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story.lead_photo.caption The waterfall on Falls Creek in Lake Catherine State Park is certainly impressive during the wetter seasons and after significant rainfall. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is featured regularly in The Sentinel-Record. Today, Deary takes readers on a journey to Lake Catherine State Park.

Well, the 2020 modern gun deer season was finally deemed underway, and hunters entered the woods by the thousands with anticipation of bagging that buck of a lifetime.

I, too, have hopes of putting some meat in the freezer. However, there are those who are not necessarily interested in the sport. But their sentiments about hunting are no indication that they lack a passion for the outdoors. In fact, some of those falling into this category spend as much time in the midst of Mother Nature as does anybody else.

That in mind, I thought the next month or so might prove a great time to cover some destinations where one can embark upon excursions where deer hunting is not allowed.

This week, we'll stay pretty close to home. Don't allow Lake Catherine State Park's close vicinity to Hot Springs fool you. It is nestled in the midst of a beautiful forest setting, on the banks of Lake Catherine. And I venture to say that it offers more than enough to keep one occupied for an entire day. In fact, I'll go a step farther, and suggest that this is a location where one can return time and time again. Hence the reason many enjoy extended stays in its designated camping areas.

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As for camping, the park sports 47 Class AAA and 23 Class B sites, many of which are situated on the shoreline of the beautiful reservoir. Those who are more into getting back to the very basics might find it interesting that primitive sites are on the premises as well. One "Rent-a-Camp" and one "Rent-a-Yurt" are also available.

What about those who are longing for an overnighter, yet they are not much into the camping thing? Well, you're in luck, as it also sports 20 fully equipped cabins.

Those choosing to spend an overnighter or two in one of these structures might enjoy a view of the lake from their patio and will be privy to the lake from their own fishing pier.

Of course, there are also opportunities galore for those who would rather return to the comfort of their own homes after a stint in the wonderful outdoors. In fact, those who prefer returning home might find the dedicated picnic area useful.

Tables, grills, water and restrooms are located at the picnic area, as is a group pavilion. And the fact that a playground is close by is just icing on the cake,

The marina is open during the spring and summer months, lending to opportunities to rent watercraft of all descriptions. And although these particular services are only available from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, one can still rent barges, boats and canoes throughout the remainder of the year at the visitor center.

And what might draw me back to the state park time and time again? Well, to be honest, I am not much into camping within minutes of my home. But there are more than enough activities that I can enjoy during the day at this particular location.

There have been occasions when I have returned to the destination two or three times a week, as I can't think of a better starting point for a short bike ride when time is limited.

Beginning at the trailhead parking area, I ride along the road to the store near the Diamondhead entrance, where I simply turn around and backtrack to the starting point. The ride does not take too long. However, there are more than enough hills along the way to increase one's heart rate and give their legs a workout.

And most importantly, the amount of traffic along this section of the road is minimal in comparison to other locations where we sometimes ride. One does, however, have to be mindful of an abundance of deer prior to speeding down the hills.

I think it would be safe to say that the state park's trail system is its greatest draw to the locals, and rightfully so. In fact, four different trails meander within its property lines.

Slunger Creek Trail is by far the shortest. However, I consider it at the top of my list. It's not necessarily the route I choose to walk during my excursions. However, it's a real jewel in the sense that the entire barrier-free path is concrete. In turn, those with physical limitations and those who are confined to wheelchairs can actually get out and enjoy a stroll through a wooded area.

The loop stretches five-eighths of a mile and runs level as it eventually meanders alongside a creek. Wildflowers are plentiful within sight of the designated path and one is apt to see native wildlife going about their everyday rituals.

Benches are situated alongside the trail, lending to an opportunity for folks to simply sit down and absorb the fresh air and beautiful setting. This particular path is located on the left hand side of the road near the park's entrance.

The remaining three trails are all interconnected and accessible from the same trailhead. Located near the back of the facility, the parking area is situated within sight of the lake.

Falls Branch Trail is likely the most used route. Although touted as the easiest walk of the three, one should bear in mind that the beaten path makes its way through some rocky areas and traverses over a few boulder structures. However, those who take their time should not have any issues completing the hike.

The 2-mile loop meanders through a drainage area and crosses the stream a few times prior to making its way alongside and paralleling a larger creek.

The drainage area is very lush, providing a great habitat for ferns and other shade-loving plants to thrive. Once reaching the larger creek, the path travels a short distance to one of the more popular waterfalls throughout the Ouachita Mountain region.

Although the waterfall was hardly running during a recent visit, it is truly impressive during the wetter months of the year. And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we see ample precipitation in the weeks to come to increase its flow to a more impressive level.

The Horseshoe Mountain Trail extends 3.5 miles during its scenic journey through the forest. Although the initial climb is somewhat of a strain, the remainder of the designated path lends to a beautiful and pleasant trek along the ridgeline.

The Dam Mountain Trail is presently closed for deer season, to ensure the safety of hikers. However, it is certainly a route to be considered when the season is declared closed.

This particular path also begins with a pretty tough climb, but it, too, eventually levels and becomes far easier to navigate. The 4.5-mile loop makes its way along the mountaintop, lending to incredible views of the distant lake.

I have noticed many wildflowers taking root within sight of the path during the spring and early summer months. And I have seen deer browsing within view on several occasions.

Yep, I consider myself fortunate to have such a beautiful facility within minutes of my home. And Lake Catherine State Park is a location where I certainly look forward to visiting again in the near future.

The trails at Lake Catherine State Park are a huge draw for locals and hiking enthusiasts alike. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record
The trails at Lake Catherine State Park are a huge draw for locals and hiking enthusiasts alike. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record

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