Northern Arkansas definitely ranks among my favorite places to be in the entire state. The waters of Bull Shoals Lake cascade into the curves of the White River, which snakes its way across Arkansas down a seemingly endless path — from Lakeview to Newport, and everything in between. To soak up some of the final rays of summertime sunshine, I took a trip up to this neck of the woods last month. There is many a place to choose for room and board along the river, but my travels took me to Cranor’s White River Lodge in Cotter, and it’s definitely among the best places I’ve ever stayed in Arkansas.
It might surprise you to read this, but I’m actually very comfortable in nature. I know, I know. The dolled-up and dressed-to-the-nines frequenter of galas and fancy dinners having a “wild” side is hard to believe. But, I’ve always thought that my best quality is that I’m comfortable with a curtsy or a crankbait. As luck would have it, Cranor’s is the perfect place for such a gal; it’s off the beaten path but is rife with luxury.
I was introduced to this special spot by my good friend (and Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner), Anne Marie Doramus. One of her fellow commissioners, Rob Finley, owns and operates the lodge with Don Cranor, one of his old high school friends. The Cranor’s crew rolled out the red carpet for me and my guests — as they do for all their patrons — and delivered a stay and fishing experience unlike any other.
My guests and I holed up in the main lodge for the weekend, which was unbelievable. It was the perfect blend of rustic and elegant. On the way in and while doing some exploring throughout my stay, I was equally as impressed with the other rooming options available at Cranor’s — and there are plenty of which to choose. There are three hotel rooms, half a dozen cabins, lodge suites, and then, of course, the Greatroom — my oasis for a few days.
My posse and I soaked up all of the 1,200 square feet the abode offers and were exceptionally pleased with the modern amenities, as well as the eccentric decor — like the taxidermied bear sitting front and center of the living area. There was also a fly fishing station, equipped with all the tools you’d ever need to prep for a day on the water, as well as fishing ornaments that really add to the connecting essence of the whole property. The owners describe the Greatroom and the main lodge as having “all the comforts of home,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Right off the back of the lodge is a beautiful covered area with rock and wood fireplaces, Green Egg grills and outdoor furniture, all topped off by a breathtaking view of the river. I couldn’t help but think this would be a great place to host a wedding, reunion, or just a few leisurely types like us.
After we arrived, Finley took us on a boat ride down to the dam and the tailwaters, where Bull Shoals pours into the White River. We were met with a really neat phenomenon. It was a typical August day in Arkansas of sweltering heat, but because the water at the dam is so cold, it drops the temperature of the air. It’s basically like outdoor air conditioning and almost as good a way to beat the heat as a cool cocktail. (Almost.) The scenery was fantastic on this little river rendezvous — we even saw an eagle’s nest.
By then, it was time for dinner, which was whipped up by our own personal chef for the evening, Shane. (Again, an amenity you and yours can book on your trip, as well.) The meal consisted of shrimp cocktails, dumplings and side salads for appetizers; fresh sea bass with asparagus and rice for the entree; and for dessert, strawberry shortcake that had been prepared on the grill for the “Christmas on the Outside” experience. It was all so amazing. Even sweeter: Many of the Cranor’s staff and family members sat down to eat with us. They truly made us feel like we were a part of the family — and we always will, thanks to their kindness and gracious hospitality. Good food. Good people. Good fellowship. There’s not much more you can ask for.
The next morning, it was finally time for the main event: fishing. Lou Treat was my fishing guide; Jerry Killebrew took the guide reins for friends of mine who had joined me on this trip. A few running gags surround the two guides — fish tales, if you will. Treat, they say, is like the Bono of angling. (I’m also told that he’s featured on a number of different fishing TV shows, including with Bill Dance.) Killebrew, just as skilled in his own right, is the Johnny Appleseed — not for the fruit, but because he famously doesn’t wear shoes. Both men are equally capable and renowned for their talents. In fact, Cranor and Finley pride themselves on having what they say are the best fishing guides around.
For my money, they earned their stripes. Not only did we catch our limit (and then some) of trout in what I felt like was record time, Treat also left me with plenty of priceless fishing tips to take with me.
After a few hours of fishing, we returned to the shoreline where the staff prepared our keepers for a fresh (like, as fresh as you can get) lunch. Our rainbow trout were filleted, battered and deep-fried mere moments after we’d caught them, and plated with some fries and hush puppies.
Don’t just take my word for it: venerable columnist Mike Masterson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called it “a new favorite” of his in an article he wrote after his visit last year. It’s the real deal.
On my way out of Cotter and back to the real world, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I’d somehow been changed by the experience. That may sound cliche or hyperbolic to say, but I mean it. The experience was incredible, and the people I met even more so. Southern Hospitality is a thing, and I think the folks at Cranor’s White River Lodge could probably write the book on it. My time with them may have been brief, but I genuinely feel like my family grew larger after my stay. I’d have to imagine they feel like that after every guest that comes their way.
And I will be back.