Meg McKinney Simle

Explore crystal clear bays and hidden coves during a houseboating weekend on Lake Ouachita.

Whew! August can be miserably hot. So wipe the summer sweat off your face with a weekend frolic on the lake. Here, waves roll right up to your front door--the door of your houseboat, that is. You get the best of both worlds in these vessels: at-home ambience and an inviting, water-drenched destination.

Near Hot Springs, Arkansas, Lake Ouachita (WASH-it-tah) encompasses 1,000 miles of shoreline and stretches more than 40 acres. It's safe to say that this is a lake of oceanic proportions. Dive in.

Friday--Choose Your Ship
Hill's Lake Escape at Brady Mountain Resort helps visitors do just that. The company provides a fleet of 20 houseboats for you to choose from. The largest is the six-bedroom 83-footer. This mammoth ship comes equipped with a satellite dish, full kitchen, water slide, wet bar, hot tub on the top deck, queen beds, and showers. Well worth the expense, it's like having your own personal cruise ship minus the room service and lido deck. The value season at Hill's, August 18 through September 28, allows guests to rent a weekend houseboat for less than the normal cost (rates go down from $3,299 to $2,799). The 83-footer sleeps a total of 14. Six couples can rent it economically.

Less expensive houseboats include the two-bedroom 45-footer, which offers one queen bed, one queen sleeper sofa, one full bed, and one bath for $699 for the weekend. The six-bedroom 66-footer also sleeps 14 people. It has a hot tub, slide, fly bridge, 20-foot canopy, six beds, and two baths for $1,599.The staff at Hill's Lake Escape gives renters a quick course in motoring their weekend water home. After a few basic details and a 45-minute informational video, you're ready for the ride.

 

Because the rental company doesn't provide bedding (except for two pillows and a comforter per bed) or groceries, make a stop at the local discount store to fill your needs.

Or let someone else do the shopping. For a minimum $100 order, Don's Country Butcher will deliver (groceries only) to your chartered boat. A $25 service fee is added to the total. Don's carries an assortment of meats, including bacon-wrapped filet mignon and spareribs. Fax in your order two days prior to arrival at (501) 767-3549, or call (501) 767-5801.

Dotted with small islands, Lake Ouachita offers everything from scuba diving (where you can see remnants of a sunken city called Buckville) to fishing. Two basic dive shops can supply your needs: Lake Ouachita Dive Center at Brady Mountain Resort ([501] 760-1500) and Scuba & Archery Center ([501] 623-7062).

Christen your first evening on the lake by slicing into a grilled steak. Then it's time to settle in. Bedtime beckons sweetly on a houseboat. You'll feel like a baby in a big cradle as rippling waters nudge against the boat. It's a great way to drift off.

Saturday--Day of Discovery
Wake up to breakfast on the deck. The early-morning light creeping across the lake is phenomenal. Then suit up for some swimming. Because the boat comes with a slide, you and the kids will have a slippery good time.

Lots of inlets and hidden bays lurk on Lake Ouachita. Discovering them makes for a day of fun. Try Hotel Island with its coves and beaches. It's not hard to find seclusion in these parts.

For lunch, go to Brady Mountain Resort Restaurant, where they serve a crispy catfish platter ($9.95). There's even a wishing well in the middle of the restaurant where the kids can toss in a penny or two.

Afterward, venture into Hot Springs. The Villa on Central Avenue inspires self-indulgence. Each of its four stores appeals to the shopper with discriminating tastes. The Villa Ladies Fine Apparel, The Villa Gift and Jewelry, The Villa Bed and Bath, and The Villa Outlet across the street can keep you occupied all day.

You'll be more than satisfied with dinner arrangements at Exchange. Bid bye-bye to the burgers and sandwiches and welcome this elegant dining experience. A delicious fusion of Japanese and French cuisine, this hip restaurant serves the best sushi around.

Sunday--Resting on the Water
Revel in your last full day on the lake with a guided fishing expedition. Guides pick you up at your houseboat and take you to the best spots to score striped bass. Call Wayne Crumpton at (501) 767-3422 or John T. Hall at (501) 767-1468. You must have a fishing license, which is available through the state; call 1-800-364-4263.

Afterward, when the sun sets a bit, climb into the hot tub on deck for some rest and relaxation. There's nothing like viewing the stars from your own watery oasis.

Monday--Last Excursion
After checkout at 9 a.m., savor your lake life over biscuits and gravy ($1.39) at Granny's Kitchen in Hot Springs. Then enjoy a final water rendezvous at one of the many hot and cold springs downtown. Refreshing and pure, these fountains bubble up enough good stuff for visitors to bottle and take home.

This article is from the August 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.

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