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Best Place to Pitch a Tent. Or Two. Or Three:

DeGray Lake

Clark County, near Arkadelphia

Whether your camping style involves pitching a tent on a patch of dirt or hooking up a tricked-out RV, DeGray Lake awaits on multiple fronts. With some 700 campsites dotting more than 200 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty of room to spread out and make yourself at home. After you’ve pitched, parked or tracked down the keys to the cabin, the only thing left to do will be deciding whether to go swimming, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, water skiing, fishing or hiking. Just don’t forget to pack the marshmallows for late-night s’mores-ing. Other lakes with plenty of camping space include Beaver Lake, Lake Ouachita and Norfork Lake.

Lake Ouachita | Photo by Sara Reeves

Make a weekend of it:

Forgo the tent pitching, and nab one of the YURTs (Year-round Universal Recreational Tents) managed by the folks at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. With electricity, wood floors, screened-in windows and a door that locks, the “tent” provides that happy medium between full-on roughing it and glamping. —bb

Boatiest:

Lake Ouachita

Garland County, near Hot Springs

While it may be a little difficult to definitively pin down the “most boated” lake in the state, with more that 40,000 acres of water available for all your nautical desires, it’s a pretty safe bet that Lake Ouachita is high on the list. It’s one of the largest lakes in the state after all, so is it really any wonder? Sailors boast of Lake Ouachita’s vast stretches of open water. Kayakers and canoeing enthusiasts brag on its more than 100 uninhabited islands, which are perfect for camping or just taking a breather—not to mention its dozens of small coves and estuaries, great for exploring. Anglers crow about its bream, crappie, catfish and largemouth bass. And no one complains about the majestic Ouachita National Forest that surrounds the lake. Other boaty lakes in Arkansas include Beaver Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Greers Ferry Lake.

Make a weekend of it:

Keep track of the lake’s many geographical wonders by following the Lake Ouachita Geo Float Trail, which was co-masterminded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Just follow the marked yellow buoys around the lake (or enlist a guide from the Corps), and you’ll be sure to spot Whirlpool Rock, Submarine Slide, Mother Nature’s Beach and Checkerboard Point, among other features that make this lake so boat-worthy. —bb

Biggest:

Bull Shoals Lake

Northern Arkansas

With a 700-mile shoreline, Bull Shoals covers over 45,000 acres. A man-made lake this big could only be accompanied by an equally impressive dam; in the late 1940s, the Corps of Engineers built the Bull Shoals Dam to impound the White River. The result? The fifth-largest dam in the world at the time of its construction. With the lake’s impressive array of fish species, it’s no wonder the Bassmaster Elite Series holds a tournament here each spring.

Make a weekend of it:

Want to take in the lake without getting your feet wet? Enjoy an easy 1-mile walk along the aptly named Lakeside Trail where you can observe Bull Shoals’ thriving ecosystem (including 90 species of migrating and resident songbirds that populate the area in the summer). —hs

Bull Shoals Lake | Photo by A.C. Haralson

Fishiest:

White River System

Northern Arkansas

Anglers casting their lines in the hopes of hooking a whopper big enough for the record books should consider this: If history is any indication, the lakes in the White River system are the place to be. Jim Petersen tells us that—not one, not two, but—three lakes in the system are among the “fishiest” in Arkansas. Let’s take it by the numbers: Eight current state-record fish were caught at Bull Shoals, Norfork and Greers Ferry lakes. The record smallmouth bass, spotted bass and yellow perch were caught at Bull Shoals. Three other state-record fish—hybrid striped bass, lake trout and walleye—were caught at Greers Ferry. Ozark bass and rock bass record fish were caught at Norfork. So grab your tackle box, and make history!

Make a weekend of it:

If you’re really serious about reeling in a big one, think about booking a guided fishing trip with Gaston’s White River Resort near Bull Shoals. Considering that the Gaston family has provided fishing services in the area since 1958, it’s safe to assume they know a thing or two about hooking a lunker worthy of a good story, at the very least.

Best ‘Two for the Price of One’ Deal:

Lake Dunn and Lake Austell

Cross County, near Wynne

There’s nothing worse than heading out to the lake for some rest and relaxation, only to find the water packed to the gills. But with Lake Dunn and Lake Austell in Village Creek State Park near Wynne, you automatically double your chances for your ideal lake experience. Only 2 ½ miles apart by car (1 ½ miles as the crow flies), both lakes have some great fishing—though no gas-powered boats are allowed. While Lake Austell is supposed to be the better for largemouth bass, Lake Dunn produced a potential state-record largemouth bass. Alas, the angler reeled in his catch without a valid fishing license.

Make a weekend of it:

Lake Dunn and Lake Austell aren’t the only attractions in Village Creek State Park. The Ridges at Village Creek golf course—with cart paths that ride like a roller coaster—was designed by the world-renowned Andy Dye. —hs

Most Hidden Beneath the Surface:

Beaver Lake

Benton County, near Rogers

Monte Ne has as rich a history as any ancient civilization. In 1900, successful silver miner William “Coin” Harvey bought 320 acres southeast of Rogers and worked to create a resplendent resort town, complete with hotels, boardwalks and an amphitheater. Harvey had magnificent goals, but the 1929 stock-market crash ended his ever-growing construction dreams, and instead, he ran for U.S. president, holding his Liberty Party’s national convention at the resort in 1931—the only presidential convention ever held in Arkansas. Unfortunately for Harvey, he lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt and died in debt soon after the election. In the years that followed, Monte Ne was sold off in pieces, and by 1966, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flooded the area with what is now Beaver Lake. A few of Monte Ne’s remains can still be seen rising above the lake surface today, including parts of two hotels and Harvey’s tomb.

Lake Chicot | Photo by Sara Reeves

Make a weekend of it:

Keep Harvey’s dream alive by exploring the area he loved, where opportunities for hiking and camping are around every corner. And on your way home, stop off for some fried chicken (and bean soup) at the Beaver Lake-adjacent Monte Ne Inn Chicken. One bite is all it’ll take for you to understand why so many swear they’ve got the finest fried chicken in Arkansas. But here’s the best part: They’ll keep bringing more because it’s all-you-can-eat, y’all! —hs

Most Natural:

Lake Chicot

Chicot County, near Lake Village

Contrary to what the state’s slogan suggests, the natural offerings of Arkansas are oftentimes a little less than, um, natural. Lake Chicot? Formed some 400 years back when the Mississippi changed course, cleaving inland and leaving a bend separate from the river, the 20-mile long oxbow lake is what you might call an Arkansas Original. Although some of the pristine quality might’ve gotten sapped through the mid-’80s (specifically, when 80 percent of the shoreline watershed was cleared and farmed, and the waters were flush with insecticides and silt), modern-day conservation efforts and the eponymous pumping plant have brought the lake back to how it used to be: natural.

Make a weekend of it:

Though Chicot’s got some fine fishing (the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission keeps the lake stocked with both black and white crappie and a Florida strain of largemouth bass), there’s no finer place to stop than Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales if the fish aren’t biting—or, really, even if they are. —jph

Wildest:

Lake Poinsett

Poinsett County, near Harrisburg

At Lake Poinsett in northeast Arkansas, timing is everything. During the day, squirrels and deer romp through the nearby woods. At night, raccoons, opossums and striped skunks roam the land, while bullfrogs, chorus frogs, cricket frogs and green and gray tree frogs sing into the darkness. During warm months, three-toed box turtles, fence lizards, broad-headed skinks and red-eared sliders abound, while visitors can catch sight of a variety of ducks during winter months. Year-round, professional and amateur ornithologists alike can scope out kingfishers and herons, as well as the occasional osprey and bald eagle.

Make a weekend of it:

See how the wild was tamed by our forebears by visiting the Parker Pioneer Homestead in nearby Harrisburg, where 12 log buildings (including a general store, a blacksmith shop and a sorghum mill) help bring 19th-century Arkansas back to life. —hs

Lake Poinsett | Joe Goble | Capture Arkansas

Best Big(gest) Fish Story:

Mallard Lake

Mississippi County, near Manilla

Ask just about any angler, and they’ve probably got a “big fish story” in their tackle box. But the tale about that bass Aaron Mardis pulled out of Mallard Lake in 1976? Well, it’s one for the books. Like, literally, it’s on the books. Even more than 40 years later, Aaron’s 16-pound, 4-ounce monster still holds the record for the biggest largemouth bass caught in the state. And to think, he almost tossed it back, not realizing what he had. Thankfully, Aaron’s brother convinced him to keep the fish. A 16-pound, 5-ounce bass was caught out at Lake Dunn five years ago, but that’s another story.

Make a weekend out of it:

Once you’ve had your fill of bait and tackle out on the water, head about 15 miles east to The Dixie Pig in Blytheville for one of the most delicious pulled-pork sandwiches The Natural State has to offer. —ww

Clearest:

Bull Shoals Lake

Northern Arkansas

The depth of Bull Shoals, in addition to its clarity, makes it a fave with the state’s scuba-diving set, even earning the lake the moniker “The Caribbean of the Midwest.” Beneath its crystal blue waters, divers can don their goggles to ogle the 200-foot rock walls that stretch beneath the surface, glide through a vast underwater forest of oak and hickory, and spot a variety of fish swimming in and out of sunken old-timey farm implements. In all, there are more than a dozen mapped dive sites to choose from, and springtime, before the algae blooms, offers the clearest underwater view. Other lakes in the state popular for diving include DeGray Lake, Lake Ouachita and Lake Greeson.

Make a weekend of it:

After working up an appetite in the lake, dry off and get thee to Hank and Katie’s Bakery & Cafe for a slice of that marvelous chocolate-fudge pie. Non-chocolate-lovers should also take note, however, because the coconut, peanut butter and lemon are also to—ahem—dive for. —bb

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