Camping Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas

Camp Arkansas had the privilege of speaking with Terence, about camping in the Ouachita National Forest. He also gave us great insights on what activities you should do while in the forest and just how big the Ouachita National Forest really is.

Terence’s Favorite Thing To Do In The Forest
A drive to Lake Ouachita Vista, located in Montgomery County, offers a panoramic view of Lake Ouachita outlined by the pine hardwood slopes of the Ouachita National Forest

Terence’s Favorite Campsite in the National Forest
Shady Lake recreation area, near Mena, Arkansas. The recreation area is a campground, tucked in the mountains on the bank of a beautiful lake. It offers opportunities to fish, swim, or canoe.

Camping in the Ouachita National Forest

When was Ouachita National Forest founded? How did it start?
In 1906, Gifford Pinchot, then Chief of the USDA Forest Service, sent Cornell-trained forester William Logan Hall to Arkansas to select the areas of land that would eventually become the two designated national forests.
A proclamation by President Roosevelt on December 18, 1907, created the Arkansas National Forest on reserved public domain lands south of the Arkansas River, which is today the Ouachita National Forest. Pinchot remarked that this forest was the only major shortleaf pine forest under Federal government protection.

Just before leaving office, President Roosevelt added lands from the public domain to the gross area of the Ozark NF on February 25 and to the Ouachita NF on February 27, 1909.

camping in the Ouachita National ForestWhat are the most popular activities for visitors?
Camping, hiking, photography, fishing, picnicking, hunting, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, fall foliage tours, ATV riding, horseback riding, and canoeing are the mainstay recreation opportunities on the forest.

Where is the Ouachita National Forest located? What are some other attractions in the area worth checking out?
The Ouachita National Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma and is headquartered in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Attractions worth seeing include Cedar Lake Recreation area in Oklahoma and Lake Sylvia which is 38 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas. Cedar Lake, surrounded by pine and oak covered hills, is a perfect place to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. The lake is 86 acres. Campers and day visitors can choose from a wide variety of activities, including picnicking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, hiking the 3-mile trail around the lake, walking a short nature trail, or just relaxing.

camping in the ouachita national forestLake Sylvia, which is 18 acres, is known for its swimming and fishing opportunities. The trail system around Lake Sylvia offers the visitor an opportunity to enjoy an easy nature walk with interpretive signs or venture to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail for a backpackers experience.

Which one of those is your favorite?
The Charlton Recreation Day Use Area is one of the more popular locations on the forest. It has places where visitors can picnic, swim, hike, and fish along Walnut Creek, a cold, spring-fed mountain stream in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest.

camping in the ouachita national forest

camping in the ouachita national forestWhat are the campsites like? Are they more open or secluded?
The Ouachita National Forest offers a wide variety of camping opportunities. The class A developed recreation areas have amenities such as full hook ups and warm shower facilities. On the other end of the camping spectrum, visitors have the opportunity to backpack into the middle of a designated wilderness area and sleep under the stars. In the middle, recreation areas are available with fewer facilities that provide a more rustic approach to developed camping.

If you could only spend one hour in the Forest, what would you do?
A drive to Lake Ouachita Vista, located in Montgomery County, offers a panoramic view of Lake Ouachita outlined by the pine hardwood slopes of the Ouachita National Forest. Also a stop at Hickory Nut Mountain day use area just one mile down the road offers a scenic setting to enjoy lunch. If more time becomes available, the Lake Ouachita Vista trail, which runs through this area, offers a great hiking opportunity.

If you could spend just 1 night in Ouachita National Forest, which campsite would you choose – and why?
On the Ouachita that would be a difficult decision. A strong case could be made for staying at Shady Lake recreation area, near Mena, Arkansas. The recreation area is a campground, tucked in the mountains on the bank of a beautiful lake. It offers opportunities to fish, swim, or canoe. Physically, it is a large site that combines Civilian Conservation Corps built structures and modern facilities. This combination of historic charm and updated facilities make this a destination campground worthy of a hard look when planning any get away.

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