Best Places to Camp in Arkansas

Arkansas’ motto is “The Natural State,” and anyone who visits one of the many campsites will soon see why. Often featuring such natural features as rivers, lakes, and forests, it will be the natural beauty of Arkansas that leaps out at campers and stays fondly in their memories for years to come. Birthplace to such musical superstars as Johnny Cash and one United States President, Arkansas has had a quiet and understated influence on the rest of the country that often goes unnoticed. Campers can get a sense of where that serene quietude comes from whilst in the middle of a national forest or along the Buffalo National River, one of the earliest national rivers in the U.S.A. Arkansas is also called The Bear State, so be prepared to bear-proof your campsite.

Some of the most famous landmarks in Arkansas are the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains. The southern lowlands of the state also have some very nice camping spots minus the rocky terrain. There is also plenty for forests with the Ozark National Forest and Ouachita National Forest in the state as well. Most of these national forests allow for primitive camping all over the forest except for some specially marked areas and animal feeding zones. For the best impression of the beauty of middle America’s lakes, rivers, streams, forests, and mountains, Arkansas has it all. So pack up your sleeping bag and your tent and hit the road for Arkansas. Breathe easy in the serene forests with plenty of space to try out any fun camping activity you care to try. 

 

Lake Quachita in Arkansas.

The Nature State is replete with serene lakes and deep national forests that are perfect for camping any time of year.

1. Ozark-St. Francis National Forest

The Ozark National Forest is a fantastic place for all kinds of campers, from those who want to pitch their own tent to those looking to possibly rent a cabin or a camping spot in a ready-made campsite. Located near Fort Smith in northwestern Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest has tons of entertainment options nearby for those not looking to leave creature comforts completely behind on their camping trip. Campers can use tent sites by the river, lake, or mountains in either developed campsites or out in the woods on their own. Many of the locations have hot showers. There’s a small fee to camp here, which is normal in National Forests. The clear waters of the Ozarks are generally clean, but make sure you bring a water filter just to be safe.

You can look forward to all the regular campsite amenities you’d expect in Arkansas state parks like picnic tables, full hookups, restrooms, water hook-ups, and dump stations in the Ozark National Forest. Biking is welcome on their trails as well. To experience the full natural beauty of Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest isn’t a bad place to start. 

 

Pros:

  • Ample tent sites
  • Ready-made campsites
  • Hot showers
  • Water features
  • Restrooms
  • Full hookups
  • Dump stations

 

Cons:

  • Small entrance fee
  • Water filter recommended 

 

2. Ouachita National Forest / Lake Ouachita State Park

The top name in Arkansas wilderness is Ouachita, pronounced “WASH-a-taw”. There’s both a national forest and a state park bearing the name, which comes from the Native American tribe that used to own the land. The Ouachita National Forest offers the opportunity for campers to use self-service campsites, use the RV park, or to roll out the sleeping bag just about wherever’s convenient. Lake Ouachita State Park is contained within the larger borders of the Ouachita National Forest, but it deserves mentioning in its own right. Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in Arkansas, and its clear waters provide the opportunity for campers to enjoy swimming, water skiing, scuba diving, boating, kayaking, and fishing. 

Some amenities provided by the national forest and state park services are the 93 different tent sites, eight fully-equipped cabins with bathhouses, picnic tables, and the visitor center. Kayak tours are also offered and there are restrooms and boat ramps available as well. Boat rentals and scuba diving can be found in the marina. The natural beauty of Arkansas is on full display within the Ouachita National Forest and Lake Ouachita State Park. 

 

Pros:

  • 93 tent sites
  • 8 cabins with bathhouses
  • Picnic tables
  • Visitor center
  • Kayak tours & water sports
  • Restrooms available

 

Cons:

  • Entrance fee
  • No hot showers

 

3. Devil’s Den State Park

This Arkansas state park offers campers a really fascinating piece of American history in addition to great campsites. Originally constructed in the 1930s as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Devil’s Den State Park is one of the most intact CCC projects still remaining. Rock formations and caverns dot the various hiking trails, which lead from camping spots into the Ozark National Forest. Campers can also visit the impressive rock dam on Lee Creek that causes the formation of Lake Devil, an 8-acre lake that’s nice for fishing and has a boat ramp for sailors. There are 17 cabins for rent in Devil’s Den State Park for those campers who want to take in the natural beauty of Arkansas without staying in a yurt or on one of the available tent sites. 

There are a whopping 135 campsites in Devil’s Den State Park, all of which are rated by the park according to the available amenities. There are 44 AAA campsites, which are camping spots with all the drippings, such as hookups, nearby restrooms, hot showers, picnic tables, and proximity to the lakeshore and biking trailheads. Other campsite classifications are available, like Class B, C, and D, which all offer less than the AAA campsites. Class D campsites with no hookups at all are on offer for campers who want to try primitive camping. There are also 42 campsites in the horse camp that offer full hookups and bathhouses. The visitor center cafe is open seasonally and the swimming pool is open in summer only. 

 

Pros:

  • Hiking trails
  • Rock dam
  • Fishing and kayaking lake
  • Hookups
  • Hot showers and restrooms available

 

Cons:

  • Visitor center cafe closed seasonally
  • Swimming pool in summer only 

 

A lake in Arkansas.

Take in the unparalleled natural beauty of the Ozarks at an Arkansas state park.

 

4. Petit Jean State Park

A little over an hour away from the Arkansas state capital of Little Rock just south of the Arkansas River, campers will find Petit Jean State Park. Named after its central feature, Petit Jean Mountain, this was the first state park in Arkansas and has remained at the top of best campsite lists since its inception. Another of the rustic CCC projects, Petit Jean State Park’s Mather Lodge functions as a sort of visitor’s center featuring a restaurant and gift shop that’s ideal for campers visiting in winter. A CCC dam forms Lake Bailey, a scenic lake that’s ideal for fishing, kayaking, and scuba diving. 125 campsites surround the lake, all of which are rated either AAA or class B. Campers can also rent a cabin or yurt. 

The boathouse is open in summer only, but the many hiking trails are accessible year-round. Campers can traverse forests, meadows, canyons, and bluffs. Petit Jean is unique among Arkansas state parks for its stunning natural features, from sheer bluffs, the breathtaking 95-foot Cedar Falls, Seven Hollows, Bear Cave, the Grotto, Natural Bridge, and other interesting geological formations like carpet rocks and turtle rocks. Petit Jean State Park has been offering its tent sites to campers who are looking for the essential Arkansas natural beauty, and it still makes for the perfect camping getaway in Arkansas today.

 

Pros:

  • Lodge/visitor center
  • Fishing and kayaking lake
  • Yurt for rent
  • Hiking trails

 

Cons:

  • Boathouse open in summer only

 

5. Buffalo Shoals-White River State Park

This is the premier destination for trout fishing in Arkansas for campers who enjoy angling. Well-known for its visitor’s center, which is nestled in the bluffs above Buffalo Shoals Dam, this Arkansas state park features both a lake and a river for fishing, kayaking, and scuba diving. 113 campsites are located along the clear waters of the White River, offering a variety of amenities such as picnic tables and full hookups. RV sites with water hookups are also available. Hiking trails and mountain biking trails course through the forests, granting campers who like to explore the ability to see more of Arkansas’ natural beauty on their camping getaway. 

The park puts on interpretive programs like a campfire cooking demonstration, trout fishing workshops, and nature walks. For campers who enjoy more solitary getaways, there are class D campsites with no hookups for primitive camping. Bird watchers will enjoy going on an eagle tour to see the fierce raptors in flight. The main attraction of Buffalo Shoals-White River State Park is definitely the water features, so campers thinking of staying at one of the campsites there should be interested in fishing or kayaking. 

 

Pros:

  • Visitor’s center
  • Lake and river for fishing, kayaking, scuba diving
  • Picnic tables
  • RV sites

 

Cons:

  • Fewer natural landmarks

 

6. Crater of Diamonds State Park

This state park has one of the most unique features of any camping spot in Arkansas, and maybe even the world. Campers can visit the eponymous Crater of Diamonds and search in the 37-acre eroded surface of a volcanic crater for diamonds. The park’s visitor center offers some history and tips for how to search for diamonds. The largest diamond ever found in the United States, the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam diamond, was unearthed here in Crater of Diamonds State Park. Campers can try their luck digging for diamonds, but the park does forbid the use of battery-operated and motor-driven tools during the search.

The campsites in Crater of Diamonds State Park is in a tree-shaded campground that features AAA camping spots with full hookups, RV sites with water hookups, and two modern bathhouses with hot showers. A dump station is also on-site for RV campers, but it doesn’t have water to clean the tank. Wi-fi is available in the campground at no extra cost for campers who want to stay connected with the modern world during their Arkansas getaway. 

 

Pros:

  • Visitor’s center
  • Full hookups
  • RV sites
  • Free wi-fi
  • Hot showers
  • Dump station

 

Cons:

  • No water at RV dump station

 

A man fishing by a blue body of water.

Add fishing to your next camping trip to one of Arkansas’ many fantastic lakes.

 

7. Eureka Springs KOA

About 4 hours away from Little Rock in northwestern Arkansas, the Eureka Springs KOA has everything campers have come to expect from the KOA brand of campgrounds, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Campers can take in the majestic beauty of the Ozark Mountains from this campsite, just 10 minutes from downtown Eureka Springs. Kayaking, fishing, and scuba diving can all be done at nearby Beaver Lake. At the KOA, campers have access to hiking trails, a playground, a basketball court, and a swimming pool. The visitor’s center sells RV amenities and some camping necessities. 

KOA does charge a small fee to stay at its campsite, but for the price, campers will get everything they need for an enjoyable camping trip in The Natural State. In addition, the bathhouse offers hot showers and there is even a laundry facility. Wi-fi is available in the KOA. RV sites with water hookups and tent sites with full hookups are available year-round, although the swimming pool is only open from Memorial Day Weekend until Labor Day Weekend. Overall, for a dependable and consistent campsite in the Ozark Mountains, the Eureka Springs KOA is a campers’ best bet.

 

Pros:

  • Kayaking and scuba diving available
  • Hiking trails
  • Swimming pool
  • Wi-fi
  • Visitor’s Center
  • Hot showers

 

Cons:

  • Admission fee
  • Swimming pool is seasonal

 

8. Lake Fort Smith State Park

Two and a half hours from Little Rock, Lake Fort Smith State Park offers scenic views of the Boston Mountain Valley of the Ozarks and campsites with everything campers need to have a great camping experience. 30 campsites surround Lake Fort Smith, 20 of which are outfitted with full hookups, while the remaining 10 have no hookups. Backpackers may recognize Lake Fort Smith State Park as the terminus of the 240-mile Ozark Highlands Trail. Hiking is a must-do activity in this park, and nature hikes and lake tours are offered year-round. 

The visitor’s center offers some history exhibits on the region’s early history, so campers can enjoy a little educational activity in addition to the stunning natural beauty of the Arkansas forest. Swimming is not allowed in Lake Fort Smith, but there is a swimming pool in the park so campers can still take a dip. 

 

Pros:

  • Full hookups
  • Hiking trails
  • Lake for kayaking and fishing
  • Visitor’s center
  • Swimming pool

 

Cons:

  • No RV sites
  • No wi-fi

9. Buffalo National River

Buffalo National River, located about 2 hours’ drive north of Little Rock, demonstrates the iconic Ozark natural beauty of Arkansas. There are many ways to camp within the Buffalo National River park, ranging from luxurious rentals to tent sites with full hookups. RV sites also exist but have no water hookups nor dumpsites. Almost all the tent sites have picnic tables and fire rings included. Some of the campsites are free and some have a fee attached, but all are first-come, first-serve, so make sure you plan ahead and arrive early to secure your campsite. 

Ozark Campground, one of the most popular in Buffalo National River, has a swimming hole nearby, which is nicer and more natural than a chlorine swimming pool. Hiking, hunting, fishing, and horseback riding are all possible here. The night sky above Buffalo National River is clear and full of brilliant stars. Life jackets are available to rent so campers can float down the Buffalo National River in the warmer months. 

 

Pros:

  • Tent sites and RV sites
  • Full hookups
  • Picnic tables and fire rings
  • Swimming hole
  • Various activities

 

Cons:

  • Possible fee
  • RV sites feature no hookups
  • No reservations

 

Final Verdict:

Camping in Arkansas state parks or primitive camping in Arkansas national forests will change your perception of the Natural State. The Ozarks are larger than life, supporting flora and fauna unlike that found in other parts of the United States. RV sites are widely available, and you can always find a location for outdoor activities such as fishing and kayaking. Surprisingly active in the background of American history, Arkansas has many historical perspectives to learn in almost all of its state parks. 

No matter what kind of camping you’re interested in, Arkansas has room for you. Bluffs, lakes, and forests will stun campers with their reassuring quietude and calm. Enterprising campers can try their luck at Crater of Diamonds State Park or witness the natural beauty of Arkansas in Petit Jean State Park. Anything you can think of when it comes to camping is possible in Arkansas and the landscapes are certainly unbeatable. Get on down to the Natural State and take your pick from any one of these best places to camp in Arkansas. 

 

Bonus tip: Looking to strike it rich on your next camping adventure? Check out this video on how to successfully find diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park!

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.