Destination: Lake Ouachita and DeGray Lake – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Destination: Lake Ouachita and DeGray Lake

If pressed for an answer, I’d have to say that my favorite lakes to explore are in Arkansas are Lake Ouachita and DeGray Lake. Not only are they two of the most beautiful, but they’re also the most accessible and have the most amenities available.

Lake Ouachita
One of five in the Arkansas Diamond Lakes Region, Lake Ouachita is the largest manmade lake lying entirely within the state. It covers 66,324 total acres of land and water and averages 50 feet deep, with the deepest area reaching 200 feet.

No homes are allowed on the shore line, which keeps it wonderfully clean. Another interesting fact about Lake Ouachita is that there are more than 200 islands within the lake. That gives plenty of opportunity to pick one and hang out.

The lake was created by building the Blakely Mountain Dam, with original purpose being flood control and hydroelectricity. One of the most important things I’ve learned about Ouachita was that the lake was not clear cut before it was filled, so a forest still stands beneath the surface. Many trees were over 60 feet tall, so always be on the lookout for shallow-water markers and tree tops. Even in seemingly open water you can go from 150 feet to two feet in a short distance.

Owned by the Corps of Engineers, the lake is located in the Ouachita National Forest of more than 1.8 million acres, with 20,000 forested acres of property surrounding the water. Yet Lake Ouachita is only 13 miles from the Spa City of Hot Springs.

I love to fish Lake Ouachita. My favorite game is large and smallmouth bass, but there are other species in the lake — spotted bass, bream, crappie, catfish, walleye and striped bass. Lake Ouachita also has one of the largest crystal veins in the world, plus rare non-stinging jellyfish and sponges found in only a very few of the cleanest freshwater lakes. Scuba divers come and participate in the special spear fishing season.

There are 10 resorts and marinas located on the lake and several public ramps. My favorite is Mountain Harbor Resort, which is located on the southern shore. I usually stay at one of the cabins that overlook the marina. These are large and well-decorated, with a comfortable porch. There are also good campgrounds, the Harbor Lodge Restaurant and a spa called Turtle Cove. Incidentally, Mountain Harbor is located in a dry county — no alcohol.

DeGray Lake
While Lake Ouachita is northwest of Hot Springs, DeGray Lake lies to the south about 26 miles of the Spa City. Arkansas has only one resort state park, and it’s located here in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains and along the north shore of the lake, which is another of the five Diamond Lakes.

Completed by the Corp of Engineers in 1972 on the Caddo River, DeGray Lake contains 13,800-acres and is popular for all sorts of the outdoor activities, including golf, horseback riding, biking, hiking and camping. It also offers some of Arkansas’s finest fishing for hybrid striped bass, walleye, crappie, bream and catfish.

In summer months, the lake makes for great water-skiing, sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, boating and most any other popular water pastime. The clear water is also ideal for scuba diving and swimming. Caddo Bend is a great location for a day on the lake; it has a sandy beach and swimming area.

The resort state park has a full-service marina with dock space, fuel station, and a bait and tackle shop. Refreshments are also available. I bring my own, but a wide variety of boat rentals are also available, from flat-bottom fishing boats and  pontoon boats to canoes and kayaks, even wave runners. Free launch ramp and parking is provided for personal watercraft at the marina, as well as two other locations within the state park: DeRoche Ridge camping area and Caddo Bend.

Since I also camp, I like the DeRoche Ridge ramp for its convenience. The state park has 113 campsites with water and electric hookups. Locations vary from lakeshore to shaded woodland. In addition to the campgrounds, there’s a series of YURTs (year-round universal recreational tent) with electricity, wood floors, screened windows and a lockable door. They’re equipped with an ice chest, double-burner stove with fuel, folding table with chairs, cleaning supplies and bunk beds. They can sleep up to six people.

If “roughing it” isn’t your thing, stay at Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina on DeGray Lake. It offers newly renovated lodging in beautifully appointed log-sided lake cottages (two bedroom/two bath and three bedroom/bath). The full-service marina has dry boat storage, slips and a store with everything from ice, fuel and sportwear to dive and fishing guide services, a great fleet of party barges and a new ski boat.

Best of all, the resort’s 130 acres of hardwood trees and pines turn brilliant shades in the fall, and their cottages offer decks with hot tubs and wood-burning stone fireplaces for comfortable stays throughout every season.

Author: James Richardson is a contributor to HeartLand Boating

If You Go

DeGray Lake State Resort Park,
Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina,
Lake Ouachita State Park,
Mountain Harbor Resort, www.mountain


Explore More from Quimby’s

Maysville, Kentucky’s, Small-Town Charm

Historic river communities like Maysville, Kentucky, mix small-town charm with trendy culture, and boaters can wind through the town with tranquil ease. Coast along the Ohio River and spend a day or two exploring the culinary delights, the arts and entertainment scenes, and the outdoorsy offerings throughout the city.  Situated right along the Ohio River, […] Read More

Boating Beyond Chicago: Joliet to Ottawa

The bright city lights of Chicago have attracted boaters to its waterfront docks and activities for decades. But for boaters looking to escape city surroundings and enjoy the great natural beauty of the Illinois River, there are nearby options on a portion of the Illinois Waterway flowing from Joliet to Ottawa (and beyond). Starting roughly […] Read More