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13 Best Lakes in Arkansas

Written by BradLane
May 7, 2020

From oxbow lakes to massive reservoirs, Arkansas' lakes stand out in their natural environment. Many of the best lakes are in the more mountainous northern and western parts of the state. With stunning backdrops, including the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains, these lakes in Arkansas always comes with a view.

Prominent lakes like Beaver, Norfork, and Lake Ouachita receive thousands of visitors each year. Popular things to do at the best lakes in Arkansas include fishing, boating, and camping near the shore. Arkansas lakes are also known for their depth and clarity. These attributes cater to other activities like scuba diving and spearfishing.

Three of the most prominent vacation cities in Arkansas are within easy driving distance to some of the best lakes. Visitors and residents don't have to drive far from Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, or Little Rock to encounter an inviting body of water. Places like Lake Hamilton, for example, feature shoreline botanic gardens and several other lakeside amenities just outside Hot Springs.

For ideas and inspiration, check out our list of the best lakes in Arkansas.

1. Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake

Constructed in 1966, Beaver Lake is a massive reservoir on the White River. The lake is 10 miles west of Eureka Springs in Northwest Arkansas and has nearly 500 miles of shoreline. Recreational activities abound on and off the water. Over 2,000 acres of campgrounds at Beaver Lake cater to RV camping and tent camping.

Other developed areas surrounding the lake include picnic sites, boat launches, and hiking areas. Several commercial outfitters also border the lake and provide boat rentals and marinas. Special scenic interest on Beaver Lake comes from the massive limestone bluffs that line much of the shoreline.

Fishing at Beaver Lake is one of the most popular activities. With over 28,000 acres of water to navigate, Beaver Lake offers a variety of fishing experiences. Bass fishing is perhaps the most prevalent at the lake, with trophy fish routinely pulled out of the water. Creek mouths, like War Eagle Creek and Rambo Creek, are good spots to head to catch your own.

2. Lake Hamilton

Sunset over Lake Hamilton

On the southern edge of Hot Springs within the Ouachita Mountains, Lake Hamilton has massive scenic appeal. Several commercial, residential, and public spaces line this 7,400-plus-acre lake, which was created by the Carpenter Dam on the Ouachita River. Boating and fishing are popular on the water, and several adjacent marinas provide boat rentals, boat launches, and live bait.

One of the most scenic spots on the shoreline is Garvan Woodland Gardens on the eastern region of the lake. This lakeside botanical space is accessible by boat or paved road. On the northern tip of the lake, Hill Wheatley Park is a fun spot to enjoy the water with a public swimming beach and boat launch. Several lakeside cabins and other accommodations are available to rent at lake Hamilton.

3. Norfork Lake

Norfork Lake

In the Ozark Mountains of North Central Arkansas, this deep reservoir has more than 550 miles of shoreline. The lake supports a wide variety of outdoor activities, with a few things to do including boating, fishing, and water-skiing. Less traditional but just as popular activities include scuba diving and spearfishing.

Norfork Lake was created by the impoundment of the White River, and public access points line the sprawling arms of the reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers offers several campgrounds at the lake with hiking trails, as well as public beaches to explore. Commercial outfitters also surround the lake and provide marinas and places to rent a boat.

The Ozark Mountain scenery surrounding Norfork Lake offers stunning views from every angle. The clear water of the lake adds to this scenic beauty and further encourages the appeal of fishing and diving. Scuba and skin divers travel to Norfork Lake from across the world to explore these clear waters and search out a wide range of sunken treasures.

4. Lake Chicot

Lake Chicot golden hour

Lake Chicot is a unique oxbow lake that was once the main channel of the Mississippi River. The waters of Lake Chicot have since diverted to become the largest natural lake in Arkansas. Anglers flock to this freshwater lake to land bluegill, catfish, and largemouth bass. Birds also flock to the lake, or rather fly over, as the waters are next to the Mississippi Flyway. Bird-watchers should bring their binoculars and telephoto lens.

On the northern shore, Lake Chicot State Park is a popular place to enjoy the water. A campground at Lake Chicot State Park features 122 campsites and over a dozen cabins to spend the night. The state park also features public boat docks, fishing piers, and a marina.

5. Lake Ouachita Editor's Pick

Lake Ouachita

This sprawling reservoir is an impoundment of the Ouachita River and is the largest body of water wholly in the state of Arkansas. The scenic woodlands of Ouachita National Forest surround the lake and provide 970 miles of untouched shoreline. This undeveloped nature makes Lake Ouachita a tranquil place to enjoy the water.

From kayaks to houseboats and fishing rigs, water vessels of all types spread across this 40-mile-long lake. Several commercial outfitters and marinas line the lake and offer boat rentals and guided tours. Swimming at places like Crystal Springs Recreation Area is a popular activity at Lake Ouachita. The lake is also world-renowned for its bass fishing.

On an eastern arm of the lake, Lake Ouachita State Park features other things to do like camping and hiking. Some of the state park's 93 campsites are right on the water. The Caddo Bend Trail at the state park is a scenic four-mile hike that features stunning observation points overlooking the water. The marina at Lake Ouachita State Park features boat rentals, fishing equipment, and available mooring.

6. Lake Maumelle

Sunset at Lake Maumelle

Lake Maumelle is approximately 12 miles northwest of Little Rock. This human-made lake serves as a vital drinking water supply for central Arkansas. Swimming is not allowed at Lake Maumelle, but the clean water attracts boaters and anglers. The two public boat launches on the lake are on the south and west shore. Bass, crappie, and catfish are some of the most caught fish.

The Grand Maumelle Sailing Club hosts annual sailing regattas. Traversing the northern end of the lake is the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, which offers spectacular views of the water. The neighboring Pinnacle Mountain State Park offers even more trails to explore.

7. Greers Ferry Lake

Aboard a boat on Greers Ferry Lake

Near the city of Heber Springs, in North Central Arkansas, Greers Ferry Lake offers 40,000 acres of water to explore. Several designated park areas on the shore of Greers Ferry Lake feature campgrounds and hiking trails. Commercial businesses also line the lake and provide boat rentals, vacation cabins, and public golf courses.

A favorite vacation spot from Little Rock, Greers Ferry Lake is a 90-mile drive from the city. The city of Heber Springs makes for a great basecamp to enjoy the lake. East of Heber Springs, a footpath up Sugar Loaf Mountain lends to a spectacular view of the water.

8. Lake Catherine

Ducks and geese at Lake Catherine State Park

In the Ouachita Mountains near Hot Springs, Lake Catherine is another great watery destination in the region. This 11-mile-long narrow reservoir is smaller than its western neighbor, Lake Hamilton, but still provides plenty of things to do. Fishing and boating are two of the most popular activities at Lake Catherine. Camping is also popular at Lake Catherine State Park.

Lake Catherine State Park is on the south side of the lake and features over 70 campsites to pitch a tent or park an RV. The state park also features furnished cabins with views of the water. A marina at the state park provides boat rentals year-round, as well as a general store during the summer. The mystifying Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park leads to a stunning waterfall.

9. Lake Dardanelle

Lake Dardanelle in fall

With stunning sunsets and over 300 miles of shoreline, Lake Dardanelle is a popular spot to get away from Fort Smith or Little Rock. Located between these two cities on the I-40 corridor, the lake is also between the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests. Popular activities at this reservoir include boating, fishing, and spotting bald eagles in the winter.

Lake Dardanelle State Park is near the town of Russellville on the eastern shore. The state park features a boat launch, marina, and swimming area. The state park also facilitates camping with 57 campsites available.

Over 7,000 gallons of freshwater aquariums are at the state park visitor center with fish from the lake and region.

10. DeGray Lake

Geese on DeGray Lake

South of Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains, and 90 minutes from Little Rock, DeGray Lake is home to the only Arkansas State Park Resort. A lakeside lodge at the Resort State Park features over 90 rooms, many with views of the water. Other resort amenities include the Shoreline Restaurant and an appointment-only Day Spa.

The 18-hole professional golf course at the resort state park also has fantastic views of the water. Multi-use trails in the area cater to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Guests at DeGray Lake State Park Resort also enjoy activities like tennis, basketball, and swimming.

The lakeside lodge isn't the only place to stay at DeGray Lake, and the resort state park also features spacious campsites for tents and RVs. Several other campgrounds also line the 13,000-acre lake. The lake also has quite a reputation for the big bass that get pulled out of the water.

11. Bull Shoals Lake

Bull Shoals Lake

Also referred to as "The Caribbean of the Midwest," Bull Shoals Lake has crystal clear water that is perfect for scuba diving. This translucent attribute also makes the lake popular for fishing and other sports like water skiing. Several professional fishing tournaments take place at Bull Shoals Lake each year, and even more trophy fish have been pulled out of the water.

Bull Shoals Lake is in northern Arkansas near the Missouri-Arkansas state line. Near the Bull Shoals Dam on the southern shore, Bull Shoals-White River State Park is the most concentrated area of activity on the lake. The state park features over 100 campsites and a riverside marina. The state park also features a modern visitor center with an exhibit hall and theater.

12. Lake Fort Smith

Lake Fort Smith

In the Boston Mountains of northern Arkansas, Lake Fort Smith offers tranquil waters for a relaxing escape. This near 1,400-acre lake provides the Fort Smith area with a fresh supply of drinking water. For this reason, activities like swimming and water skiing are not allowed. Other activities like camping, fishing, and kayaking are permitted at Lake Fort Smith.

Lake Fort Smith State Park, located on the northwest shore, is the best place to explore the water. The state park features 30 campsites and 10 cabins to spend the night. Boat rentals are available through the state park.

The state park is the western terminus of the 270-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, which is a must-do for avid backpackers.

13. Lake Greeson

Lake Greeson

Lake Greeson is a popular spot for fishing and other outdoor sports. Anglers often catch bass, crappie, and catfish throughout the year. Lake Greeson is an impoundment of the Little Missouri River, and the tailwaters below the dam are stocked with rainbow trout. The area is also home to several hiking trails and paved pathways, including the 31-mile Bear Creek Cycle Trail.

On the eastern arms of the lake, the Kirby Landing Campground offers over 100 campsites. This recreation area also features a boat ramp, marina, and swimming beach.

During the winter, the lake is a great spot to watch bald eagles flying near the shore.

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