Destinations Magazine

20 Fun Things to Do Near Lake Ouachita Arkansas

By Aswesawit @aswesawit

We often link to affiliate products and services that we believe will benefit our readers. As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more here.

If you're planning a trip to Arkansas and wondering where to go, look no further. There are tons of fun things to do near Lake Ouachita.

Never heard of it? Lake Ouachita is a fantastic and family-friendly vacation destination in the western part of the state. It's surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful hills of Ouachita National Forest.

The area is popular with nature-lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and people who are keen to break away from the hustle and bustle of city life. And yet, civilization is not far away. The resort town of Hot Springs offers a range of cultural and historic sites, restaurants, and shopping areas.

If you seek adventure, beautiful scenery, and a place to relax, then Lake Ouachita ticks all the boxes.

Where to stay on Lake Ouachita

There are a large variety of accommodation options if you're staying around Lake Ouachita. These include hotels, riverside lodges, Airbnbs, camping, houseboats, rustic cabins, and resorts.

If you want to be right on the Lake, Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa has a range of condos and cabins.

North Shores Resort & Marina is also situated along the Lake and offers houseboat rentals and cabins.

For something a little more rustic, you'll find cabins and campsites at Lake Ouachita State Park, and 14 campgrounds in Ouachita National Forest that can accommodate RVs and trailers.

We tented at the Tompkins Bend Campground and our campsite was right on the water.

20 fun things to do near Lake Ouachita

We recently spent 5 days camping near Lake Ouachita and can attest to the area's natural beauty and rural charm. Here are some of the things we found to enjoy:

1. Take a swim in Lake Ouachita

The expansive Lake Ouachita is perfect for swimming and a variety of other water sports. You can choose from a variety of swimming pools, the lake and clear water streams in which to swim.

Two of the best swimming beaches around the lake are in the Lake Ouachita State Park - one located near the marina. The other beach is called Spring Beach and is on the north side of the state park near Three Sisters Springs.

2. Go fishing on Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita is well known as a spectacular fishing location. Anglers there catch fish species like bream, catfish, walleye, striped bass (striper), and largemouth bass.

There are a variety of fishing charters and fishing guides you can hire if you want to be shown the top angling spots on the lake.

3. Go boating on Lake Ouachita

There are several marinas near Lake Ouachita where you can rent canoes, kayaks, and fishing boats which you can use for fishing. These include marinas at Lake Ouachita State Park, Mountain Harbor Resort, Aqua Fun Boat Rentals, and Crystal Springs Marina Village. Just remember that if you rent a boat, you'll need to have a boat licence.

4. Scuba dive in the crystal clear waters of Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita is so large and pristine that it's a top destination for scuba diving. It also boasts incredible visibility which makes viewing its unusual underwater dive spots even more attractive.

In fact, Lake Ouachita has the first water-based trail in America, which spans 16 miles and is called the Geo-Float Trail. Highlights on this underwater trail include the Zebra Rock, Submarine Slide, and Checkerboard Point.

There are several dive operators where you can hire scuba gear from or take scuba instructional classes. These include Scuba & Archery Center, and Ocean Extreme Mountain Harbor.

5. Take a scenic drive near Lake Ouachita

Surrounded by forests, lakes, waterfalls and breathtaking views, Lake Ouachita is a great place for scenic drives.

Some of the top scenic drives near Lake Ouachita are in the Jessieville Winona Fourche Ranger District, the Oklahoma Ranger District, and the Talimena National Scenic Byway.

6. Go stargazing under dark skies

Whether you're interested in recreational stargazing or you're an avid astronomer, you'll be happy to know that Ouachita State Park has some of the darkest skies in Arkansas. We spent hours by the lake pondering the night skies.

If you've always wanted to see the Milky Way, go stargazing near Lake Ouachita. You won't need your own telescope, though it's helpful to have a pair of binoculars.

ⓘ TIP: Get something that will help you identify constellations and other well-known astronomical objects. You could install a phone app like SkyView Lite, buy a stargazing guide like this one, or print out a free map of the night sky.

7. Go horseback riding in Ouachita National Forest

There are a large number of horse riding areas around Lake Ouachita and a few places where you can go horseback riding in a group.

Mountain Harbor Riding Stables offer trail rides through the Ouachita National Forest where riders can enjoy the scenic vistas around the lake.

8. Hike at Lake Ouachita State Park

Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) is a series of trail segments that run along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita. The trail segments vary in length and grade with one being designed for those who are physically challenged, known as the Watchable Wildlife Trail or ADA Trail.

Other popular trails in Lake Ouachita State Park include the Caddo Bend Trail, the Dogwood Trail, and the Lake Ouachita Rodger's Run Trail.

It's important for hikers to be aware of hunting seasons and hunting areas and to dress accordingly so you are not mistaken as wildlife while hiking.

9. Backpack in Ouachita National Forest

If you're keen on backpacking, then you may also enjoy some popular day hikes in the Ouachita National Forest. The main backpacking hiking areas in the Ouachita National Forest include Caddo/Womble Ranger District, the Jessieville Winona Fourche Ranger District, and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

It's a good idea to pack a trail map, trail guidebook and to be aware of water sources and weather updates. The best time of year for hiking is in the spring or fall. Summers can be too hot, and winters can be very stormy.

10. Enjoy the thermal springs and wilderness areas in Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is in fact the country's oldest national park. It is known for its 47 thermal springs and over 30 miles of hiking trails through the Ouachita Mountains. It also has many picnic areas and campsites - and is very accessible given that it includes Fill up on the spring water at Hot Springs National Park

Many visitors to the Hot Springs National Park area are eager to drink the water from the hot springs and even fill up their bottles to take some home with them. You can visit the many thermal spring fountains within the Park, some of which are suitable for filling jugs of water.

It's important that you read the CDC's advice on drinking spring water and take precautions, especially if you are immunocompromised.

In addition to the hot springs, there are also some cold spring fountains, which have a different water source. Both the Happy Hollow Spring and the Whittington Spring are treated with ozone filtration and the Park provides free spring water at its jug fountains.

If you're keen to touch the thermal springs, be aware that the water can easily scald you. That said, there are 2 locations where it's safe:

  • The Display Spring near the Maurice Bathhouse and
  • The Hot Water Cascade at Arlington Lawn, which is the largest of the Park springs and cascades down a cliff into pools below.

Save these ideas for things to do near Lake Ouachita for later. Pin it!

11. Jive to live outdoor music at Front Porch Stage in Mt. Ida

Do you enjoy live music? If so, you'll experience a memorable family-friendly evening at Front Porch Stage in Mt. Ida.

At 7 pm from May 1 through October 30, locals gather every Saturday night in front of the courthouse to enjoy a FREE fun filled concert of either Bluegrass, Gospel or Country Western music. The local musicians may be amateur or professional, but either way you're guaranteed to enjoy the performance.

Bring your own lawn chair to enjoy the concert under the stars. There's also a concession trailer that serves refreshments to the crowd at a nominal price. It makes you feel like you've stepped back into the Good Ol' Days.

12. Collect crystals along the Crystal Vista Trail

Crystal Vista Trail is located near the top of Gardner Mountain. The site was once a commercial crystal mine, and now visitors can find and collect quartz crystals quite easily on the ground.

There's no charge to hike the trail. Avid rockhounders are frequently seen with buckets, shovels, and picks, but you really won't need any tools to find some quartz.

13. Visit a crystal mine in the 'quartz capital' of America

The Ouachita Mountains have long been considered to be home to some of the best quality quartz in the world. That's why the area has the reputation of being the "quartz capital" of the USA.

You can visit a crystal mine and "dig your own" crystals from the Earth. Many of these crystal mines are located around the Hot Springs National Park and Mount Ida area.

Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro (which is about a 2 hour drive from Lake Ouachita), is famed as the only public diamond mine in the world. There you can try your luck in finding your very own diamond.

14. Step back in time in the Hot Springs Historic District

The Central Avenue Historic District in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is filled with restaurants, hotels, and shops as well as the famous Bathhouse Row.

Many of the landmarks in this historic district have interesting pasts. For example, the Ohio Club is the state's oldest continually operating bar (since 1905!) and was a popular meeting place for Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Bugsy Siegel.

The Superior Bathhouse closed in 1983. After being vacant for 30 years, it is now a brewery, craft beer tasting room, full service, family-friendly restaurant, and event venue. It is the only brewery in a United States National Park, and the only brewery in the world to utilize thermal spring water to make their beers.

ⓘ TIP: This is a good place to eat, but they are first come first served, no reservations. Their menu is quite varied. We enjoy trying new beers and ordered a flight of 4 varieties; thought the jalapeno beer was a pleasant surprise.

15. Learn about and sample Arkansas moonshine

Crystal Ridge Distillery in Hot Springs is not far from Bathhouse Row. Here you can learn about the history of moonshine - a process that is still illegal unless you have the requisite permits.

You can also sample their whiskey, bourbons, and War Mule Vodka during a 1 hour guided tasting tour.

16. Visit the Hot Springs Bathhouses

Since the mid-19 th century, people have traveled to Hot Springs because of its natural thermal waters. The thermal springs are full of minerals that relieve muscular aches and pains, detox skin, improve body metabolism and increase circulation.

Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row area is a National Historic Landmark District. It comprises 9 grand bathhouses dating from the mid-1800s. The Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor Center is an impressively large and ornate bathhouse which you can walk through to get an idea of what it was like in its heyday.

Most of the bathhouses have closed, but there are two that still provide hydrotherapy treatments. If you're interested to relax and have a traditional thermal mineral water bathing experience, you can visit the Buckstaff Bathhouse and step back in time with their original fixtures. Or for something a little more modern, guests of the Quapaw Bathhouse can soak in the hot spring water and enjoy luxurious spa services.

ⓘ TIP: These bathhouses are in high demand, so be sure to book your reservation at least a month ahead of time.

16. Wander through Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is a botanical garden that forms part of the University of Arkansas and is in the Ouachita Mountains.

Preserving the area's unique biodiversity and providing a rich learning experience, the Gardens offer picturesque views of the surrounding shoreline and woodland areas.

18. Dine at the local restaurants near Lake Ouachita

No doubt you'll be looking for places to eat near Lake Ouachita. You'll find a wide variety of local restaurants and drinking establishments to choose from. Some of the recommended culinary and hospitality highlights in the area include:

● Mountain Harbor Lodge Restaurant

Located on Lake Ouachita, this family dining restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu range includes an affordable mix of salads, burgers, steaks, seafood, wraps and sandwiches. They have a fantastic breakfast buffet on the weekends as well as a good breakfast menu. We highly recommend the eggs benedict, which is available with smoked turkey as well as the traditional ham. (It was delicious!)

● Crystal Springs Mercantile and Café

Located near Royal (Arkansas), just south of Lake Ouachita, this cafe is a great place to stop for a quick and simple meal. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can order to go.[1]

● Dairyette

Dairyette is a classic, family-run American ice cream and burger diner located in Mt. Ida. It serves gourmet sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, ice creams, and shakes. Open 7 days a week, from 11am to 7pm.

● Winery of Hot Springs

Enjoy free wine tastings and get to sample the local cultivars at the Winery of Hot Springs. The winery is open 7 days a week and they sell an unusual variety of wines including muscadine wines and strawberry wines - and they even make their very own hot sauce.

● Slate Rock Brewing, LLC

If you're keen to sample local craft beers, then Slate Rock Brewing should be on your list of places to visit. This microbrewery and family-run business in Amity, near the Caddo River, is family and pet friendly and has their own food trailer.

19. Follow the Baseball Trail around Hot Springs

The Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail is an opportunity for baseball fans and history buffs to enjoy learning more about the area's connection to the game of baseball. Some of the best baseball players trained in the area. This trail around Hot Springs, which is downloadable as an app, offers a free, self-guided tour that highlights gathering spots and local stories about baseball legends.

Do you know of any other things to do near Lake Ouachita?

Help other readers and share them in the comments!

Lake Ouachita FAQs

Want to save this for later? Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog