Overcast skies and cold weather didn’t seem like the best idea to take a day trip out on Beaver Lake but the guides actually said this would be the best time to see the Bald Eagles in the Ozarks.
I had heard about these Eagle cruises on Beaver Lake for awhile but never took the time to check it out. An easy, scenic, 45 minute drive south of Eureka Springs makes this a pleasant day trip. Great stopping points along the route include Hobbs State Park, War Eagle Cavern, and War Eagle Mill.
The Eagle Watch tours are run through Hobbs State Park, November through February and take out of Rocky Branch Marina on Beaver Lake. Make sure to call ahead to reserve your seats as the weekends do fill up. Also, because the tours run through the winter months make sure to bundle up; it’s always colder on the lake with the open water and wind chill.
Our guide that day was Ben, who worked for Hobbs State Park, and was very knowledgeable about the eagles. He said they migrate south from the Great Lakes after the lakes have frozen over. The eagles can then enjoy the open waters of Beaver lake and the plentiful food supply.
We set out with our binoculars in hand and eager to get our first glimpse of this magnificent bird. He mentioned you can make them out with their white heads and tails flying above or perched up in the trees. I saw many birds flying above us but nothing that resembled the bald eagle. He said birds that fly with their wings in a “V” were not raptures (owls, hawks, or eagles) but that they were vultures. If you see birds that soar through the sky with their wings spread out then they are from the rapture family.
Coming to our first cove our guide spotted our first eagle sitting high atop a tree a distance away. We instantly grabbed our binoculars to locate something white sticking out amongst the grayish surroundings. We silenced the motor and gradually inched our way closer in the cove. The eagle became instantly aware of us and allowed us to observe from a distance for a short while before flying away to his next secluded spot. Ben quickly turned us around and we ventured further down the lake to additional coves for viewing.
With no other people around besides our touring boat and the overcast skies on a cold January day we were able to view a number of eagles hidden high atop the trees. Once you have seen a couple your eyes become accustomed to making them out along the ridges. We were lucky to spot a number of them sitting together with their mates. Ben said the eagles mate for life. We also observed a red tail hawk and a blue heron flying through the open waters.
This particular stretch of Beaver Lake that we cruised around nestled next door to Hobbs State Park. If you enjoy kayaking or canoeing this would be a nice, quieter area to be on the lake and weave throughout the coves. An easy put in area would be off of Hwy 12 after you pass the Hobbs State Park Visitor Center, turn right on the dirt road. You can call Hobbs State Park for exact directions.
Making our way along the water we came upon a cave that a local high school science teacher used to bring his students to. The cave could be explored one mile back through the hillside before some of the caves were closed down due to the bat epidemic in the state of Arkansas. For updates on cave conditions you can contact Arkansas State Parks by going to www.arkansasstateparks.com
Overall, we were able to view a total of 9 different bald eagles that day, the most this particular guide has seen in one day! If you enjoy the outdoors and the quiet observation of what nature provides then taking this easy day trip in the Ozarks is a must. As we quickly warmed up our cars and began to thaw out, we thought our day was complete until we saw a family of deer crossing the park entrance. A perfect way to the end the day!
Directions from Eureka Springs to Rocky Branch Marina:
- Head South on Hwy 23 out of Eureka Springs
- Turn Right on Hwy 12 W, continue on to Hwy 127 W
- Turn Right on HWY 12
- Turn Right on Route 303
- Slight Right on County Road 99/Rocky Branch Rd.
- Turn Left to Stay on CR 99
- Turn Left on CR 106/Park Rd.
- Turn Right on Rocky Branch Marina Rd.
- Enter through Park Entrance and make the first right to park down by the marina. Park in the second parking lot on your right.
Tickets must be purchased in advance at the park’s visitor center on Hwy 12 just east of the Hwy 12/War Eagle Road intersection. Adults $10.00 + tax. Children 6-12 $5.00 + tax. Tours depart Rocky Branch Marina at 3:00 p.m. For more information and to make reservations, call: 479-789-5000