Where are you going for summer vacation? The Gulf of Mexico is nice. The Rockies and the Smokies are fun, too, but so is Arkansas. Why travel far from home when excitement awaits right here in the Natural State? And if you want a fishing vacation that offers plenty of entertainment off the water, Arkansas fills the bill there as well. It's inexpensive, and instead of driving, you can spend more time fishing, swimming, hiking, dining and relaxing. Pull up a chair and see what you think of these ideas for a staycation getaway.
Our capital city is an overlooked staycation destination, but it has a lot to offer for residents and non-residents alike.
First, the fishing!
Central Arkansas offers an excellent diversity of freshwater fishing opportunities. You can launch a boat at several locations on the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System on the Arkansas River, which offers very good fishing for largemouth bass, white bass and crappie at this time of year. Access is available to the Little Rock Pool at the Verizon Ramp in North Little Rock and at Maumelle Park in west Little Rock.
Maumelle Park is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility that has a large campground with electric and water hookups for RVs, plenty of open space for children to play and playgrounds with play equipment.
You can access the next pool upstream of Murray Lock & Dam at Two Rivers Park in west Little Rock at the mouth of the Little Maumelle River. You can also access the Little Maumelle River at Pinnacle Mountain State Park.
The Little Maumelle is like a place out of time. It's only 10 minutes from the city's busiest road, but it feels like wilderness with the cypress trees and solitude.
From a kayak, canoe or aluminum boat you can cast for chunky largemouths, crappie and bream without seeing another soul. There are some big catfish in the Little Maumelle, as well as grinnel.
For even better fishing for bass, crappie and bream, Lake Conway is about 30 minutes west of Little Rock, just off Interstate 40. To an angler, its standing timber looks like targets in a pinball machine.
Along the Way: Little Rock has lodging to fit any budget and any level of luxury. We've got restaurants to satisfy any appetite, from down-home Southern cooking to all manner of ethnic cuisine. We've got an ice-skating/roller rink in west Little Rock, a trampoline park and a fantastic biking/hiking trail at Two Rivers Park, as well as excellent hiking trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. On a clear day, the view from the Pinnacle Mountain summit is on par with a mountaintop vista anywhere.
We also have museums. The birthplace of Gen. Douglas McArthur and the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center are downtown, about 10 minutes apart.
For a free vacation planning kit, contact the Little Rock Convention and Visitor's
Bureau at littlerock.com/little-rock/free-vacation-planning-kit. Contact Pinnacle Mountain State Park by phone at 501-868-5806 or click arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain/.
Northwest Arkansas and north Arkansas are separate worlds with little in common. Northwest Arkansas, which contains the cities of Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville is a self-contained community that is easily accessible by air and by interstate highway, but is isolated from everything east of the White River.
For fishermen, northwest Arkansas is a topflight destination. Beaver Lake, the uppermost of the three big reservoirs on the White River, offers world-class fishing for striped bass, white bass and hybrids.
It also supports an excellent but underrated black bass fishery that's good enough to have been the only annual stop on the FLW Tour for nearly two decades. In May, a good angler can catch five largemouth bass weighing more than 20 pounds.
Beaver Lake also has an outstanding smallmouth bass fishery that gets better every year. If you want a mess of crappie or walleyes to fry at your campsite, Beaver Lake has an abundance of both.
Trout fishing is available in the White River below Beaver Dam. The tailwater is stocked with rainbow trout, but it also has trophy brown trout, as well as walleyes.
If you prefer smaller waters, Lake Fayetteville also supports excellent numbers of largemouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish.
Watch The Video Gallery Above To Help you Improve Your Family Fishing Fun!
Along the Way: Like Little Rock, northwest Arkansas features a wide selection of lodging facilities to suit any budget and comfort level.
Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, is a college town and is famous for its taverns and nightclubs on Dixon Street.
Bentonville, home of Walmart, is also home to Crystal Bridges Museum, one of the world's best art museums. That's not hyperbole. It's true.
Rogers has a quaint and charming downtown square, complete with cobblestone streets.
Hundreds of campsites for tents and RVs are available at Corps of Engineers parks around the lake, including Prairie Creek, Monte Ne, Lost Bridge, Hickory Creek and Dam Site.
You can also camp at Lake Fort Smith State Park at Mountainburg, about 30 minutes south of Fayetteville. It's beautiful and quiet, with an excellent fishing lake of its own. Its location provides equally convenient access to the aforementioned cities and the cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren. The Fort Smith National Historic Site contains the ruins of two frontier forts and the federal court of Hanging Judge Isaac Parker. It is a mecca for Old West aficionados.
For information, click northwestarkansas.org and arkansas.com/lake/beaver-lake/1.
Though remote and hard to reach, the northern part of the state is in the heart of the scenic Ozark Mountains. It is home to some of our most popular tourist destinations and harbors some of our finest fishing. Here's a look at our best by sub-region.
Fishing in these parts is incomparable. The White River flows nearby, offering excellent prospects for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. You can launch your own boat from several public accesses, or you can hire a guide at several trout docks and resorts, including Angler's Resort, Jack's Resort, Riverside Retreat and Sylamore Creek Camp.
It surprises a lot of people that this part of the White also supports a very healthy smallmouth bass population. For information about lodging, go to bbonline.com/articles/arkansas/mountain-view/find-the-best-fishing-spots-in-mountain-view.
Farther north is the part of the White River that is aptly called the Trout Fishing Capital of the World. The town of Cotter claims that distinction and backs it up with excellent fishing at Cotter, Roundhouse Shoal, Armstrong Hole, Rainbow Hole and Wildcat Shoal.
In low water, the shoal areas offer outstanding fly-fishing. When the hydropower generators send water rushing down the river, you can catch rainbows, browns and cutthroats by drifting in boats.
Two of our favorite guide services for trophy browns are Dally's Ozark Angler and "Straight Outta Cotter."
In addition to the White River, Mountain Home is strategically nestled near Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake, which means you also have easy access to a renowned trout fishery on the Norfork tailwater.
Bull Shoals Lake offers sensational fishing for largemouth bass, Kentucky bass and smallmouth bass. It also produces trophy stripers, and has a huge white bass population.
Northerners are shocked to find that Bull Shoals is one of America's best walleye lakes. In May, walleyes are in or near shallow tributaries and are relatively easy to find and catch. In fact, right now is the time when you can catch walleyes, stripers, largemouths, smallmouths and white bass in the same holes, sometimes on consecutive casts.
Lake Norfork is a smaller version of Bull Shoals with all of the same options. It has a lot more stripers than Bull Shoals, and while they do not get as big as in Bull Shoals, they have been established in Norfork longer, and the fishery is more developed and geared toward visitors.
Finally, in this region we have the Buffalo National River. Marshall and Yellville are the most popular access points to reach excellent camping facilities at Buffalo Point and Tyler Bend Recreation areas.
The Buffalo is America's first national river and is a national park. It is an outstanding smallmouth bass stream. Crooked Creek, near Yellville, is even better.
Our favorite outfitter on the Buffalo is Wild Bill's near Yellville. It rents canoes for day or multi-day floats, and offers shuttle services if you bring your own canoes. For Crooked Creek, call Becky Walker at Crooked Creek Canoes.
Along the Way: For music lovers, Mountain View is a logical destination that offers a suite of fine fishing opportunities. The Ozark Folk Center is a state park that showcases traditional folk music. Bring a guitar, fiddle or mandolin because you'll always find a session of like-minded music enthusiasts around the town square. You can also find unique items for sale in the shops that line the square, their buildings made of native stone.
Lodging is available at Cotter Trout Lodge, His Place Resort, and the Fisherman's Lodge. Our favorite is Cedarwood Lodge, which is on the riverside about half a mile upstream from Ranchette Access.
The closest big town is Mountain Home, which brings a whole new fishing dimension into play.
Mountain Home has lodging in town, or you can book cozier accommodations out of town and on the lakes. You can also camp at the lakes. Bull Shoals has more campgrounds than Lake Norfork and offers full hookups for tents and RVs.
When you get hungry, you'll find just about anything you want in Mountain Home. For more information, go to enjoymountainhome.com.
DeGray Lake, a scenic highland reservoir between Arkadelphia and Bismarck is the most remote of Hot Springs's Diamond Lakes, but it offers a full range of family activities on and off the water.
Covering about 14,000 acres, DeGray Lake is best known for largemouth bass, but it offers excellent fishing for crappie, walleyes and hybrids. The hybrids run in big schools this time of year, and you can catch them right now.
DeGray Lake contains a lot of big crappie, and you can catch them at hundreds of brush structures around the lake. June is a great time to catch crappie from brushpiles. Guide Tammy Richardson (870/356-8251) is one of the best in the business.
Along the Way: Arkadelphia is nearby with a variety of motels and restaurants, or you can stay at DeGray Lake Resort State Park, which has facilities for tent and RV camping. Its lodge is a high-end but affordable hotel. You can also rent yurts for a more private experience.
Besides fishing, water lovers can rent ski/deck boats, party barges, canoes and kayaks — solo and tandem — from the state park marina.
The park also has a full-service gift shop, interpretive programs and horseback riding. The one-hour rides cost $30 per person.
If you want to sharpen your golf game, the park also has an excellent golf course, a disc golf course and, of course, a restaurant. For more information about accommodations and rates, see degray.com.
BONUS: ARKANSAS' ON-AIR FISHING SOURCE
No matter where you go in Arkansas, you can hear the latest fishing news every Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. on "Ray Tucker's Arkansas Outdoors, It's a Natural" radio program.
The award-winning program originates in Little Rock on 103.7 FM and is carried on a statewide network of affiliates to reach every corner of the state.
Ray Tucker, a legendary sportscaster and former executive director of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, hosts the show along with Bryan Hendricks, the longtime Outdoor Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state's largest and only statewide daily newspaper. Tucker and Hendricks talk about their latest fishing adventures with a colorful cast of characters and share expert advice and tips from some of America's most accomplished anglers, as well as from fishing guides from around the state.
Many of the show's guests are experts on lakes and rivers that weren't mentioned in this article, but are nevertheless excellent family vacation destinations.
The show is also live-streamed at 1037thebuzz.com.