Lake Ouachita State Park in Arkansas: 10 Fun Things to Do

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sunset at Lake Ouchita State Park in Arkansas
Lake Ouchita State Park in Arkansa. Photo credit: Tourism Arkansas

Want to swim in a crystal clear lake with beaches surrounded by lush forest? Head 20 minutes northwest of Hot Springs to Lake Ouachita State Park, an absolute must-visit Arkansas destination. It’s popular with locals and tourists because it has great camping, a wide variety of hiking trails and epic boating.

The park, covering 360 acres, is located in Garland County along the eastern shore of man-made Lake Ouachita. It is home to abundant wildlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, deer and more. You won’t find alligators, though. They prefer swampy locations. Lake Ouachita is the cleanest and largest (40,000 acres!) lake in Arkansas with sparkling water, sandy beaches and miles of scenic shoreline.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day by the lake or an adrenaline-pumped boating adventure, this Arkansas state park has something for everyone. Here are the ten best things to do at Lake Ouachita State Park.

1. Explore the park’s hiking trails

Hiking is the best way to enjoy the park’s diverse landscapes. Lake Ouachita State Park has miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous. The Caddo Bend Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park. This 4-mile trail circles a peninsula and offers beautiful views of the lake, wildflowers and boulder gardens. It is considered a moderate hike.

If you’re looking for something shorter, hike the Dogwood Trail. This .5-mile trail explores the Ouachita National Forest and is perfect for families with young children.

2. Go swimming in the lake

Lake Ouachita is named one of the cleanest lakes in the US. Its crystal-clear water makes it a great place to go swimming. There are several swimming areas including two beaches, one located near the marina and the other near the cabins. There are jellyfish in the water, but they are non-stinging.

3. Have a boating adventure

With over 40,000 acres of water, Lake Ouachita is a boater’s paradise. The park’s marina offers boat rentals, including pontoon boats, kayaks and canoes, so you can explore the lake at your own pace. There are also several boat ramps located throughout the park, so you can bring your own boat if you prefer.

4. Spend the night

There’s lots to do at Lake Ouachita State Park, so why not stay overnight? Lake Ouachita State Park campground has 93 different campsites spread across several different camp areas. There are 58 class AAA sites, with water, electrical and sewer hookups and there are 23 class D sites, with no hookups.

For those interested in tent camping, there are also 12 walk-in tent sites. Amenities include restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, picnic tables and fire pits. Some of the campsites in camp area A are located right on the water. Campers can make reservations here. Those looking for a little more luxury can stay in fully-equipped cabins.

5. Go scuba diving

Believe it or not, Lake Ouachita is a great place to go scuba diving and snorkeling. Due to the lake’s cleanliness, it boasts great visibility. Located on the lake, Ocean Extreme Dive Center has everything visitors will need to embark on a diving adventure. Visitors can take scuba diving lessons, receive a scuba certification and rent any necessary gear.

6. Try your luck at fishing

Lake Ouachita is a well-known fishing lake, as it’s home to a variety of fish species, including smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, bream, and catfish, walleye, striped bass and black bass. Fishers can try their luck on the open water or in one of the lake’s coves.

There’s also a marina where visitors can rent supplies. Just keep in mind that an Arkansas fishing license is required to fish at the lake. A license can be purchased online or at a local sporting goods store.

7. Explore Hot Springs

If you’re planning a visit to Lake Ouachita State Park, make sure you budget some time to explore Hot Springs, a historic Arkansas town just 20 minutes away. The town is home to Hot Springs National Park, which is known for its natural hot springs and for Bathhouse Row, a strip featuring eight historic bathhouses.

Those looking to soak in the thermal waters can visit either the Buckstaff Bathhouse or the Quapaw Bathhouse. Visitors can also explore Hot Springs village, which is filled with shops, restaurants, cafés and art galleries. There are some great museums, including the Gangster Museum of America and the Mid-American Science Museum.

Be sure to check out the national park as well. Hot Springs National Park is the nation’s oldest national park and contains ancient thermal springs, beautiful creeks, camping opportunities, picnic areas and more than 25 miles of hiking trails.

8. Try mountain biking

There are lots of great biking trails in and around Lake Ouachita State Park. The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is a 45-mile route that travels through the Ouachita National Forest.

Another great trail is the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which offers more than 100 miles of trail open to bikes. This trail contains challenging sections that are best for experienced riders. The trail cuts through forested mountains and large valleys.

9. Visit Three Sisters Spring

Three Sisters’ Spring is a historical site located near Spring Beach. The site is marked by a stone pavilion that protects three natural springs, which were once believed to hold healing powers.

In the early 1900s, the water was sold across the country as a cure for various ailments, dysentery, cholera-infantum, eczema, constipation and indigestion. The area was even turned into a resort to promote healing and health.

Although no longer a resort, visitors can still visit the springs, although a sign warns visitors that the water isn’t potable.

10. Check out the wildlife

Lake Ouachita State Park is home to a host of diverse wildlife. In addition to the many fish species that live in the lake, the area attracts a variety of bird species including common loons, bald eagles, hummingbirds, northern pintails and wood ducks.

There are also more than a dozen different types of bats. Other wildlife includes deer, muskrats, beavers, gophers, weasels, otters and occasionally black bears.

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