The drive home after a long day of fishing would have been exhausting. In fact, had you been driving home, you might have chosen to cut your day on the water shorter. Instead you drive half a mile to a cabin, where you and your friends will grill steaks, recap catches and near misses of big fish, and do a bit of gear straightening before finding a bed. You’ll be up again at daybreak, ready to do it again.
Renting a cabin near a hunting or fishing locale can allow for more productive days afield or on the water and the opportunity to work an area thoroughly over a few days. It also can help create a more memorable total experience when you add in time around the cabin with buddies.
Several Arkansas state parks’ facilities include cabins and/or lodges that make very good base camps for sporting outings, whether for hunting, fishing or a combination. Parks with cabins or lodges are widespread in the state, and some are on the banks of premier fishing lakes or near high-quality hunting areas. Making a good thing better, some are very reasonable in cost.
We’ve selected three state parks, all in different parts of the state and varying notably in character, that work very well as base camps for multi-day hunting or fishing outings.
OZARK FOLK CENTER STATE PARK
A cultural center created to preserve Ozark heritage, especially in music and crafts, the Ozark Folk Center isn’t lakeside to a famous fishery, and it obviously isn’t a hunting lodge. Those things acknowledged, this park has 60 cabins nestled in the woods, and its location makes it an outstanding base camp for hunting and fishing adventures in the Sylamore Ranger District of the Ozark National Forest. The cabins have refrigerators but no kitchens, so unless you want to grill out or only eat food that doesn’t require cooking, you’ll need to go out for meals. The park does have a restaurant (open mid-April through mid-November), and it is located right at the edge of Mountain View, so numerous food options are nearby.
The Sylamore District, which is located just north of Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center, offers a huge block of mostly forested public land that provides excellent hunting opportunities and is managed for hunting as Sylamore WMA. The area includes the Leatherwood Wilderness, and it borders the Buffalo National River corridor to the west. Oak-hickory forests dominate the landscape, which is mostly sloped, with the steepest slopes near the Buffalo River.
Sylamore WMA, with its plentiful hardwoods, has long been considered one of the best squirrel hunting areas in Arkansas, and squirrel hunting opportunities tend to be quite consistent from year to year. The area also offers good deer hunting and produces some very impressive bucks. Deer benefit from fertile stream valleys and good woodland habitat. Just as important, the remoteness and ruggedness of some areas allow a few bucks to escape hunters for several years and maximize potential in their racks. Black bears also roam this area and can be hunted. It is difficult hunting, though, and calls for significant time spent scouting.
If you visit during the spring, wild turkey hunting can be very good at Sylamore WMA. Included is the 9,371-acre Sylamore Walk-In Turkey Area, which offers excellent habitat and is closed to vehicular traffic during spring, significantly lessening hunting pressure. If you don’t mind doing some walking, this area supports a good turkey population and provides an outstanding opportunity for spring hunting. Terrain is mostly steep, with North Sylamore Creek and a couple of smaller streams cutting through the area. The flattest land and easiest access are found in the northwestern portion of the area.
Beyond hunting opportunities, various fishing destinations are quite close. The lower reaches of the White River’s trout waters border Mountain View. This section is mostly deep and is best fished from a boat. Just north of town, North Sylamore Creek, already mentioned, is a classic Ozarks stream that offers a classic mix of smallmouths, various panfish and catfish, and gets minimal fishing pressure in places because of its remoteness. Within reasonable driving range of the Ozark Folk Center, the Buffalo National River, additional sections of the White River, the Norfork River, the Little Red River and Dry Run Creek (youth-only, catch-release, single barbless hook, artificial lures) provide many more opportunities.
1032 Park Avenue – Mountain View, AR – 870-269-3851
Lodging: 60 duplex-style cabins, with pool and rec room for guests. Refrigerator and coffee pot, but no kitchen. ($67-$72)
Campground: Some camping available next door at a private RV Park.
On-Site: Historic Craft Village, gardens and restaurant (all open mid-April to mid-November), auditorium with music shows
Nearby: Mountain View Square, White River, Blanchard Springs Caverns, Loco Ropes Course
LAKE CHICOT STATE PARK
Arkansas’ largest natural lake and North America’s largest oxbow, Lake Chicot is a Mississippi River oxbow that has long been cut off from the flow of the big river. Typical of a Mississippi River oxbow, Chicot is fertile and offers plentiful shallow cover, and its waters support excellent game fish populations, with bluegills, crappie, catfish and largemouths being the most important species.
The park itself sits lakeside. In fact, some of its 14 cabins have decks that look right over the lake and provide direct access to fishing docks. Of course, the Mississippi itself is nearby and accessible from the Panther Forest access, if you want to spend time doing some big-river fishing. Many other oxbows add even more opportunities. There’s no need to go anywhere, though. The park provides direct access to fine fishing, and its marina rents fishing boats and kayaks at very reasonable rates, making Lake Chicot a great destination, even if you don’t own a boat.
As already noted, Lake Chicot is large. It is approximately 20 miles long and it covers more than 5,000 acres. Don’t let that intimidate you, though. Since the lake’s bottom is essentially a rounded basin, with minimal significant structure, fish mostly relate to hard cover, such as willows, cypress trees, deadfalls and docks. That shortens the playing field significantly, and makes it far easier to find fish because the cover is obvious.
Crappie provide some of the most predictable action at Lake Chicot. Good action can be found year ’round, and a hot shallow bite begins very early in the spring. When the crappie move shallow and get extra tight to hard cover, all you really need is a long pole and a crappie jig. Move fairly quickly until you get bit, dangling your jig beside all different kinds of wood cover. When you get bit, slow down to see if more slabs are nearby and pay attention to the depth and the kind of cover.
Bluegills and channel catfish are similarly dependable, with prospects heating up around mid-spring and continuing well into the fall. For bluegills, it’s tough to beat dangling a cricket or small worm beneath a float and casting it beside a dock, a deep tree or other wood. Again, if you don’t get bit, reel it in and move to the next piece of cover. For channel catfish, upsize your worm to a nightcrawler or switch to chicken livers. Again, fish near cover. Put your bait on the bottom if you can do so without snagging too much, or suspend it just off the bottom with a float rig.
Specific bass patterns vary by season and water conditions. However, you typically can do well simply by working the shore and focusing on visible cover. Because the fish relate so heavily to wood, good choices include plastic worms rigged weedless, square-billed crankbaits that will deflect off cover, and buzzbaits, which can be worked close to the thick stuff to draw out fish.
Finally, it’s worth noting that some of the best fishing for crappie and bass occurs during the cooler months, and if you plan a Lake Chicot trip during duck season, the Mississippi River and its backwaters provide plentiful opportunities to add variety to your sporting plans with morning or evening duck hunts.
2547 Highway 257 – Lake Village, AR – 870-265-5480
Lodging: 14 one- or two-bedroom cabins, fully furnished, some with a fireplace, lake view deck and fishing dock ($90-$120)
Campground: 122 sites
On-Site: swimming pool, store/marina, fishing boat and kayak rentals
Nearby: Greenville, Miss., Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Ferguson
LAKE CATHERINE STATE PARK
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, just outside Hot Springs, Lake Catherine is a 1,940-acre impoundment of the Ouachita River that sometimes gets overshadowed by larger lakes Ouachita and Hamilton, but provides fine fishing for several species in a delightful setting. The park that carries the lake’s name provides an ideal setting for a sporting retreat with its 20 lakeshore cabins and marina. Park marina offerings include reasonably priced rental fishing boats, so you don’t even need to own a boat to get away from the shores and explore the lake and its diverse fishery.
Lake Catherine offers a nice variety of fish species. Along with the bass, crappie, bluegills and catfish that call most Arkansas rivers and lakes home, these waters support striped bass and a good population of white bass. No single species clearly stands out as the kind of fish that anglers most often pursue, but all are available in at least decent numbers. During spring and fall, when fish of various kinds tend to feed in shallow water, you can catch a nice mix simply by working the banks with a grub or a small crankbait and casting to visible targets. Through summer and the coldest part of winter, more fish will hold deeper, so using electronics gains importance for finding structure and fish.
Whatever species you target, something worth noting about Lake Catherine is that due to its scenic qualities, proximity to Hot Springs and plentiful open water, this lake is very popular with water skiers and other recreational boaters. That’s especially true from late spring through the end of summer, so if you visit during vacation season, you might want to start your fishing before daylight, take a break through the middle of the day and get back on the water toward evening. And in truth, the fishing is best during those times anyway.
In addition to the lake fishery, tailwaters at both ends of Lake Catherine provide trout fishing opportunities. Carpenter Dam, immediately upstream, and Remmel Dam, which impounds Lake Catherine, both have coldwater outflows that are stocked with trout throughout spring and into early summer. Park-like areas provide bank access below both dams.
While fishing is the obvious sporting attraction at Lake Catherine State Park, the park lies just east of the expansive Ouachita National Forest, and so the cabins also provide a fine base camp for hunting excursions. Mostly forested, but broken by wildlife openings, the national forest provides good habitat for deer, turkeys, squirrels and more. The terrain is generally steep and rugged, but if you’re willing to do some walking, designated wilderness areas within the forest provide opportunities to get far from crowds and find less pressured game.
Of course, if you want the best of both worlds, plan your trip during turkey season or deer season and enjoy!
1200 Catherine Park Road – Hot Springs, AR – 501-844-4176
Lodging: 20 cabins with full kitchens, including two studio duplexes, one two-bedroom accessible cabin and 17 one-bedroom cabins ($89-$190)
Campground: 69 campsites, including tent and RV sites ($20-$32), plus a rentable camp, with tent ($40) and a yurt ($55)
On-Site: marina, rental boats, hiking trails, visitor center, nature center, guided horseback trail rides in season.
Nearby: Hot Springs, Ouachita National Forest, Lake Ouachita