One of the great things about Arkansas is that there are so many wonderful ways to explore all the natural aspects of it. Whether you are hiking, paddling, or hunting there is a plethora of ways to recreate and explore The Natural State. Arkansas Water Trails allow you to take in the scenery via the state’s waterways. DeGray Lake Resort State Park has some great hiking trails, but it also showcases the lake via the Islets Cove Paddle Trail.
Part of the Arkansas Water Trails system, the Islets Cove Paddle Trail allows visitors to the park to explore a quiet cove of the lake, watch for wildlife, and learn about the lake. There are eight trail markers for paddlers to follow. The paddle trail is about 3 miles long and takes about a couple of hours to complete.
Finding the Trailhead
The trailhead for the Islets Cove Paddle Trail is at the boat launch at the park’s marina. Here there is a sign and generic map letting paddlers know it is the start of the trail. With the sign, there are pamphlets with a slightly more detailed map. The pamphlet also gives information on each of the trail markers. If there are no pamphlet trail guides at the sign, you can check with the Visitor Center or Marina. You can also download a PDF here.
The trail markers might be hard to spot for some, so you’ll really want to keep your eye out for them.
Islets Cove Paddle Trail and Lake Levels
When the lake is low, a few of the areas may require portage or a detour, because the trail snakes between the bank and islands where sometimes the water can be low. These areas are indicated on the trail map. As long as the lake is higher than 405 feet, it shouldn’t be a problem. You can check the lake levels here. When I paddled the trail, the lake was around 408 feet. But even at 408 feet, I still had to maneuver around some bushes in the water.
Trail marker 1
From the boat launch, you are going to cross the bay within the “no wake zone,” so you don’t need to worry about being swamped by motor boaters. After you cross the bay, you will want to hug the shoreline of the opposite side of the bay from the boat launch. From there follow the shoreline into a larger bay and keep paddling with the shore. It looks like you are going to paddle into the land, but this is one of those narrow spots between the shore and an island.
Trail marker 2
After you squeeze between the island and shore at trail marker 1, continue following the shoreline until you see trail marker 2. Here you can see a beaver lodge, and if you are lucky, maybe even a beaver.
Trail marker 3
Continue to follow the shoreline from the beaver lodge and take in the scenery. At trail marker 3 you can see a wood duck box clearly. By this point, you may have already noticed birdhouses on stilts in the water. These are artificial habitats that are places to help with the dwindling natural tree cavities in the area.
Trail markers 4 and 5
In between trail markers 3 and 4, you pass through another low water place that takes you between a small island and the shoreline. At trail marker 4 you get a nice view of the Visitor Center. From here the Islets Cove Paddle Trail swings out away from the shore to take you around an island. It then takes you into a narrow bay, which can be seen from the Green Heron Trail.
As you continue to follow the shoreline, you will also see the wildlife viewing station that is along the Green Heron Trail. Trail marker 5 is at the view station.
Trail marker 6
From trail marker 5, you will continue to follow the shoreline and soon have a view of the small dike you drove across to get to the trailhead. At trail marker 6, when the lake is low you can see remnants of a small pond. This is a reminder that the lake has not always been here. The pond was once a part of a dairy farm. From trail marker 6, the Islets Cove Paddle Trail follows the shoreline through the bay and then across it, along the dike to the other side. You then follow the shoreline until you get to the end of the peninsula.
Trail marker 7
I have to be honest here. I misread the map and missed trail marker 7. Instead of following the shoreline on the inside of the island (facing the dike), I followed it on the outside of the island. I was more toward the main area of the lake. On this side of the island, the lake was very choppy. But the Islets Cove Paddle Trail stays in the bay where it is calm.
If you continue straight at the end of the peninsula that is perpendicular to the dike you will see trail marker 7 across the channel on the larger island.
Trail marker 8
From trail marker 7 follow along the shoreline of the island on the inside of the bay. You will round a corner and see two small islands, the trail goes between those smaller islands and along the shore of the bigger island (the same shoreline you have been following). This is trail marker 8 and is another place you may have to portage or detour.
Back to the boat launch for the Islets Cove Paddle Trail
From trail marker 8, you can begin to head across the bay and back to the boat launch. This is the only portion of the Islets Cove Paddle Trail where you are not hugging the shore, but instead paddling in open water.
The Islets Cove Paddle Trail is a wonderful relaxing float. Budge about two hours time to float. I did not see good places to get out and swim, but the wildlife viewing is great.