If your nature-loving family is looking for a place with mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests to explore, look no further. Arkansas is a mecca for family boating, hiking, and fishing trips!

By Jennifer Aldrich
Updated July 16, 2021

Planning a vacation for your family can be a challenge, especially if it's your first one since the beginning of the pandemic as expectations might be pretty high. Of course, because it's summer, your crew may want to lounge by a body of water to cool off. While some beach and lake vacations can be expensive, there are a handful of affordable destinations in Arkansas that feature clear lakes and beautiful shorelines. Since the vacation will be affordable, you'll have the flexibility to start planning more excursions for later this year.

family kayaking in Lake Diamond region Arkansas
Credit: Courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

10 Arkansas Lakes to Visit This Summer

Your family will have a great time at any of these locations, whether they're in the mood to relax or have a trip packed with activities. So go through this list, pack your suitcases, and get ready for a great time with loved ones.

1. Norfolk Lake

Known for its water clarity, Norfolk Lake offers one-of-a-kind snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. Explore underwater rock formations, caves, and schools of fish. What a rare treat for your family to snorkel in a lake!

2. Lake Catherine

Located outside of Hot Springs, Lake Catherine is a peaceful lake that's ideal for family boating and camping trips. If you're looking to pair big city fun with a serene place to rest your head, you can stay at the lake and take the family into Hot Springs for a day at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, a water and theme park.

3. Beaver Lake

This large man-made lake at the head of the White River is a great place for canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. With more than 400 miles of shoreline on Beaver Lake, there is plenty of space for beginners to test their skills and experienced paddlers to do some scenic exploring.

4. Blue Mountain Lake

Sitting at the foot of Mount Magazine, Arkansas's highest mountain, Blue Mountain Lake is a gorgeous destination for family trips. Beginners and experienced anglers will enjoy the great fishing opportunities at Blue Mountain Lake. If you're not a fisherman, the lake is perfect for boating and water skiing too!

5. Lake Dardanelle

Fishing lovers take note, the sprawling Lake Dardanelle in the Arkansas River Valley is home to major bass fishing tournaments. But you don't have to be a pro to enjoy the thrill of the catch. Whether you like fishing from a pier (equipped with weighing and cleaning stations) or from the shoreline, there is plenty of angling fun for all.

6. Lake Fort Smith

Suppose your family has conquered a few long hikes and is looking for more of a challenge, head to Lake Fort Smith at the western end of the 165-mile Ozark Highlands National Recreational Trail. Camping around Lake Fort Smith gives you a scenic place to return to after a day of rugged or casual hiking. It's also a great destination for water sports, fishing, and boating.

7. DeGray Lake

Nestled within a state park, this wooded lake destination is also home to the DeGray Lake State Park Resort. Booking a room here is the best way to stay close to wildlife, outdoor adventures, and the lake—unless you prefer camping. Abundant scenic campsites are also available.

8. Lake Chicot

If your crew loves a scenic road trip, head to Lake Chicot. It is the largest natural lake in Arkansas, and it's situated along the Arkansas stretch of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Unlike the mountainous terrain in the north, Lake Chicot is in a flat delta area that is home to a wide variety of waterfowl and wading birds.

9. Lake Ouachita

There is something for everyone at Lake Ouachita. It is one of the largest lakes in Arkansas and offers expansive open (and crystal clear!) waters, which are perfect for sailing. Adventurous campers who really want to get away from it all can camp on one of the 100 uninhabited islands in the lake. Rustic cabins and full-service resorts offer more luxurious accommodations.

10. Lake Leatherwood

Natural beauty meets historic charm at Lake Leatherwood. A hand-cut limestone dam built in the 1940s still defines one end of the spring-fed lake. A few other structures from that period can be found in the park, but the real stunners are the natural limestone rock formations. Rent a kayak or canoe to get a closer view of Lake Leatherwood's dramatic scenery.


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