Spend the day on the water! Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or rest and relaxation, you’ll find it around here! Lake Ouachita is a short drive from Hot Springs and a popular destination for boating, fishing, swimming, and even scuba diving! The largest lake located entirely within the state of Arkansas, Lake Ouachita offers lots of space to play with between 600-900 miles of shoreline (depending on the water level) and about 40,000 acres of water. With a restriction on commercial and residential building, the scenery comprises the all-natural wooded hills of the Ouachita Forest and a handful of resorts where you can rent a boat and enjoy some lakefront dining. Lake Ouachita State Park, about 30 minutes from downtown Hot Springs, has a nice swim beach, hiking trails, boat and kayak rentals, and a variety of interpretive programs with guided hikes, eagle cruises, and kayak tours. There are also state parks on nearby lakes DeGray and Catherine.
If you want to beat the heat on the hottest of summer days, head to the Charlton Recreation Area, located just over 30 minutes away in the Ouachita National Forest. Walnut Creek, a mountain stream and tributary to Lake Ouachita, flows through the recreation area where a native stone dam was built to create a nice, super-cold swimming hole. There are diving platforms and a grassy lawn for lounging, and opportunities for camping, picnicking, hiking and fishing. After your swim, check out the Hickory Nut Mountain Vista, about 20 minutes away, for beautiful panoramic views of Lake Ouachita.
For a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, head to Lake Catherine State Park and follow the Falls Branch Trail. You can take the moderate 1.7 mile loop trail or take the cut through route for a 15 minute easy hike. Take in the sights of the creek and waterfall, then take a dip to cool off in the refreshing water below.
For a little adventure, take a float trip down the Caddo River. A popular section is the stretch from Caddo Gap to Glenwood, which takes about four to six hours. Local outfitters offer boat rentals and shuttles, and can provide information about water levels. Or enjoy a lazy float down the Ouachita River. Many people enjoy tubing the section from just below Remmel Dam to the whitewater park in Malvern.
After enjoying a day on the water, head back to Hot Springs and dry off on the patio at Taco Mama, Diablos Tacos & Mezcal, Rolando's Restaurante, or Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Beer Garden.
There are hundreds of miles of trails within easy distance of Hot Springs, making hiking and mountain biking some of our most popular outdoor activities. While there are wooded trails accessible right from downtown, there are many more worth exploring – just a little further out in the sprawling Ouachita National Forest. This 1.8-million-acre swath of land stretches from west-central Arkansas to eastern Oklahoma and is home to over 50 trails. Popular day hikes less than an hour away include the Little Blakely Trail System, comprising five different loop trails, and Hunt’s Loop Trail, a four-mile loop trail with panoramic views. You can access Hunt’s Loop from the Iron Springs Recreation Area, a scenic day use area with picnic tables and a swimming hole. There are also nice day hikes at Lake Ouachita State Park, Lake Catherine State Park, and along the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT). This 45 mile trail follows the shoreline of Lake Ouachita and is one of the area’s IMBA Epic Rides, making it a popular trail for mountain biking as well. One of the best day hikes along the LOViT is the Hickory Nut Mountain segment, a 3.2 mile section that begins at the Hickory Nut Mountain Vista – a beautiful overlook with expansive views of Lake Ouachita. Other IMBA Epic Rides include the Womble Trail, a 37-mile trail through the Ouachita National Forest, and the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, the longest bike trail in Arkansas. Currently 137 miles of the 192 mile trail are open to mountain biking. These rides helped earn Hot Springs its designation as an IMBA Bronze-level Ride Center.
Convenient to the IMBA Epic Rides is the Shangri La Resort on Lake Ouachita, the perfect place to rest and refuel! The onsite restaurant offers great views of the lake along with down-home cooking and homemade pie!
Spend the day digging for treasure at one of the area quartz mines or the Crater of Diamonds State Park! The Ouachita Mountains surrounding Hot Springs are famous for producing some of the world’s finest quartz crystals and you can dig for your own at several different spots, including Ron Coleman Mining and Jim Coleman Crystal Mines in Jessieville, and Avant Mining, Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines, Sweet Surrender Crystal Mine and Twin Creek Crystal Mine in Mount Ida. Located about an hour and a half from downtown Hot Springs, Crater of Diamonds is a one-of-a-kind attraction where you can hunt for diamonds and a variety of other minerals in the eroded surface of a volcanic crater. The park has produced some serious whoppers including the largest diamond ever discovered in the U.S. Dubbed “Uncle Sam,” it was found in 1924 and weighed in at 40.23 carats! According to the park’s website, over 33,100 diamonds have been found by visitors to the park since its inception as an Arkansas state park in 1972. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones!
If you end up in or around Mount Ida, be sure to stop by Burl's Smokehouse on your way there or back. Located right on the highway in Royal, this small stop is a local favorite for its smoked meats and big sandwiches.
Outdoor apparel and comfortable shoes for hiking/biking, a swimsuit, clothes you don’t mind getting dirty for diamond and crystal mining, and plenty of sunscreen.
If you want to float a river, springtime is your best bet. The lakes are most enjoyed during the summer while hiking and biking is best during the spring and fall.
You’ll need a vehicle to reach your destinations, then travel by foot, bike, or boat, depending on your activity.