Make a Splash! – Enjoying Arkansas swimming holes
They don’t call Arkansas The Natural State for nothing. As the weather heats up and families get restless, the state’s many waterways become almost irresistible attractions. And why not? With thousands of miles of shoreline along creeks, lakes and rivers, Arkansas provides a little something for everyone, be it fishing, canoeing, waterskiing, floating in an inner tube and/or going for a swim.
Swimming holes are favorite destinations for adventuresome nature lovers, and Arkansas has a treasure trove of hidden and not-so-hidden spots perfect for cooling off. Some are easily accessed and ideal for families, while others take a little more effort to reach. We’ve assembled a list of some favorites — and one or two you may not have heard of — waiting for you to discover and enjoy.
Wherever you go, remember: Most of these spots are off the beaten path, which means you swim at your own risk with no lifeguard on duty. Watch children closely, as well as the current, to prevent being swept downstream. Be extra careful on wet rocks, as they can become very slippery, and always use extreme caution to gauge pool depth before jumping into the water. Hitting the bottom can cause serious and even catastrophic injury. Exercising caution — and common sense — in the outdoors will help keep your experience safe and fun.
Kings River (Madison and Carroll counties)
Other rivers may get more attention, but the Kings River should not be overlooked. Unusual among the
state’s waterways, the Kings runs south to north before emptying into the White River arm of Table Rock Lake. Kings River Natural Area sports soaring bluffs and offers great floating and fishing among deep pools.
Kings River Falls trailhead lies near the town of Boston. The out-and-back trail is only 1.2 miles round trip, and upon reaching the 15-foot falls, visitors are treated to a deep pool at its base that’s a natural swimming hole.
Also, check out Trigger Gap outside Eureka Springs, which offers family-friendly gravel beaches. From Eureka Springs, head southeast, taking Arkansas 62 to County Road 302; follow for several miles. Turn left onto Arkansas 221; drive for about a mile. Pick up County Road 509 and follow signs to Trigger Gap Outfitters.
Lee Creek (Washington and Crawford counties)
Running for more than 64 miles in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Lee Creek offers plenty of access from its origins near West Fork and its confluence with the Arkansas River near Van Buren. Check out the creek at the Arkansas 220 bridge in Washington County, south of Devil’s Den State Park. This shimmering green hole is iconic to the region, so be prepared — it can get crowded.
West Fork White River (Washington County)
Formed near the picturesque mountain hamlet of Winslow, the West Fork White River flows northwest through Fayetteville into Lake Sequoyah, then north into Beaver Lake before crossing into Missouri. Visit Riverside Park in West Fork, just south of Fayetteville, for its easy- access swimming hole, complete with rope swing set against towering bluffs. The river can be too swift to swim at times, so check local water levels before heading out.
Mulberry River (Newton, Johnson, Franklin counties)
The iconic Turner Bend is arguably the most popular spot for swimming, camping and canoeing along the
clear, cool Mulberry River. In springtime, the river is well-known for whitewater floating, but as the season progresses, plenty of swimming and wading holes emerge. To get there, take Arkansas 23 north from Ozark for 15 miles.
Another prime spot is Bluff Hole Park, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park within the town of Mulberry. This popular swimming site provides access right down to the water and marks the border between Franklin and Crawford counties. Not only is it popular in the summer months, it also hosts the annual Polar Plunge in the winter to benefit local charities.
The Wolf Pen Recreation Area, about 30 miles northeast of Ozark, enjoys generally smaller crowds than other nearby access points both during the springtime floating season and the prime summer swimming months. Find it by taking Arkansas 23 north out of Ozark for 17 miles, then head east on Arkansas 215 for 12.6 miles.
Hogscald (Carroll County)
Hogscald swimming area is a section of popular Beaver Lake. The curvy, narrow stretch is an area full of tall rock outcroppings and large boulders. Take a (careful!) ride on the rope swing, or just float the afternoon away in the deep water. Find the swimming hole south of Eureka Springs on Arkansas 23. Turn on Buck Mountain Road; follow down to Hogscald.
Big Piney Creek (Pope and Johnson counties)
Big Piney Creek is a beautiful waterway on the southern edge of the Ozarks, well-known for its many outdoor activities. Throughout the floating area, find numerous deep pockets in which to take a dip.
The Long Pool Recreation Area is a major access point for floaters on Big Piney Creek, and the 44-foot Long
Pool Falls (plus a small sister waterfall nearby) only add to the natural spectacle. Be warned, spring fever brings people out in droves, especially if it’s been raining and water levels are high. But crowds thin out some in the heat of summertime. To get there, head north on Arkansas 7 from Dover for about 5.5 miles, turn left onto Arkansas 164 for about 3.5 miles to County Road 14/Old Arkansas 7. Go 2.8 miles and turn left onto county road 15/Long Pool Road for 2 miles to the recreation area.
Fort Douglas access is smaller, but offers a gentle slope into the water, and it’s often not as deep here, thus
creating a nice swimming hole for families. The Ozark Highlands Trail runs nearby, meaning you’re likely to meet interesting adventurers trekking the cross-country route. Plus, you’re just a stone’s throw from Haw Creek Falls, Pack Rat Falls and Pam’s Grotto Falls at Haw Creek Campground. Find Fort Douglas where Arkansas 123 crosses Big Piney Creek, about 11.1 miles southwest of Pelsor/Sand Gap via Arkansas 7, or 16 miles north of Hagarville along Arkansas 164.
Illinois Bayou (Pope County)
Originating high on the southern slope of the Ozarks, Illinois Bayou flows toward Russellville, where it empties into the backwaters of Lake Dardanelle. Don’t let the name fool you; the upper section is a prized stretch of Arkansas class II/III whitewater, boosted by three additional streams that feed into it. But there are places to enjoy a dip, too, namely at Bayou Bluff. Reach Bayou Bluff Recreation Area on Arkansas 27, just 5 miles north of Hector.
Big Shoal Creek (Logan County)
A wild whitewater ride during the spring thaw, Big Shoal Creek simmers down in the hotter months of the year and offers an easy-access, family-friendly experience. Tucked between the town of Paris and Mount Magazine, the creek delights with 6-foot falls that are kid-friendly.
Buffalo National River (Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter counties)
One of the most beloved spots in the state, the Buffalo National River is a source of great pride for Arkansans, many of whom make floating the nation’s first national river an annual springtime event. But even after the rains and melt subside, the Buffalo remains a popular spot for hiking and camping, not to mention cooling off from The Natural State’s brutal summer heat.
Here are three popular spots to check out:
- Steel Creek Campground, which offers a spacious gravel bar and a nice clearwater pool at the foot of Roark Bluff. Access it via Arkansas 74 south out of Ponca about a mile. Once at the campground, there are multiple access points to the river. The swimming hole and gravel bar are downstream from the canoe launch area at a bend in the river against Buzzard Bluff.
- Ponca Access is also easy to find; drive past the Buffalo Outdoor Center outfitters in Ponca just beyond the Arkansas 74 junction, then take the gravel road to an old low-water bridge. Turn left to reach the parking area, and enjoy the water.
- Farther east, Buffalo Point is another favored spot for swimmers and waders, with clean, emerald water beneath soaring bluffs. From Yellville, head south on Arkansas 14 and east on Arkansas 268.
Falling Water Falls (Newton County)
Arguably the best swimming hole in the state, Falling Water Falls is nestled in the Ozark National Forest near a tiny dot on the map called Ben Hur. Easy to reach and picturesque, the site offers a gorgeous deep pool at the base of the falls. Swimming hole enthusiasts and travel websites roundly sing the spot’s praises, making it one to definitely experience. Once you’re done there, nearby Richland Creek Wilderness Area also offers wild adventures and beautiful waterfalls, but they are more remote. To visit Falling Water Falls, drive east on Arkansas 16 from Pelsor/Sand Gap. Travel about 9 miles to Ben Hur. At Ben Hur, turn right onto Arkansas 16-E, then left at Upper Falling Waters Road/County Road 68/ Forest Road 1205. Proceed another 2 miles; the falls are visible from the road.
North Sylamore Creek (Stone County)
Found within the Blanchard Springs Recreational Area, North Sylamore Creek is just one of the area’s attractions; the others being some of Arkansas’ best hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the most spectacular caves.
North Sylamore Creek runs through the recreation area, offering two popular swimming holes. The main swimming area has a bathhouse and a small pavilion, while the other spot is located near the upper loop of the campground, across the low-water bridge.
To get there, head north from Mountain View on Arkansas 5/ Arkansas 14 for about 5 miles, then west onto Arkansas 14. Stay on Arkansas 14 for about 6.6 miles, and the area’s entrance will be on your right.
These sites barely scratch the surface of Arkansas’ established swimming holes, not to mention the many unnamed spots just waiting to be discovered on your summertime travels.