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ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: Get in the swim at one of state's parks

by Jack Schnedler | August 10, 2021 at 1:49 a.m.
Youngsters find lots of fresh-water beach fun in Lake Ouachita State Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

In T.S. Eliot's iconic poem "The Waste Land," April is the cruelest month. In Arkansas, even with the balm of air conditioning, the cruelest month is often August. Our summer's fiery furnace keeps pumping out the heat, while cooler autumn weather seems a distant fantasy.

Refreshing relief awaits just a splash away at the Natural State's numerous bodies of fresh water, which add up to 600,000 acres of lakes plus 9,700 miles of clear streams and rivers. There are lake beaches for swimming in 10 state parks, while six of the parks provide outdoor pools.

The Buffalo National River has swimming spots tucked along its 135-mile length. Beaches or other splashing sites also can be found on lakes maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, likewise in Ozark and Ouachita national forests. Many county and city parks offer swimming in lakes, streams or pools.

Arkansans with a favorite swimming locale already know where to head. Other summer fun seekers may welcome a few suggestions on where to take a heat-abating plunge, starting with state parks.

Lake Ouachita State Park, a dozen miles northwest of Hot Springs, maintains two swimming beaches. The larger one is near the visitor center and marina. The second stretches along a more secluded site at the eastern end of a paved shoreline road. Just above it stands Three Sisters Springs, a stone pavilion built in the late 19th century to collect mineral waters believed to have healing powers.

Picnic tables are available along Lake Hamilton at Hill Wheatley Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
Picnic tables are available along Lake Hamilton at Hill Wheatley Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

Lake Catherine State Park, a dozen miles southeast of Hot Springs, boasts a crescent-shaped sand beach. More than a dozen picnic tables, shaded by a pavilion and leafy trees, overlook the water.

Other state parks maintaining beaches include Crowley's Ridge, DeGray Lake Resort, Jacksonport, Lake Charles, Lake Dardanelle, Mississippi River, Village Creek and Woolly Hollow. Most are open free of charge.

There is generally a fee for swimming in the outdoor pools at the following state parks: Crater of Diamonds, Devil's Den, Lake Chicot, Lake Fort Smith, Mount Nebo and Petit Jean. Lifeguards are stationed at these pools, which do lack one pleasure found at the beaches: the tickle of sand between the toes.

Along the Buffalo River, one of the most scenic swimming locales can be found at Steel Creek Campground, set below towering Roark Bluffs near Ponca. Another prime swim spot along the national river is located on a bend in the waterway at Buffalo Point Campground, north of Jasper.

More than a dozen beaches lie along lakes maintained by the Corps of Engineers. Among the federally maintained bodies of water are Table Rock, Norfork, Greers Ferry, Bull Shoals and Beaver lakes.

Toys are popular at the beach by Three Sisters Springs at Lake Ouachita State Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
Toys are popular at the beach by Three Sisters Springs at Lake Ouachita State Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

The tree-shrouded Ozark and St. Francis national forests, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, shelter a number of spots where swimming is welcome. In the Ozark forest, those include Cove, Spring, Horsehead and Wedington lakes. St. Francis forest offers Bear Creek and Storm Creek lakes.

A worthy choice among the host of outdoor swimming venues belonging to Arkansas cities and counties is Hill Wheatley Park, tucked at the northern tip of Hot Springs' popular Lake Hamilton on Majestic Lodge Road. Like many of the Natural State's swimming beaches, it provides picnic tables and grills, along with a boat ramp and dock.

No T.S. Eliot verses about the joy of swimming turn up in a quick Google search. But the website of the Department of Arkansas Parks, Heritage & Tourism spins this snippet of whimsy regarding clueless fellow Americans:

"When planning a beach vacation, land-locked Arkansas rarely jumps to the top of the list. It's surprising to most that Arkansas indeed does have lake and river beaches — with no jellyfish, no crabs, no sharks."

Information on state parks with beaches or swimming pools can be found at arkansasstateparks.com. Details on other beaches and swimming spots in the state are available at arkansas.com/outdoors/water-activities.

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