The Ouachita Mountains and forests offer a variety of camping opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. You can find primitive camping, backcountry camping, and developed campgrounds with all the amenities, including hot showers, RV hookups, etc. The mountains offer a completely natural experience and are a perfect destination for your next camping trip.
But before you set out to experience all the fun that comes with being outdoors, you need to prepare adequately. You must understand where exactly to camp and what to expect while there, this guide will help you figure that out.
Where to Camp in the Ouachitas
The secret to enjoying your camping experience is choosing the best spot. The Ouachita Mountains have a little bit of everything to offer, so it can be tricky to choose the right spot. If you are looking for primitive camping and backcountry camping opportunities, you will want to explore the southeast region of the mountains.
There are numerous areas designated for dispersed camping with few or no amenities. If you are looking for campgrounds with more amenities, there are plenty of those options as well. The following are a few suggestions of where to camp in the Ouachitas.
1. Mill Creek Family Camp
Like the name, Mill Creek is one of the best campsites to visit with your family. This beautiful campground is located west of Ouachita National Forest and has a lot to offer. Mill Creek offers tent camping, RV camping, and cabins for rent. There are also plenty of activities to keep you busy such as fishing, swimming, canoeing, and more.
If you’re looking for a great place to camp with your family that offers a little bit of everything, Mill Creek Family Camp is a perfect option.
2. Crystal Campground
Nothing beats the feeling of escaping into the woods when you need some peace and quiet. Crystal Campground is the perfect place to do just that. This campground is located in the Ouachita National Forest, and it offers a variety of camping options, including RV camping, tent camping, and cabins.
You can take this opportunity to enjoy your long-awaited picnic, swimming and fishing in the clear waters in the streams nearby, playing horseshoes and other games, there are also plenty of trails to explore in the area.
3. Charlton Recreational Area
You can find the spectacular Charlton Recreational Area near Lake Ouachita. This campground offers visitors a wide variety of activities to enjoy, including fishing, swimming, boating, and canoeing. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area for those who want to get out and explore the natural beauty of the landscape.
If you’re a swimming enthusiast, there’s a historical swimming space at your disposal built of a stone dam dating back to 1935. For those who love some peace and seclusion, the campground also offers primitive camping sites that are tucked away in the woods.
4. Shady Lake Campground
If you move a little bit further to the Southwest end of the Ouachita National Forest, you will find the Shady Lake Campground. This campground is smaller than the one at Talimena and doesn’t offer as many amenities, but it makes up for that with its beautiful and remote location.
Shady Lake is an excellent spot for fishing, swimming, and boating. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area for those who want to explore the forest. There are only 16 campsites at Shady Lake, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for some peace and quiet as you won’t expect to deal with a crowded site.
5. Lake Sylvia Campground
Just a few miles from Little Rock, you’ll come across the scenic Lake Sylvia Campground. This campground is perfect for those looking for a mix of both city and nature. It’s located close to the city but also provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The campground is surrounded by oak and pine mountains, giving it a rustic feel.
There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area for those who want to explore the forest. You’ll never get bored here with plenty of hiking and biking trails at your disposal. You can also take advantage of fishing, boating, and swimming opportunities. The campground also has a playground for the kids and a pavilion that can be rented out for events.
6. Big Brushy Campground
Hot Springs is a popular attraction in the Ouachitas, and just 20 miles from it, you’ll find the spectacular Big Brushy Campground. The campground is situated on the banks of the Ouachita River and has a wide variety of recreation opportunities. There are tent and RV campsites, as well as cabins for rent.
The campground is a great place to spend a weekend fishing, swimming, and kayaking on the river. You can also hike in the surrounding Ouachita National Forest. There are plenty of things to do here, so you’ll never go back home without making memories.
7. Cedar Lake Campground
Another great campsite to explore the next time you take a trip to the Ouachitas is the Cedar Lake Campground. This campground is located on Cedar Lake in Ouachita National Forest, it offers some of the best fishing in the area. There are also several hiking trails nearby for nature enthusiasts.
If you’re looking for a place to stay with your RV or tent, Cedar Lake Campground is worth checking out. The campsites here are spacious and well-maintained, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy during your visit.
Tips to Prepare for the Ouachita Mountains Camping
There’s no denying that camping offers a great opportunity to get out in nature and enjoy all that it offers. However, you also can’t ignore that it can be challenging if you don’t prepare well. You can do a few things to make your experience even better. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your trip to the Ouachitas:
Prepare Your Ideal Camping Kit
There is a lot to pack for your camping, and you can’t do everything in a single day. Start by packing the essentials, and then work your way up to the luxury items. Ensure you have a tent, sleeping bag, food, water, and clothing. You might also want to consider bringing a portable stove, camping chairs, and binoculars.
Check the Weather Forecast
No one wants to be caught in the rain without proper gear, so check the weather forecast before your trip. You don’t want to be packing for a heatwave and then show up to snow on the ground. And believe it or not, the weather in the Ouachitas can be quite unpredictable.
So, when you go camping anywhere in the Ouachita Mountains, you must prepare for any weather regardless of the season. Come with the proper clothing for both hot and cold weather, rain gear, good hiking shoes, and sunscreen.
Remember the Survival Kit
Surviving the wilderness comes with a lot of preparation because danger can lurk around every corner. Make sure you have a well-rounded survival kit with all necessary supplies, like a knife, water filter, and fire starter.
If you’re camping in an area with bears, be sure to bring along bear pepper spray. And whatever you do, don’t forget your insect repellent because the Ouchitas is well known to harbor a lot of mosquitos, ticks, and many other types of bugs.
Bring Your Firewood or Stove
If you’re going to light a fire, you will prepare adequately for it. One thing to remember is that many camping sites in Ouachita forests don’t allow you to cut firewood. You’ll either have to bring your own or purchase it on site.
If you’re going to use a stove, bring the appropriate fuel with you. There are no stores in the Ouachitas, so don’t forget anything.
Checkout for Free Campgrounds
While there are many campgrounds that demand some payment, you can still take advantage of the free ones. Recreation.gov provides a searchable database of federal campgrounds across the United States, including some in the Ouachita National Forest. So, if you’re on a budget, you can check out some of them and enjoy your time free of charge.
When packing for your camping trip, think about the different activities you’ll be doing. If you’ll be hiking and biking, you’ll need to pack lighter than if you’re only planning on sitting around the campfire. Make a list of what you’ll need and pack accordingly.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
No one ever wants to think about things going wrong while on vacation, but it’s always best to be prepared. Make sure you have a first-aid kit, a map of the area, and a way to contact emergency services if needed.
Ouachita Mountains Camping Amenities
There are things you can’t carry with you on your camp trip. Luckily, the Ouachita campgrounds offer plenty of amenities to ensure you have a relaxing time here.
However, you must know that the amenities vary from campground to campground. What you’ll find at Cedar Lake may not be the same thing you find at Mill Creek Family Camp. But here are some common amenities you’re likely to come across when camping in the Ouachitas.
Playground for Kids
If you have kids, they’re going to want to play. That’s a given. And luckily, most Ouachita campgrounds have playgrounds for the kiddos. This is a great way to keep them occupied and out of trouble (at least for a little while).
One of the great things about camping is that you can get back to nature. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the creature comforts of home. Most Ouachita campgrounds have bathhouses with toilets and showers. This is a great way to stay clean and fresh during your camping trip.
Camping can be a lot of fun, but it can also be messy. That’s why most Ouachita campgrounds have dumpsters onsite. This way, you can easily get rid of all your trash and not have to worry about it. Always make sure you leave the campground as clean as you found it by dumping your trash in the appropriate places.
What’s a camping trip without a few picnics? Most Ouachita campgrounds have plenty of picnic tables so that you can enjoy a meal outdoors. This is a great way to relax and take in the beauty of nature. If you’re camping with the love of your life, the picnic areas will make your experience worth remembering.
RV Packing Areas
If you’re camping with your RV or any other vehicle, be rest assured that you’ll find a convenient and safe parking area. Just be sure to observe all signage and park in the designated spot.
Is camping free in the Ouachitas?
Depending on where you decide to camp, you might need to pay a fee or camp for free. But you can always do your research in advance to know where you can find free camping to save money and still have fun. However, remember that free camping might not come with all the amenities you need for comfort.
Are there bears in the Ouachita mountains?
Yes! The Ouachita Mountains provide an incredible habitat for bears since they get most of their foods, such as corn and berries, here. And while they typically won’t bother humans, it’s always important to take the necessary precautions while camping in bear country. This means storing your food properly and keeping a clean camp. Don’t be aggressive to these animals because they’ll rarely attack you.
There’s no doubt that Ouachita camping offers a one-of-a-kind experience. With plenty of activities to enjoy and natural beauty at every turn, you’ll have an unforgettable time. If you’re a camping enthusiast, the mountains will treat you to an unforgettable experience.
There are plenty of things to do, sites to camp at, and amenities to enjoy. Remember to bring your sense of adventure and be prepared for a memorable trip. With the right attitude and enough preparation, nothing will prevent you from having a great time.
You can read more:
Hiking the Ouachita Mountains: Everything You Need to Know.
Hiking and trekking: everything you need to know
Exploring The Best Water Activities at Ouachita Mountains
Things to do In Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains
Why Visit the Ouachita Mountains