perfectly manicured, and the staff is exceptionally attentive and friendly.