Lake Ouachita Information

Lake Ouachita lies in the eastern section of the Ouachita National Forest in Garland and Montgomery counties in Arkansas. Its southern border is about 15 miles from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the closest metro area. It covers 66,324 acres with over 600 miles of shoreline. The average depth is 50 feet, but can reach 200 feet deep. It is the biggest lake in Arkansas and one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. 

The Corps of Engineers oversees Lake Ouachita and its shoreline. The Ouachita River feeds Lake Ouachita. There are over 200 islands in the lake and standing timber in the lakebed. Some of the trees when Lake Ouachita was impounded were over 60 feet tall. Lake Ouachita sees over eight million visitors a year.

Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the closest town to Lake Ouachita on the southeastern side of the lake with two Walmart supercenters. There are no metroplexes near Lake Ouachita. Most of the region around Lake Ouachita is extremely rural, and uninhabited. There are very few roads leading to its shoreline. Most access to its shoreline is restricted to campgrounds, resorts, marinas, and by boating to its islands and beaches. 

History of Lake Ouachita

“Ouachita” is the French spelling of the Indian word “Washita” from two Choctaw Indian words, “Owa Chito,” which means “big hunt”. Ouachita is pronounced “waa-shee-tuh”. Significant flooding on the Ouachita River caused several authorities to look for a solution and Lake Ouachita was born. 

In 1910, Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L) began buying land for a lake reservoir for a power generation plant. Economics played a key role in delaying construction of the Blakely Mountain Dam until 1947. Finally, from 1947 to 1952, timber haulers cleared the way for Lake Ouachita. 

The government paid landowners an unfairly low price of $27 an acre and they could keep their timber if they cut it immediately. Twenty-nine sawmills rose up in the region while the timber haulers cleared the way for Lake Ouachita, and they were paid $21 per cord of wood.

The government rerouted county and state roads, 1,200 graves were exhumed with little human remains found, and a few small towns were covered up. The community of Buckville, Arkansas, lies under Lake Ouachita. It sprang up after the Civil War. Buckville’s cemetery is located in northern Garland County thirty feet from Lake Ouachita’s shore.

There are 303 graves in the cemetery. Buckville Cemetery’s graves contain the remains of some of the earliest settlers in the Lake Ouachita region. The cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 27, 2007. Buckville was a vibrant community by the 1900s. Its population began a decline when AP&L began buying up land in the area in the 1920s.

The Baptist Church was the only building left in Buckville by the 1940s. The Buckville Baptist Church building was moved from the southern side of the burial grounds to higher ground to the north in 1951. The entrance to the cemetery was moved from its southern side to its northern side. 

The Buckville Cemetery Association, created in the 1950s to care for the cemetery, established a historical marker in the cemetery. Every second Sunday in June, the association holds an annual Homecoming and Decoration Day. Some of the cemetery’s headstones are elaborate, while others are bordered by fieldstones and iron gates. 

Lake Ouachita Fishing

Lake Ouachita ranks as one of the top ten lakes in the U.S. for largemouth bass and is the premier striped bass lake in Arkansas. The largemouth and spotted bass length limit is 13 inches and smallmouth bass are catch and release only. The catch limit on striped bass is three per day with no size limit. No fishing is allowed in the Jim Collins Net Pen area which raises trout. 

Other species in Lake Ouachita include spotted and white bass, bluegill, channel, blue, and flathead catfish, black and white crappie rainbow trout, redear sunfish, and walleye. Boat ramps are scattered around the lake, but most are on the southern side. Lake Ouachita’s water clarity is legendary. Topwater fishing is good until the water hits 80 degrees. Its clear, clean water supports healthy plankton and algae colonization for huge threadfin and gizzard shad which feeds the fish. 

Pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, women who are breastfeeding, and children under the age of seven should not eat largemouth bass longer than 13 inches or striped bass longer than 25 inches because of mercury contamination. Others should limit their consumption of largemouth and white bass to 13 inches or longer, or striped bass, 25 inches or longer, to two meals per month. There are no restrictions on other fish.

There are thousands of acres of standing timber in Lake Ouachita, which are veritable bass factories. Plenty of knowledgeable Lake Ouachita fishing guides are ready to find your catch of the day and give you a great fishing experience.

Find experienced local guides on our Lake Ouachita Fishing Guides page. 

Boating Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita was not clear-cut before it was inundated, so a forest is still standing beneath the surface. Many trees left standing were over 60 feet tall. Always look for shallow water markers and treetops. In open water you can go from 150 feet to 2 feet in a short distance.

One of the most interesting features on Lake Ouachita for boaters is the Geo Float Trail. It is a 16-mile trip with twelve exploration areas from the Spillway Recreation Area to Brady Mountain Recreation Area and takes about one and a half hours depending on your speed and the time you spend at each stop.

You can get the free Self Guided Float Trip map from the Spillway or Brady Landing on Lake Ouachita, or the local Corps of Engineers, which shows you where to follow the yellow marker buoys around Lake Ouachita. The Corp of Engineers will provide a ranger for serious groups of 15 or more. 

All water sports are popular on Lake Ouachita, and scuba diving is excellent due to its clean, clear water. Boat ramps and marinas dot the shoreline. Boat rentals from luxury houseboats to motorboats to pontoon boats with slides are available to rent. There are over 200 islands to explore. 

Find or sell a boat on our Lake Ouachita Boats for Sale page. 

Lake Ouachita Marinas

So many Lake Ouachita marinas dot its shores offering gas, snacks, cold drinks, ice, bait, water toys, plus all types of boat repair services, and boat rentals. Many rent several types of boats and water toys. Several marinas offer luxury amenities, fine dining, boat slips, courtesy docks and full-service stations. 

Plan your trip to the lake by finding a marina on our Lake Ouachita Marinas page. 

Lake Ouachita Real Estate

No homes are allowed to be built on Lake Ouachita. There is limited development of marinas, resorts, and parks. For real estate information in Avant, Mountain Pine, and Washita, Arkansas, the closest towns near Lake Ouachita, please explore our Lake Ouachita Area Homes for Sale page. 

Lake Ouachita Cabins and Houseboats

One of the most popular rentals on Lake Ouachita are luxury houseboats. Several of the marinas and boat rental services will set you up for a dream vacation on the water with everything you need. Many of the campgrounds, resorts, and marinas rent cabins. There are no rental homes at Lake Ouachita because the Corp of Engineers does not allow homes on its shoreline.

Find the perfect vacation rental on our Lake Ouachita Cabins page. 

Camping at Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita sits in the eastern part of the Ouachita National Forest. The shore and the surrounding Ouachita National Forest is limited to a minimal development of resorts, marinas, and campgrounds. However, here are plenty of campgrounds and RV parks to serve part of the eight million visitors to Lake Ouachita every year. 

The Ouachita National Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. Visitors can experience the solitude and primitive experience of camping away from developed campgrounds and other campers. This national forest offers dispersed camping, which means camping anywhere in the National Forest outside of a designated campground with no services such as trash removal, and little or no facilities like tables and fire pits. Visitors are responsible for their own safety.

There are numerous developed campgrounds around Lake Ouachita, and with over 200 islands in the lake where visitors can camp at many of them, there is a lot of privacy for primitive campers. Lake Ouachita State Park has 93 campsites with many on the water and is pet friendly. Hotel Island, one of the larger islands, is a developed campground with no hotel. Some of the islands are not suitable for camping, but there are enough of them to choose from for a private camping experience. 

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Lake Ouachita Camping page. 

Hiking at Lake Ouachita

It could take a few years to hike or mountain bike all the trails surrounding Lake Ouachita. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is the longest trail spanning the Ouachita National Forest at 192 miles along the lake’s northern border. In the west, the trail begins at Talimena State Park on Highway 271 near Talihina, Oklahoma. Its eastern boundary is south of Perryville, Arkansas, on Highway 9. An additional 32 miles of trail, located on private and other public lands, extends to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, 15 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Elevations range from 600 to 2,600 feet as the trail passes through forested mountains, across valleys, and streams. Spur trails connect to other recreation areas and points of interest. Numerous road crossings and access points provide opportunities for point-to-point hikes of different distances. This trail serves hikers and mountain bikers. You can buy a detailed trail map at all Ouachita National Forest offices.

Other trails in the Ouachita National Forest include Horsethief Springs Trail at 11 miles, Eagle Rock Loop, the longest loop trail in the forest, the Womble Trail at 37 miles, and the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, which has plans to lengthen to 40 miles. The Ouachita State Park has the Caddo Bend Trail at four miles and the Dogwood Trail at one-half mile.  

The Hickory Nut Mountain trail at 3.2 miles begins at the picnic area atop Hickory Nut Mountain and ends at a takeout on Forest Service road FS47A. This trail follows the south side of the mountain along the top of a rock bluff. Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is 4.4 miles for hikers and mountain bikers. The Little Blakely Trail is 17.9 miles long. 

These trails range from easy to strenuous hiking skill levels. Many of them cross streams, various elevation points, and require wilderness survival skills. Some of these trails cross through hunting areas. Hikers should wear hunter orange vest and hat, boots, and carry gloves. Dogs on leashes are welcome at many of them. During the fall, hikers and bikers will see dramatic colors as the trees ready for winter, and in the spring and summer, wildflowers abound. 

Mountain Harbor Riding Stables offers scenic trail rides through the amazing Ouachita National Forest and carriage rides through Mountain Harbor Resort. Horses are welcome in many areas in the Lake Ouachita region, but they are not designated horse trails. 

Hunting Lake Ouachita

The Corps of Engineers allows public hunting and trapping, which is permitted on its property at Lake Ouachita and includes 20,000 acres around the lake except in developed recreation areas, near the dam and associated structures, and any other locations marked as prohibited.

The Lake Ouachita region supports a healthy population of ducks, big buck deer, turkeys, squirrels, and black bears. The Corps property marks its boundaries with yellow paint blazes on trees. “No Hunting” areas are marked by three red paint spots on trees and associated signage.

The Corp of Engineers prohibits permanent blinds or stands and other structures. The placement of nails or spikes into trees or the cutting of trees, loaded firearms in recreation areas, no hunting signs, and cutting live trees is prohibited. You can purchase duck blind permits at the Lake Ouachita Field Office for $15.00. Hunting maps for Lake Ouachita are available at the Lake Ouachita Field Office by request.

Things to Do at Lake Ouachita

Nature, the islands, the elevations, and amazing scenic views are the primary attraction at Lake Ouachita. The outstanding mountain at Lake Ouachita is Hickory Nut Mountain. Restaurants serve fine cuisine and home cooking in the resorts and the nearby towns with some offering alcoholic beverages, and there are a few nightclubs.

From the Hot Springs Mountain Tower you can see 140 miles of the amazingly beautiful Ouachita National Forest and Hot Springs National Park. The tower elevator will raise you 216 feet to its observation decks in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Tower opens at 9 am and closes between 5-8 pm depending on the season. 

Visit the Hot Springs, Arkansas, bathhouses. Multiple bathhouses line the street called “Bathhouse Row”. These natural springs are at 143 degrees Fahrenheit and purport to have healing powers. Today, Bathhouse Row consists of eight bathhouse buildings that were built between 1892 and 1923. 

Explore the shops in downtown Hot Springs offering unique attractions that have attracted visitors since the 1800’s. Many buildings in Hot Springs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places like the Arlington Hotel frequented by Al Capone.  

Visitors can find historic gardens, find out about the Indian legends surrounding the hot springs, and learn about major baseball’s and Babe Ruth’s connection to Hot Springs. Babe’s historical marker is number 11 on the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail. His marker denotes the activities of Baseball Hall of Famer, Babe Ruth, who trained in Hot Springs nine times.

Plan your next trip’s activities on our What To Do At Lake Ouachita page. 

Lake Ouachita Weather & Climate 

Lake Ouachita sees an average of 56 inches of rain, 219 sunny days, and three inches of snow per year. The January low is 30 degrees, the July high is 92 degrees, and April, May, and October are the most pleasant months of the year. 

Keep an eye on the skies with our Lake Ouachita Weather Forecast page. 

Lake Ouachita Zip Codes

Garland County: 71901, 71902, 71903, 71910, 71913, 71914, 71933, 71951, 71956, 71964, 71968.

Montgomery County: 71935, 71957, 71960, 71961, 71966, 71969.

Flora and Fauna

Ninety amphibians and reptiles, 53 mammals, 217 birds, and 483 vertebrates call Lake Ouachita their home. Wildlife watching opportunities take Lake Ouachita visitors through mixed hardwood and pine forests with serious wildlife watching experiences. 

Underbrush and seed-producing grasses, wildflowers, fruit trees, and native berry-bearing bushes generate year-around forage. The forest of Lake Ouachita tree’s fall foliage gives a spectacular visual experience. In the spring and summer, an amazing array of wildflowers bloom delight the eye candy opportunists. 

Coots, loons, bald eagles, northern pintails, and wood ducks are common sightings. Migratory field and wood birds breed and nest in the woods along the lake in the spring and summer months. Chipmunks, gray squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, opossums, raccoons, and quails make frequent appearances. 

The Louisiana Black Bear is one of 16 recognized subspecies of the American black bear, and was widespread in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Today, the Louisiana black bear roams the region of Lake Ouachita. Big Buck deer are common sightings. The Brazilian free-tailed bat is a common species in Arkansas and these bats collectively consume approximately two million pounds of insects nightly.

Arkansas’s Ozark mountainous region presents a unique experience in finding minerals and quartz sources. Rockhounds easily find quartz crystals on the ground. The Lake Ouachita National Forest is one of the few locations in the world that continues to produce large quantities of high quality quartz crystal.

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