You may remember last year we survived the road trip with the entire family to Branson. We had a great time and loved how beautiful the Ozarks are so we wanted to come back for another trip to enjoy more of t he mountains. Garen would’ve loved to just stay in a tent on a state park but I loved the idea of a nice, comfortable resort for vacation. Staying at the Wilderness Club at Big Cedar Lodge, where there are plenty of outdoor activities and the comfort of a nice resort, was perfect for us.
Saturday, Day 1:
8:00 AM: Left Arlington. We elected to go the slightly longer but prettier route through Little Rock.
Noonish: Stopped at Lake Catherine State Park. 1200 Catherine Park Road, Hot Springs, AR 71913. It was off the beaten path and took us about 20 minutes to get there from I-30. It was worth it for the kids to get out and get a taste of the outdoors. We enjoyed a picnic lunch and skipping rocks.
4:45ish: Arrived at Big Cedar Lodge. Went to Big Cedar Lodge instead of Wilderness Club at Big Cedar Lodge so be sure to know which you’re going to. But if you don’t, everyone is very friendly to help you out. We checked in and immediately the kids saw the lazy river and indoor heated pool with a little slide. They were sold. We quickly got unpacked and checked out the activities available.
7:00ish: Caught the shuttle to Fun Mountain since it was lightning and the pools were shut on and off throughout the afternoon. We ate dinner at Uncle Bucks and enjoyed activities. We bought two of the two hour unlimited passes that came with $20 of game credits too, which cost us $60 each. Activities included laser tag, an interactive climbing wall, Spin Zone (spinning bumper cars), and Flip Zone (upside down spinning bumper cars). They’ve also got an AWESOME set of slides that are completely free and built for adults to go down as well.
Sunday, Day 2:
Slept in and enjoyed light breakfast and coffee on the balcony
10:00 We took the kids fishing, which was one of the free kids’ activities at the resort. They gave us poles and worms and we had an hour to catch as many fish in the fishing pond as we could. We didn’t catch anything but we had a great time.
11:00: Drove to Top of Rock. We took the shuttle to the Top of Rock and ate brunch at Osage Restaurant. If you can plan this trip on a Sunday, DO IT. Their brunch buffet is absolutely fantastic, complete with mimosas! We also enjoyed the beautiful views and exploring everything. I would love to play golf there someday.
12:30ish: Rode the shuttle back down and boarded our 4-seater golf cart to do our Top of the Rock Lost Canyon Cave and Natue Trail™. We really enjoyed this experience. Garen and I enjoy hiking but Anna is still a little young to do too long of a hike so the golf cart was perfect. It’s got some great photo opportunities too. More details on all Top of the Rock activities coming soon.
5:30ish: Took the shuttle down to Bent Hook Marina and went for a paddle boat ride on Table Rock Lake. Paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes are free if you’re staying on the resort. They also have life jackets available at no cost. More about this to come in my post about Big Cedar Lodge. It was beautiful out on the lake and the kids had a good time, even if they did argue about who was going to steer. We were the only people out there so the water was very peaceful.
6:30ish: After we finished our paddle boat excursion, we headed over to enjoy the lazy river, rock slide, hot tub, and indoor pool.
Monday, Day 3:
Slept in again.
9:30ish: Drove out to Billy Gail’s for breakfast. We did this last time and this is a must if you like big pancakes. Our wait was only about 20 minutes- even getting there that late. Don’t forget cash like we did since they don’t take cards. Thankfully there’s an ATM down the road and they were super nice about it.
11:00: Drove to Table Rock State Park and Dewey Short Visitor Center. The visitor center is beautiful and has a great people working there to tell you about the damn and guide you to the activities you want to do. The Table Rock Lakeshore Trail is a paved trail we knew would work best for us with the Will biking and Anna in the trailer. We wanted to make sure it was open since they’d experienced some recent flooding. The lake was still up but it was open except for the last 1/4 mile probably. We stopped a few times on the ride, once even letting the kids soak their feet for a bit. It was the perfect distance for us to enjoy the ride with the kids.
2:00ish: Swam in the Falls pool by our lodge (there are a lot of options for pools). It’s beautiful but the two levels do complicate things if you’re trying to keep a close eye on kids swimming.
6:45ish: After dinner we quickly walked down to watch the fountains at Branson Landing that was scheduled for 7:00. They were down for maintenance so that was unfortunate. We walked on down to Bass Pro Shops and got a few souvenirs. As a side note, this is probably one of the smaller stores so it doesn’t have the full collection. We also stopped for ice cream at Marble Slab creamery, which is always a treat. The kids also really enjoyed taking a photo with the giant ape on the way in and out.
Breakfast was a little earlier this morning.
8:45: Went to the preview for the Bluegreen Vacations timeshares, which is how we ended up staying there. This lasted longer than expected but the kids were entertained at the kids club. More on that experience on another post.
12:30ish: We ate lunch at Devil’s Pool and it was great. Garen swears they had the best tator tots he’s ever had. We enjoyed our balcony table overlooking the fishing hole and the Devil’s Hole pool. If you visit here be sure to check out Devil’s Hole (waterfall) and the beautiful bridge.
1:30ish: We went to play putt putt, which was included in our resort stay. Garen beat us all but Anna and I were gracious losers…and Will is getting better about that. It’s a really fun little 9-hole course.
2:00ish: Checking out the store at the resort was a must. They had great stuff that was priced pretty similar to what you’ll find at Bass Pro Shops but maybe fancier. They had gorgeous jewelry that was reasonably priced. We even found the perfect souvenir for Will- a pocket knife with his name on it.
3:30ish: After changing into our swimsuits, we headed to the lazy river and pool with the slide since it was a nice, warm day.
5:00ish: We headed back to the rooms to get ready and called for a last minute reservation for 7:30 at the Osage restaurant because we wanted to have dinner at the Top of the Rock to be there for the sunset celebration.
6:30ish: Checked out the End of the Trail All-American Wine Bar. It is really a neat place that looks like a dungeon kind of. There’s a great wine selection (as if I have any idea of what’s really good or not) and plenty of whiskey and cigar options if that’s your thing. You can walk out the door to see this beautiful view while enjoying your drinks. Garen got some pretty great shots, as you can see.
7:15ish: We called an audible after realizing we could enjoy dinner on the patio bar rather than in the Osage restaurant. It was open seating and there were plenty of tables open for even larger parties. I’m sure it’s more crowded on the weekends though. You have the option to order from the bar or Osage restaurant menu (or a combination, which is what we did). The service is outstanding.
9:45: We retuned to Fun Mountain for one more round of game playing. They closed at 10:00. Yes, we are suckers. Twenty dollars of games in 15 minutes. The conditions were that any tickets they win they had to give to another kid. This allowed us to not have to go through the lengthy process of choosing cheap toys that get lost and/or broken within a few days.
Wednesday, Day 5:
Garen got up and went out in a canoe to get some early morning shots while I enjoyed my last quiet morning cup of coffee on the balcony before the kids woke up.
9:00ish: We got showered and packed up.
10:00: Checked out and drove home.
In case you wondered, the good photos are courtesy of Garen. The others are taken by yours truly. Check out a few more of the great photos Garen got on our trip. As I said earlier in the post, there will probably be more detailed posts to come.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a nice place to go on a family friendly vacation from DFW that is within driving distance, I would recommend a version of our trip. It had something for everyone and was a great balance between satisfying the adults’ outdoor cravings and keeping kids entertained.
Disclaimer: I am not receiving ANY compensation for this review or writing this itinerary. These are 100% my own opinions and experiences. I hope they’re helpful if you’re considering a family vacation!