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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Lake Dardanelle State Park a gem

by Bryan Hendricks | February 2, 2023 at 2:21 a.m.

If you need a base for watersports and fishing, there's not a better place in Arkansas than Lake Dardanelle State Park.

Occupying 246 acres on a peninsula, Lake Dardanelle State Park offers full access to one of our state's premier recreational resources. Lake Dardanelle is our best bass fishing lake. It is also a top-tier striped bass fishery, especially in winter when stripers concentrate around the warm-water discharge at the Nuclear One power plant. The lake also supports white bass, crappie, panfish and catfish.

The park has two boat ramps. The largest, near the visitor center, is in a slack-water harbor where you can tie up to a long courtesy dock. This is the headquarters for all of the big bass tournaments held on the lake, including several Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments that featured many of the world's best bass anglers. There's a dedicated tournament weigh-in facility on site, as well.

A single-lane boat ramp is at the far end of the park.

In a cove between those ramps is a privately owned marina.

For bank fishing, a long rock jetty on the west side of the harbor is an excellent place to catch catfish and bass. There's also a fishing pier next to the visitor center.

Every state park visitor center has an aquarium, but the Lake Dardanelle State Park visitor center aquariums are superb. Containing 7,000 gallons of water, the aquariums display some of the biggest bluegill you will ever see, as well as chunky largemouth bass and even a smallmouth bass, the lone representative of Lake Dardanelle's Piney Creek District. I mean, really. That's just bragging.

A few white bass are in the displays, as well as some shad. There's even a river darter tank.

Besides fishing, Lake Dardanelle is fantastic for camping. The main campground has 57 campsites suitable for RVs. A secondary campground has 18 sites. All have dual-voltage electrical service, freeze-proof water connections, picnic table and grill. I have stayed at both campgrounds and found neither lacking, but the sites at the secondary campground are more private. Plenty of mature hardwood trees provide shade in the spring and summer, and the fall colors are gorgeous. There's always a breeze from the lake to make even the hottest days bearable.

Each campground also has a bathhouse with flush toilets and showers.

Private cabins are also available for rent near the marina.

The park's level ground is popular for walking, and there are always cyclists of all ages on the roads during peak camping season.

You can also walk the Meadowbrook Trail, which traverses through the woods between the main park road at State Highway 326.

If you have a boat, the park is a virtual passport to nearly 35,000 surface acres of a lake with about 315 miles of largely undeveloped shoreline. To find excellent bass fishing, you need only to cast a lure. A guy nearly won a mid-level tournament in 2020 fishing the private boat docks on the south side of the lake directly across from the park. Excellent fishing is across the lake at Dardanelle Bay, and also up the lake in the Piney Creek and Illinois Bayou arms. It's not far to the fabled strip pits on the north side of the lake where some of the lake's biggest bass dwell.

Though an overlooked activity at Lake Dardanelle, kayaking is an excellent way to enjoy the lake. With its wide stretches of flat water and its seemingly endless array of isolated coves, bays, islands and tributaries, the lake is a flatwater paddler's paradise. The mountains that tower over the lake reflect a sparkling, sapphire shade over the water that seems to reflect mirror images of puffy clouds that cling to the hilltops. It's best in mid spring and on Indian summer days of late October and early November.

For paddling, the state park is an excellent base from which you can explore other parts of the lake from Spadra Recreation Area and from the many other public boat ramps around the lake. The Arkansas Outdoor Atlas and Gazetteer shows many, if not most, of the ramps.

For more information, visit

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