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To the Lakes and Rivers We Go

Lake Fort Smith State Park
Lake Fort Smith State Park

Whether you seek quiet moments fishing in the morning light, family getaways or local swimming holes, Western Arkansas has the rivers and lakes to suit the water-filled adventures you crave.

If spending a day on the lake sounds like heaven, then Lake Fort Smith is the place to be. Rent a kayak, canoe, pedal boat, fishing boat or party barge from the state park’s marina or enjoy the lake from land on hiking and biking trails that weave around the shore. Just outside of Fort Smith in Greenwood, head to Lake Jack Nolen to fish on the water for bluegill, crappie or bass. For bank or pier fishing as well as walking and biking trails, visit nearby Greenwood Lake. In Van Buren, Lee Creek Reservoir also offers fishing, boating and hiking trails.

At the base of Mount Magazine, Cove Lake and Blue Mountain Lake provide secluded escapes within the bounds of the Ozark National Forest. Cruise across a colorful reflection of oak and hickory trees during the summer and fall months at Cove Lake. You can also swim, boat, camp and fish for endless supplies of catfish, crappie, bass and bluegill. Speaking of fish, Blue Mountain Lake has some of the best crappie fishing in the state! You won’t see many people along these quiet shores, maybe just a wandering heron or two, so take advantage of the solitude and stay a while at Waveland Park Campground. Gillham Lake is best known for largemouth bass fishing and its numerous recreation areas that include boat ramps, swimming areas, picnic sites and 70 campsites. Lake Hinkle, located in the Ouachita National Forest, offers diverse fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, bream and sunfish. Here, you can stay at the Little Pines Recreation Area.

Another Ouachita National Forest favorite is Shady Lake. This remote lake provides a peaceful, almost ethereal, mountain retreat with a lush green setting that beckons you to dive right in. Enjoy its beauty from the fishing dock, beach, swimming area, one of 64 campsites or the dam that forms a mesmerizing waterfall.

Cossatot River
Cossatot River

If you’re searching for a river adventure, head to the Cossatot River. Renowned as the state’s only expert whitewater rafting site with Class III-V rapids, it is deemed the toughest whitewater between the Rockies and the Smokies. Another roaring location is the Arkansas River — a boundless fishery with bass, crappie, catfish, stripers and bream. The state’s largest river features several recreation areas, marinas and sandbars to lounge on while boating the day away.

For a slower pace, drift over to the Mulberry River. The Mulberry is frequently noted for its pristine waters and tranquil banks that provide a secluded escape for swimming and river camping. However, with 20+ Class I-III rapids, this river is a must for kayaking and rafting as well. The upper section of the Ouachita River is another natural haven with sparkling long pools, towering rock formations and serene shores that provide a popular destination for smallmouth and spotted bass fishing.

The last river on the list is the Little Missouri River. Bask in the swimming holes at Albert Pike Recreation Area, listen to the cascading waterfalls at Little Missouri Falls (a great place to take your picture) or fish the annually stocked rainbow trout.