IT’S RAINING. It’s raining, it’s gray, and it’s October, and we’re at the lake, and you know what? We don’t mind it one bit.

We’re at Lake Hamilton, to be specific, a lake I’ve long maligned for its busyness and commerciality, preferring the relative quiet of nearby Lake Ouachita. I grew up near a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake (much like Lake Ouachita), and therefore grew accustomed to those scraggly, piney lake shores with their tangles of unkempt, chigger-rich wilderness concealing homes and cabins beyond. Lake Hamilton, in contrast, with its manicured lawns and labyrinth of docks, had always seemed less a “lake” and more a waterside subdivision.

But I digress, because at Lake Hamilton am I.

 

I should start by saying that we Arkansas Life-ers didn’t exactly pick this place—the Lake Lodge, a three-home compound of sorts—for its access to Lake Hamilton. (It’s October—not exactly swimming weather.) We picked it because we’re the kind of people who get worked up over shibori-dyed linens, concrete tiles, kilim rugs and teensy-tiny pots of succulents. We say things like, “I’m dying over those open kitchen shelves.” We use social media hashtags like #heyhomehey and #housegoals. In short: We took one look at the Lake Lodge’s VRBO photos, and we knew we were home. Or at least home for the night.

After dropping our bags and getting a pot of Texas red chili warming on main house’s gas range, we wander the property, quick-stepping between the low-hanging branches we use as pinch-hit umbrellas. We ooooh and ahhhh and snap photos with our phones as we claim rooms, which is admittedly quite difficult, given that there are six spread across the property’s three homes (a main house, a guest house and a cabin). Territories staked, we head back through the gray to the main house.

Standing in the living space, there are cozy couches and leather club chairs behind us, a teetering stack of board games (Scattergories! Trivial Pursuit! Something called Hugger Mugger!) to our right, that pot of chili bubbling on the stove to our left. Needless to say, we’ve got all we could need for Instagrammable rainy-night coziness. But there’s something in front of us that beckons in a way that none of us really expected: There’s a wall of windows, an expanse of fairway-tidy lawn, and beyond that, a misty Lake Hamilton dock.

And with that, we grab our bowls of chili and a couple bottles of wine and head outside.


“IT ALMOST feels like we’re on a boat,” Arshia, our photographer, says, and it does, the way the floating dock bobs rhythmically beneath us. The sun has dipped below the horizon, the bowls of chili licked clean, and yet we’re still sitting on the edge of the dock, our ankle-booted and sneakered feet just threatening to graze the midnight-blue surface. It’s the closest any of us have ever been to Lake Hamilton, and dangit if it doesn’t feel serene. We know we’re only 2 miles from Central Avenue, and we know we’re only a handful of yards from the neighboring property. And sure, there are lights across the water—lights that twinkle in an almost Gatsby-esque East-Egg/West-Egg way—and yes, there’ve been boats on the water, albeit only two, and neither of them was exactly making wakes. Regardless, we feel very much away.

As the sky darkens and a few stars escape the clouds overhead, our conversation turns to lake stories of our youths—tales of moonlit swims and “desert island” exploration and tubing expeditions gone awry. Sitting here on this dock, glasses of wine in hand, it’s obvious we’re feeling lake-y, and not at all in that manicured-lawn, waterside-subdivision kind of way.

“Huh,” I say. “I really wasn’t expecting this quiet. I guess it’s because it’s the offseason?”

Everyone shrugs. Could be the fact that’s it’s offseason, we’re all thinking. Could be the weather. Or it could be this place. Whatever the reason, we’ll take it.

We’ll also take the fact that when it’s time to turn in, it’s just a few chigger-free strides up the lawn to reach our little havens.

 


 

I WAKE UP to the sound of rain and acorns hitting the roof. I’m tucked into a linen-sheeted king-sized bed in the main house’s master bedroom, and it’s dark, dark, dark. Quiet, too. Just those raindrops and those acorns.

We’re scattered across the property, which is essentially a ring of three clapboard cottages skirting a tree-shaded (hence the acorns) gravel drive. The homes are so well-designed, so meticulously detailed, that it’s hard to tell if they’ve been renovated or custom built from the ground up. I imagine it’s a combination of the two. The furnishings are a mashup of old and new, too: a lot of Restoration Hardware, a little Etsy-chic vintage and so many ethnic textiles you almost feel like you’re in a souk.

Early riser that I am, I have the main house to myself for a spell. And though it’s hard to pull myself out of those linen sheets, I’m rewarded with one heckuva morning view. It’s misty and gray again, and the forested ridge across the lake is almost smothered by lacy early-morning clouds. Taking a seat on the overstuffed couch, I can only see water—that’s how close to the shore the main house is. Repeating Arshia’s sentiment from the previous evening, I feel like I’m on a boat.

And maybe that’s why I start noticing all the references to nautical life I’d missed on my initial walk-through of the house: the oil painting of a schooner in the kitchen, the ship’s wheel propped up in the fireplace, the knotted ropes, the blue-and-white-striped everything. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t come here thinking, Lake. But now, even in the rain, even in the offseason, it’s inescapable. It’s everywhere.

You’ve done it, Lake Hamilton, I think to myself. And I don’t mind it one bit.


Lake Hamilton-ing It Up

Exploring the other side of Spa City

Captain Jack’s Lake Cruise

No boat? No prob. Captain Jack will pick you up from the Lake Lodge’s dock and cruise you around on his 10-person pontoon. And Jack’s in the captain’s chair, so you can enjoy that sunset with a side of sauvignon blanc. (captainjacklakecruises.com)

Garvan Woodland Gardens

550 Arkridge Road

It’s gorgeous no matter the season, but we’ve got a soft spot for late-fall visits to our favorite botanical gardens. Show up around sunset—the Lake Hamilton views are drool-worthy—and then linger a bit while the twinkling holiday lights set the forest aglow, beginning Nov. 18. (garvangardens.org)

Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters

112 Blackhawk Lane

Lake Hamilton in the summer? BUSY. Lake Hamilton in late-fall to winter? Serene. Now’s the time to try your hand at kayaking or SUP-ing, and this nearby outfitter has everything you need to get out on the water. (ouachitaoutdoors.com)

The Rib Cage

5429 Central Ave.

Yes, we know: McClard’s Bar-B-Q. We’re super-fans, too. But this Central Avenue food truck is more than worth expanding your horizons, especially your beef-brisket horizons. (facebook.com/ribcagehs)

Luna Bella

104 Grand Isle Way

Locals rave about the on-point steaks and Little Italy-worthy pastas at this romantic Italian-American spot. Order some martinis and arancini, and settle in for a night of serious caloric splurging. (It’ll be worth it.) (lunabellahotsprings.com)