The Diamond of the Ozarks – Bull Shoals

Be careful if you come to visit the “hidden gem of the Ozarks,” Bull Shoals, Arkansas, because there is a good chance that you will never want to leave.


This pristine small town of 2,000 people is a fisherman’s paradise where the fishing is offered year-round. There are countless tales that we learned about after Travel Buddy visited and interviewed some of the residents of this beautiful town. Owners Kathryn and Vito of Rocky Hide-A-Way cabins and Anthony’s Italian Bistro moved here from Chicago a couple decades ago. They wanted to be able to raise their then young son in a place without a lot of crime in an outdoor paradise. Kathryn exclaimed, “What person wouldn’t want a lake in their backyard?”


Their cabins are tucked away a couple of miles from the lake but are quaint and rustic and make a great spot for a family reunion or gathering. They also make excellent fishing cabins with a place to cook inside and grill outside.


If you don’t feel like cooking, then enjoy Vito’s Italian sausage at their restaurant. Be sure to try their homemade cannoli and lasagna as well. Other offerings include steak, brats, stuffed cabbage and gyros. You will enjoy their friendliness and conversation that so many offer in this lake community.


When interviewing another Bull Shoals transplant, Jim Taylor, he said that he is reminded how good he has it when he visits friends in bigger cities like Fort Smith. He said, “Man, do we have it made with no traffic or crime. Everything is slower. There are nice views and countryside. The Buffalo River is nearby and there are three boat launches for the town. The catch and release area is on the river.”  Jim and his wife, Debbie, moved from Dallas in 1995 after visiting for several years prior. They were in their late 30s then and finally made their paradise become a reality. Today they own Wishes & Fishes which showcases woodcarvings to purchase and classes along with fly fishing and guided trips.


Bull Shoals has four parks and the newest one is a natural park with exercise equipment for the outdoors and it is also handicap accessible. They are hoping to provide more access to fishermen to the river also. It is about a half mile stretch.


It is mostly a retirement community, but there are 60-70 school-aged children who attend the schools in Flippin, Arkansas, about nine miles away. Any child under the age of 16 can fish Dry Run Creek where they don’t need a fishing license and can catch some big and plentiful trout.


This fishing Mecca showcases four species of trout on the river: bass and walleye, ozark bass and crappie to name a few. The fishing was what hooked Mayor Nixon over 30 years ago. He was a Dean for Oklahoma State University. When he was being recruited, he wasn’t interested at first, because there wasn’t much fishing in Oklahoma. He was told that they would take him to Arkansas to solve that problem. That is when he was introduced to Bull Shoals. He would visit every other weekend and one month during the summer until he finally retired and made Arkansas his home. He also enjoys being a wing shooter of pheasant and quail.


Mayor Nixon said, “It is a huge lake with more shoreline than the entire Gulf Shores and includes walleye and crappie and the White River has brown trout.”  You will also find bald eagles nesting along the river. They have an Eagle cam that you can watch online and can even go kayak and look at the eagles. They also have migrating birds and a Wildlife Preservation.


A very impressive part of the town is it becoming one of the first all-fiber optic cities in the country. If you work from home and fast internet is a requirement, look no further than Bull Shoals. The town is looking for more IT entrepreneurs and would like it to bustle with young business professionals. They are also working to build a new wastewater plant. Mayor Nixon says, “It is a natural setting with 21st Century infrastructure and the charm of a 19th century village.”


There is shopping spread out along the highway, a golf course and a hiking trail network that includes 100 miles supported by the city. These trails include mountain biking also. RV campsites are located on the river and the lake and there are a variety of restaurants in town including a New Orleans style, Big Daddy’s Fish House.


Wayne is the hard-working owner of Big Daddy’s Fish House who stripped the building after a fire and rebuilt it from the ground up. He opened the restaurant with his family in March 2017. He moved to Bull Shoals three years ago from Texas, but had been visiting for the past 53 years with his parents and family. Big Daddy’s is the the only seafood restaurant around the area and they are known for their shrimp! Wayne used to own a shrimp processing plant in Louisiana and Texas and he would travel coast to coast from Key West to Brownsville, Texas, for shrimp.


He and his wife have used their own recipes in their restaurant and Wayne does most of the cooking six days a week. They are closed on Sundays. In his spare time, he likes to guide on the river too. Wayne says, “Come see the caverns and ride around on the roads and see the pretty scenic mountains.”


Chamber President, Shannon Baker, is one of the only natives to the city of Bull Shoals whom we met. His family dates back several generations to the Civil War. He had a weekend place here, but made the move with his wife, Melissa, from Northwest Arkansas five years ago after he was tired of the crowds. He said, “You think it’s normal to grow up in a town like Bull Shoals. You think every town must be this beautiful and laid back and I definitely took it for granted.”


Today, Shannon owns his a print shop and encourages others to open up new businesses to increase the economic growth of their town. He helps promote events in the area and reinstated the Fall Festival three years ago called “Colorama.” He also helped with a new town web page two years ago and has aided in growing their Facebook followers from 200 to 1500. “The Christmas Parade is another town attraction that seems to be working well,” Shannon said.


He also mentioned that there are so many people from so many different areas of the country that give Bull Shoals a “uniqueness.” It’s a friendly town where you can float, kayak, river boat or lake boat.


Martin Earhart, the owner of 178 Club restaurants began his love affair with Bull Shoals when his grandparents brought him to visit as a young boy fishing on the White River.  He said, “Many years later, my wife Lisa and I purchased a beautiful Bull Shoals lakefront property. That was the beginning of our amazing journey.”


Seven years ago he moved from Oklahoma City to become a resident. Martin said, “The weekends got longer and longer until we finally decided to move to the lake full time.” They bought the 178 Club, a 30 year old establishment from the Fox family. It is known for its steaks and walleye and they cook people’s catches for them as well. What sets them apart is that they offer something for the wife and kids to do when the guys are fishing. There is fine dining in part of the restaurant and then a full service bowling alley and sports bar in the other side.


Ask for Martin or Lisa when you visit the 178 Club. They said, “Come join us for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday and we will be more than happy to tell you about our fantastic beautiful town and area.”


Last but not least are the Bull Shoals Caverns and Mountain Village 1890. The caverns are great for school trips and they can also offer a special event location for weddings in their cave! Or you can elect to get married in the church in the Mountain Village 1890 also on site.


The Mountain Village 1890 is a collection of eleven historic structures that were moved as one piece from north central Arkansas and south central Missouri. The village was created here in the 1950s. The structures are authentic and are said to be haunted.


The caves of the Bull Shoals Caverns are ancient and were formed by the river about 350 million years ago. By using carbon dating they show smoke stains from 2000 years ago. People come to see the caves from all over the world, including Japan and Australia.  


Jim Jensen runs both businesses and has been a resident of Bull Shoals for the past 20 years. He drove through the Ozarks on a trip when he still lived in Clearwater, Florida. He did some research on the area and decided to move because it wasn’t as fast paced as Florida.


When asked about the caverns, Jim said: “Many never think it would be so cool inside the cave, especially if they have never been inside another cave.” It has sidewalks and lights inside the cave and Jim said, “It’s a must-see and the biggest attraction other than fishing, boating and swimming on the lake and river.” He also told us about the array of birds that you can find inside the limestone rock. The outcropping is good for nests. Jim finished by saying, “We are many caves in one. We are a living cavern with active and growing formations of all kinds and the rarest too.”


Simply put, visit Bull Shoals, Arkansas this year. There is something for everyone and so many recreational activities that are parallel to anywhere in the U.S.


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