Arkansas boasts a wide variety of natural scenery, from forests and mountains to beaches and rivers. It shouldn’t be surprising to know that there are more than 2,400 lakes and reservoirs in Arkansas.
Whatever water activity you’re into: whether it’s swimming, boating, fishing, or watersports, there is plenty of lake to do all these activities and more.
So get your swimsuits, fishing rods, and your boats ready! Here are the best lakes in Arkansas worth planning a visit to.
The Diamond Lakes of Arkansas
Any list of the best Arkansas lakes will be incomplete without the five Diamond Lakes in southwest Arkansas, so-called because of the clarity of their waters.
Each lake draws thousands of tourists every year to swim, fish, sail, and many other recreational activities available.
Here are details on the famous five Diamond Lakes of Arkansas.
1. Lake Ouachita
Known as: Largest lake entirely inside Arkansas; cleanest lake in Arkansas and one of the cleanest lakes in the US
Lake Ouachita was formed in the early 1950s when the Blakely Mountain Dam was built in the Ouachita River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The original purpose of the dam was flood control and hydroelectric power generation.
Lake Ouachita is a wilderness lake; it is completely surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. There are no residential homes around the shoreline, although there are resorts and plenty of camping spots on the Lake Ouachita State Park and in any one of the 100+ uninhabited islands.
If fishing is your thing, you’d be glad to know that this is one of the top 10 spots in the US for largemouth bass fishing. Other species available here are smallmouth and spotted bass, bream, catfish, walleye, crappie, and world-class trophy striped bass.
The clarity of the water is legendary, and it’s so clear that (harmless) freshwater jellyfish, which can only thrive in steady, clear, and pollution-free water, can be found in many parts of the lake.
The steady waters make for a fun paddle boating experience. Houseboating is especially popular, as the waters are deep.
Location: Garland and Montgomery Counties, AR
Best for: Boating, fishing
Other Activities: Swimming, watersports, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, horseback riding, hiking, biking, camping, hunting
Main beach/park access: Lake Ouachita State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat launches, biking trails, hiking trails, horse trails, picnic amenities, spa, restaurants
Where to stay: Resorts, hotels, motels, campgrounds, islands
Nearby places of interest: Ouachita National Forest, Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, Three Sisters Springs
- Lake Ouachita State Park | Arkansas State Parks
- Lake Ouachita | US Army Corps of Engineers
- Lake Ouachita
2. Lake Hamilton
Known as: Most highly developed lake in Arkansas; tourist favorite
Lake Hamilton was formed when the Carpenter Dam was completed by Arkansas Power & Light in 1931.
The primary purpose for this reservoir as well as its twin Lake Catherine (next on the list) was for hydroelectric power generation. The power generation facility is still running to this day and is now operated by Entergy.
Because of its proximity to Arkansas’s most popular tourist city Hot Springs, it’s common to take a day trip out on Lake Hamilton for some outdoor recreation and then go back to Hot Springs for a more urban night out.
Anglers enjoy the variety of fish available in this lake: longear sunfish, black bass, spotted bass, white bass, striped bass, black and white crappie, catfish, walleye, and chain pickerel. Rainbow trout are also stocked in Lake Hamilton at the dams.
Boating is another popular activity. In fact, the lake is home to the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat that will take you for a scenic cruise around the lake.
You can also do more vigorous water sports here, such as jet skiing or water boarding. Don’t forget to explore nearby Garvan Woodland Gardens, as well as the three islands that dot Lake Hamilton: Rabbit Island, Little Goat Island, and Big Goat Island, more commonly known as Electric Island.
Location: Garland County, AR
Best for: Boating
Other Activities: Swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, tubing, jet skiing, waterskiing, hunting, hiking, picnicking, camping, biking, horseback riding, golfing
Main beach/park access: Hill Wheatley Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat ramps, restaurants, picnic amenities, hiking trails, biking trails, horse riding trails, golf course
Where to stay: Condominiums, resorts, vacation homes, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Hot Springs National Park, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Magic Springs Theme & Water Park
3. Lake Catherine
Known as: A popular fishing destination
A few miles downstream from Lake Hamilton lies Lake Catherine, which was formed with the completion of Remmel Dam in 1924, also by Arkansas Power & Light.
Lake Catherine is a small and tranquil lake, in contrast to the frenzy of activity in Lake Hamilton especially in the summer.
You might say Lake Catherine is Lake Hamilton’s calmer, more laidback sister.
Fishing is the main thing in Lake Catherine, where anglers can fish for largemouth bass, black bass, striped bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, and bream. Below Remmel Dam, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks a rainbow trout fishery.
There are also three National Recreation Trails nearby. In particular, the Falls Branch Trail is well known for leading you to the Falls Creek Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Arkansas.
Wildlife watching is also a popular activity here. Sign up for a waterfowl, frog, or butterfly guided hike at the visitor center at the Lake Catherine State Park to have a park interpreter accompany you to give you more information.
Location: Garland County, AR
Best for: Fishing
Other Activities: Swimming, pleasure boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, mountain biking, birdwatching
Main beach/park access: Lake Catherine State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marina, boat ramps, hiking trails, biking trails, general store
Where to stay: Inns, bed and breakfasts, cabins, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Falls Creek Falls
More information: Lake Catherine State Park | Arkansas State Parks
4. DeGray Lake
Known as: Home to the state’s only resort state park
Nestled in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, DeGray Lake was formed in 1972 when the DeGray Dam was built on the Caddo River by the US Army Corps of Engineers, mainly for hydroelectric power generation and flood control.
DeGray Lake is home to the only resort state park in Arkansas on an island that features various lodges, campsites, a marina, a restaurant, a golf course, and various other amenities.
Boating is highly popular on the lake, and houseboats, party barges, kayaks, and canoes are constantly found on the lake.
Paddleboating is also popular here; in fact, the Islets Cove Paddle Trail is a popular self-guided path to the coves, inlets, and forested shores on the northern portion of the lake that offers a unique wildlife viewing experience.
Speaking of wildlife, DeGray Lake is widely recognized to be the best lake in Arkansas to see bald eagles. While they can be spotted on many of the lakes in Arkansas, even the ones on this list, DeGray Lake has the distinction of having regular nesting grounds that are easily spotted from the lake, especially in the winter.
Of course, fishing is another big thing in the lake, with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, spotted bass, Kentucky bass, crappie, walleye, bream, and catfish all available to catch.
Location: Clark and Hot Spring Counties, AR
Best for: Boating
Other Activities: Swimming, fishing, paddleboating, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, water skiing, camping, picnicking, eagle watching, golf
Main beach/park access: DeGray Lake Resort State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat launches, showers, picnic amenities, disc golf course, playgrounds, hiking trails, biking trails, restaurants, golf course
Where to stay: Resort, lodge, cabins, campgrounds, yurts, RV park
5. Lake Greeson
Known as: Best fishing spot for striped bass
Lake Greeson was formed when the Narrows Dam was built on the Little Missouri River in 1950 by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
It is divided into three layers: the bottom is for hydroelectric power generation, the middle is for power storage, and the top layer is for flood storage.
It’s the smallest of the five Diamond Lakes, but Lake Greeson is a big deal for anglers fishing for striped bass. Some claim that Lake Greeson contains more stripers per acre than any other lake in Arkansas.
Aside from striped bass, anglers can fish for black and white bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and rainbow trout.
Hunters, on the other hand, can chase rabbits, squirrels, bobwhite quail, and whitetail deer in a public hunting area.
The lake itself features steep ridges forming islands and peninsulas extending into the lake. One of the famous geological formations visible from the lake is Chimney Rock. Sunset cruises are especially popular on this lake to view these formations against the colors of the setting sun.
But the wildlife and scenery aren’t the only treasures in this area. The Cinnabar Mine Trail near Parker Creek leads to an abandoned cinnabar mine.
Also, a few miles away from Daisy State Park is Crater Of Diamonds State Park, home to the only diamond mine accessible to the public and where you can mine for diamonds and keep them.
Location: Pike County, AR
Best for: Fishing
Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking, ATV riding, camping, picnicking, hunting
Main beach/park access: Daisy State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat ramps, showers, picnic tables, hiking trails, biking trails, ATV trail, playground
Where to stay: Campgrounds
Nearby places of interest: Chimney Rock, Crater Of Diamonds State Park, Scott Bond Cemetery
Other Notable Lakes in Arkansas
While the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas are stunning, there are plenty of other popular and not-so-popular lakes in Arkansas that are just as gorgeous and certainly worth checking out. Here are a few of those lakes.
6. Beaver Lake
Known for: Majestic limestone bluffs and caves on its shoreline
Beaver Lake is in the Ozark Highlands of northwest Arkansas, a few miles away from the city of Eureka Springs.
It was formed when Beaver Dam was built across White River in 1966 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to supply drinking water and control flooding.
Tall limestone bluffs, forests, and natural caves can be found all along its shoreline, and exploring these by boat, especially during sunset, is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Snorkeling and scuba diving in the crystal-clear water are other popular activities in the lake. A popular site for scuba diving is Monte Ne, which used to be a resort in the 1800s and was submerged when Beaver Lake was formed. When the lake is low, the large bridges, the ruins of the foundation, and the amphitheater are visible.
Anglers shouldn’t feel left out, though; Beaver Lake is popular for smallmouth, largemouth, and striped bass fishing, as well as crappie, bream, white bass, channel, and spoonbill catfish.
Location: Benton, Carroll, and Washington Counties, AR
Best for: Boating, scuba diving
Other Activities: Swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, fishing
Main beach/park access: Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat ramps, showers, picnic tables, playgrounds, hiking trails, restaurants
Where to stay: Vacation rental homes, lodges, cabins, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Monte Ne
- Beaver Lake
- Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area | Arkansas State Parks
- Beaver Lake | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
7. Bull Shoals Lake
Known as: The Caribbean of the Midwest
Also located on the Ozarks, Bull Shoals Lake was created when the Bull Shoals Dam was built in 1951 for the purposes of flood control and hydroelectric power. The dam impounds the White River and the resulting lake extends from northern Arkansas into southern Missouri.
Its shoreline is largely undeveloped, with a buffer zone protected by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Bull Shoals Lake is famous for world-class trout fishing, but it is also home to black and white crappie, catfish, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. In fact, it is one of the few places where anglers can fish for striped bass and trout in the same water.
Another popular activity in Bull Shoals Lake is scuba diving. Many divers call this lake “The Caribbean of the Midwest” due to its pristine, unpolluted water, allowing an underwater visibility of 20 to 40 feet.
This lake offers exciting dive sites such as wreck sites of various ships, a submarine, and a sailboat, rock walls, a farm, and underwater forests of oak and hickory.
You can also spearfish for walleye, crappie, and catfish for nine months, while gar, carp, and drum are available year-round.
Location: Marion County, AR
Best for: Fishing, scuba diving
Other Activities: Swimming, boating, fishing, spearfishing, water skiing, waterboarding, scuba diving, camping, picnicking, golf, hunting, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, hiking, biking
Main beach/park access: Bull Shoals-White River State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat launches, showers, picnic areas and amenities, hiking trails, biking trails, restaurants,
Where to stay: Vacation rentals, inns, fishing lodges, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Ozark National Forest
- Bull Shoals Lake
- Bull Shoals–White River State Park | Arkansas State Parks
- Bull Shoals Lake | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
8. Norfork Lake
Known for: The only sandy beach in a lake in Arkansas
One of the hidden treasures in the Ozark Mountains, Norfork Lake was formed when Norfork Dam was built in North Fork River in 1944 for flood control and hydroelectric power generation.
Sand Island on the southeast side of the lake is Norfork Lake’s gem. It features a beach with fine white sand fit for a tropical paradise in a mountain lake.
Norfork Lake isn’t as high-profile as the Diamond Lakes, but its pristine waters have a clarity that rivals Lake Ouachita’s. This makes the lake perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Explore more than 20 one-of-a-kind diving sites, including sunken caves, underwater rock formations, a school bus, and even an entire bridge.
Norfork Lake is famous for its huge striped and hybrid bass, as well as largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, crappie, catfish, bream, bluegill, and walleye.
Hunters, on the other hand, can chase white-tailed deer, wild turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and quail.
Location: Baxter County, AR
Best for: Scuba diving, snorkeling
Other Activities: Fishing, boating, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, water-skiing, hunting, camping
Main beach/park access: Quarry Park Public Use Area
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat launches, picnic tables, playgrounds, hiking trails, restaurants
Where to stay: Resorts, hotels, motels, vacation homes, cabins, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Blanchard Springs Caverns, Ozark National Forest
- Norfork Lake Tourism
- Norfork Lake | Ozark Recreational Directories
- Norfork Lake | US Army Corps of Engineers
9. Lake Dardanelle
Known as: One of the country’s major bass-fishing tournament sites
Lake Dardanelle was formed when the Dardanelle Dam was built on the Arkansas River in 1969 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The main purpose was to improve navigation on the Arkansas River, but the dam ended up providing hydroelectric power to surrounding areas as well as plenty of recreation.
Lake Dardanelle State Park is actually located on two separate sites on the lake: in Russellville and Dardanelle. The Russellville part is located right between the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests.
This lake is home to major bass fishing tournaments. In fact, Lake Dardanelle State Park features the Sport Fishing Weigh-in Pavilion, a world-class, 1,861-square-foot fishing tournament facility that serves as the staging area for fishing tournaments.
You can fish for white bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, bream, crappie, sauger, hybrid striped bass, spotted sunfish, bluegill sunfish, redear, and warmouth.
Birdwatching is another popular activity on Lake Dardanelle. Waterfowl such as ducks, geese, gulls, pelicans, and 350 more types of birds. Of course, the bald eagles that stop over during the winter are worth mentioning.
Location: Pope, Yell, Logan, Johnson, and Franklin Counties, AR
Best for: Fishing
Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, hiking, biking, picnicking, camping, birdwatching
Main beach/park access: Lake Dardanelle State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marinas, boat ramps, showers, picnic amenities, playgrounds, hiking trails, biking trails
Where to stay: Motels, inns, campgrounds, RV parks
Nearby places of interest: Confederate Mothers Memorial Park, Dardanelle Rock, Ozark National Forest, Ouachita National Forest, Mount Nebo
10. Lake Chicot
Known as: The largest natural lake in Arkansas and the biggest oxbow lake in North America
The only natural lake in this list, Lake Chicot was formed when the Mississippi River changed course more than 500 years ago, leaving behind a C-shaped lake.
Fishing is a favorite activity here, with largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and crappie all available in the lake.
Birdwatching is another common recreational activity, as Lake Chicot is home to a wide variety of waterfowl, wading birds, and migratory birds.
Because the lake has been around much longer than the other lakes in Arkansas on this list, there is plenty of history here. The Battle of Ditch Bayou happened in Chicot County, and Charles Lindbergh flew over Lake Chicot for his first night flight.
Or you can just paddle a kayak or take an evening barge tour in the summer and simply take in the sights while the sun sets.
If you ever go on a long, long drive on the Great River Road, this is one of the sights you’ll encounter here in Arkansas.
Fun fact: The lake’s name Chicot is derived from a French word meaning “stump,” as the many cypress knees on the shoreline looked like stumps.
Location: Chicot County, AR
Best for: Fishing, birdwatching
Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, biking, picnicking
Main beach/park access: Lake Chicot State Park
Nearby services and amenities: Marina, boat launches, hiking trails, biking trails, fishing piers, picnic amenities
Where to stay: Inns, cabins, campgrounds, RV park
Nearby places of interest: Helena Museum, Lakeport Plantation House
More information: Lake Chicot State Park | Arkansas State Parks
Plan your visit to one (or all!) of these lakes in Arkansas today!
These are our picks for the best ones to visit but bear in mind, these are only 10 of the 2,400 lakes in Arkansas. Don’t hesitate to explore and visit other lakes in Arkansas.
Other places to visit in Arkansas
Did you know you can dig for diamonds in Arkansas? If you want something to do aside from a lake holiday, check out our guide to diamond digging in Arkansas.
As I’ve mentioned, Crater of Diamonds is a short drive away from Lake Greeson, so if you’re visiting this lake, you may want to dig for diamonds before or after you fish from the lake.
Can’t get enough of the outdoors? Why not take the A&M train through the Ozarks? In fact, we’ve included this train ride in our list of the best train rides in the country.
Or if you’re content to stay in Hot Springs and explore the beauty and history of this 150-year-old city, check out the best things to do in Hot Spring.
Which one of these lakes in Arkansas are you planning to visit first? Do you know another lake that should have been on this list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!