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Camping, Caving, and a Scenic Drive at Ozark National Forest

Aug 18, 2007
Ozark National Forest has about 1.2 million acres located in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. A few of many highlights in this National Forest are Mount Magazine Scenic Byway offering beautiful, scenic overlooks of the Arkansas River Valley, Blanchard Springs Caverns, and many campgrounds including Horsehead Lake and Cove Lake campgrounds offering beautiful lake views.

If you like beautiful scenic drives, try the Mt. Magazine Scenic Byway. This Scenic Byway is about 25 miles of highway (mostly Arkansas State Highway 309) in the western/central portion of Arkansas on the south side of the Arkansas River Valley. You have to drive slowly for much of the way, especially through the section that leads to Mt. Magazine. This section of the byway provides spectacular views along a winding mountain road with 'sharp curves and hairpin switchbacks' leading to the flat-topped Magazine mountain. Allow at least one to two hours to drive slowly and stop at scenic overlooks to thoroughly enjoy the beautiful views along the way.

At an elevation of 2,753 feet, Mt. Magazine is the highest point in the state. On the way to and on top of the mountain you'll enjoy gorgeous views of forested mountains, rock bluffs, and beautiful lakes.

From Mt. Magazine, the byway goes down about 2,300 feet to the town of Paris, passing the 160-acre scenic Cove Lake on the way. The byway leads through downtown Paris (population of about 3,300), and goes on to Webb City passing more beautiful natural landscapes on the way including meadows, pastures and prairies.

Blanchard Springs Caverns, a system of "living" caves and caverns, is another highlight of this National Forest. Life Magazine described it as "one of the most extraordinary finds of the century". The name comes from the nearby spring that pours out of the mountainside and into a pond named Mirror Lake. Nearby is a short, scenic walk to the falls where the water exits the caverns.

Special interpretive programs are presented at the Sheltered Cave Amphitheater three times weekly from Memorial Day through Labor Day. These programs are free to Blanchard Springs campers with only a small fee for non-campers.

Blanchard Springs Caverns offers three tours. The Dripstone Trail tour explores the upper level of these caverns; the Discovery Trail tour is longer and more strenuous leading through the middle level; and the Wild Cave Tour offers an introduction to spelunking or caving.

Informative Forest Service interpreters guide these tours. The Dripstone and Discovery tours are limited to around 30 people and the Wild Cave Tour is limited to 12 people. All tours begin at the Visitor Information Center. Beware, these tours can cost up to $75 but are very informative and are an excellent way to enjoy the beautiful and unique features of this living cave system.

Take the scenic drive and go caving during the day and camp at night with beautiful views of either Cove or Horsehead Lakes. There are many places to camp at Ozark National Forest.

One campground that offers views of a lake as well as shade under a mixed forest of hardwoods and evergreens is Horesehead Lake campground. Horeshead Lake is a small fishing lake of about 100 acres with a swim beach. The campground is also small with only 10 RV and tent sites and is situated so that most sites have a good view of the lake. While at the campground, take an easy hike on the three mile Horsehead Lake Trail.

Cove Lake campground is another, slightly larger campground that also has lake views from some of the camp sites. This is a good place to camp if you're traveling along the Mt. Magazine Scenic Byway since it's en route to Mt. Magazine.

Camp at Horsehead Lake or Cove Lake campgrounds with beautiful lake views from your camp site, take a leisurely drive with spectacular views along the Mt. Magazine Scenic Byway, or go underground and experience caving at Blanchard Springs. Ozark National Forest, like all of our National Forests, offers exceptional opportunities to experience the beautiful natural landscapes of our country.
About the Author
Visit Arkansas Campground Reviews for Ozark National Forest for more information on this national forest. Carl Zimmerman is owner and webmaster of Camping With A View, dedicated to finding campgrounds with beautiful views.
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