Several people have commented to me how Arkansas has such wonderful state parks. And the parks in the Arkansas State Parks system are definitely the best I have visited throughout the country. Between the interpretive programs and wide variety of activities they offer, helpful staff, and well-kept campgrounds, cabins, trails, and marinas, they offer many benefits to those who visit. I would love to go into detail about each of the 52 state parks, however you probably don’t wan to hear me talk that much. The department’s website with information on all the parks can be viewed here.
So I narrowed it down to my favorite, and then narrowed it down even more to just four. So here are four of parks that I absolutely love.
Lake Ouachita State Park
The largest lake within the state of Arkansas, Lake Ouachita boasts amazing scenery with little presence of human influence over nature. The lake is located in Montgomery and Garland counties, and the state park is about a 30 minute drive west of Hot Springs.
The 40,000-acre lake is an U.S. Army Corp of Engineer lake so the only development on its shores are for recreational purposes. There is no surprise Arkansas State Parks has a location on this lake.
Lake Ouachita State Park has campgrounds with hookups for RVs as well as tent-only sites. Several are located on the lake with one area nestled in the woods. The park also has several cabins for those not wanting to rough it as much. In addition to a large marina with lake activities including snorkeling, kayaking, boating, and fishing, the park also has wonderful hiking trails.
Lake Catherine State Park
Also located close to Hot Springs, Lake Catherine State Park, offers wonderful boating and fishing activities but also has some of the best hiking trails in the area. Hikers can enjoy four different trails throughout the park. Its most popular trail, the Falls Branch Trail, showcases one of the park’s famous features, Falls Creek Falls. For more information about this trail, check my Hometown Hikes post here.
In the summer the lake is part of the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, where anglers can try for a variety of fish tagged with prizes. Other water activities like boating and kayaking are also very nice around the lake.
It’s a great park for those wanting a more urban feel. Lake Catherine State Park overlooks the Remmel Dam power plant. It’s interesting to see how we use water for energy.
The park offers campsites with hookups along the lake as well as primitive tent sites. For those wanting something different, you can try the Rent-A-Camp or Rent-A-Yurt sites. Rustic cabins are also available and quite nice in the winter months.
Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean State Park was Arkansas’ first state park, and is a real treasure. Located west of Morrilton, the mountain rises high above the Arkansas River. The park’s most notable feature is Cedar Falls, a 95-foot waterfall. A short boardwalk trail will take visitors to view the falls from above or you can hike the two-mile round trip from Mather Lodge to the bottom of the falls.
Campgrounds with hooks-ups can also be used, as well as four Rent-A-Yurts. The yurts are located near the campgrounds on Lake Bailey and even come with a canoe for playing around on the water.
Peiti Jean offers a wide variety of scenery, from overlooks of the Arkansas River to weaving around massive boulders in almost tunnel-like trails. The geological features in the park are unique and very fun for children (or adults!) who love to climb on rocks.
It is one of the few parks with a lodge. Mather Lodge is a historic rustic hotel and restaurant overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon. But if you prefer cabins, no problem, the park offers rustic cabins as well.
Mount Magazine State Park
Exploring Arkansas State Parks is not complete until you visit Mountain Magazine State Park, which the tallest mountain in the state at 2,753 feet. Located near Paris, the park offers many activities from hand gliding to hiking to technical rock climbing to just simply eating in the lodge restaurant and taking in the sweeping vistas it offers.
The park offers many trails around the rim of the mountain, as well as a trail that climbs from the base of the mountain to the top. You can read about the bottom to top trail in my Hiking Mount Magazine Bottom to Top post here. In early summer the wildflowers are magnificent. The park offers campgrounds with hookups as well as cabins. It also is a popular destination for those who desire to stay in a lodge. The newly constructed lodge is large and offers much more than room and board. The park is about a two hours drive from my home, and I have made the drive several times just to eat at the restaurant.
Like I said before, I could go on and on about how wonderful Arkansas State Parks are, however you probably don’t want me to. These four are just a few of what the state offers. Arkansas is “The Natural State” and the Department of Parks and Tourism showcase that well.