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9 Stunning Recreational Lakes near Hot Springs, AR

Did you know that Hot Springs isn't just a great spa town but also a gateway to some of the best lakes in the country? It's surrounded by famous Diamond Lakes and a few lesser-known gems.
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The town of Hot Springs is rich in history and has long been one of the top spa destinations. Yet, it is also the perfect gateway to some of the best lakes in the country, including the five famous Diamond Lakes.

The famous five are considered the cleanest lakes in America and together attract millions of visitors each year. 

Plus, there are a couple of smaller lakes that lay quietly amid the Ouachita National Forest. These are great for peaceful nature gateways, away from the hustle and bustle of big lakes.

Lakes near Hot Springs:

  1. Lake Hamilton
  2. Lake Catherine
  3. Lake Ouachita
  4. DeGray Lake
  5. Lake Greeson
  6. Lake Winona
  7. Lake Sylvia
  8. Little Bear Creek Lake
  9. Hot Springs Village Lakes
Lakes near Hot Springs Arkansas Comparison Table

1. Lake Hamilton

  • Official Page: Lake Hamilton
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 6 miles (12 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Lake Hamilton is synonymous with Hot Springs. It is the nearest reservoir, and at 7,200 acres, one of the largest bodies of water around. 

The lake is privately owned and has a remarkably developed shoreline with resorts, RV parks, hotels, and private land covering most of it. You can easily find the perfect spot for your needs and wallet.

Yet, there are just a couple of public recreational areas. One is Entergy Park near the dam, and the second is Hill Wheatley Park off Route 70. 

Both locations have similar facilities with grills, pavilions, fishing docks, and trails, although Hill Wheatley is better for swimming and boating as it has a boat ramp.

When it comes to water activities, everything goes on Lake Hamilton. Swimming, paddling, boating, and fishing are just a few to mention.

The reservoir is an integral part of Hot Springs and is just 15 minutes drive from downtown. And with so much going on here, you won’t be disappointed.

Related: 10 Fantastic Lakes near Texarkana

2. Lake Catherine

  • Official Page: Lake Catherine
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 14 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Lake Catherine is a 1,940-acre reservoir southeast of Hot Springs. It’s the smallest of five Diamond Lakes and a neighbor to Lake Hamilton, yet it has an entirely different feel to it.

What makes the reservoir unique is Lake Catherine State Park. It’s a trendy and highly-rated destination that operates year-round and offers various activities, both on and off the water.

Apart from the traditional fishing, swimming, and paddling, the park has a launch ramp, boat rentals, and numerous trails for hiking and horseriding. In addition, the rangers run various environmental programs and guided nature walks.

And when it comes to multi-day trips, the park doesn’t disappoint either. There is a selection of cabins, RV zones with hookups, and primitive tent sites, some of which are a stone’s throw away from the water.

It’s hard to find any drawbacks to the park. It really is the top destination, especially if you enjoy water activities and waterfall hikes. 

3. Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita
  • Official Page: Lake Ouachita
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Jet Skiing, Scuba Diving

At 40,000 acres, Lake Ouachita is the largest reservoir in Arkansas. It sits solely in Ouachita National Forest, making it the perfect spot for outdoor fans. 

Thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, who manage the reservoir, there is no shortage of recreation areas. In fact, the nation-famous lake attracts over 4 million visitors each year.

Lake Ouachita boasts 16 campgrounds with over 1100 campsites, 20 boat ramps, 200 stunning islands, and over a hundred miles of trails for hiking and biking. A lifetime isn’t enough to explore every nook and cranny the lake offers.

If you struggle to pick the right spot for your trip, it’s a good idea to start from Lake Ouachita State Park, which is just 25 minutes away from Hot Springs.

The park offers a wide selection of activities, from swimming and fishing to paddling and boating, as well as boat rentals, cabins, campsites, and trails.

One of the most incredible things to do at the reservoir is to go island camping. How cool it is to paddle to your private island and spend the night under the stars! It’s a unique adventure that not many lakes can offer.

4. DeGray Lake

DeGray Lake
Photo: ArmymanCC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: DeGray Lake
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 27 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, MTBs, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Jet Skiing, Scuba Diving

DeGray Lake is another fantastic option and one of the five nation-famous Diamond Lakes. The reservoir is 13,800 acres and can be reached from Hot Springs in just 40 minutes.

Like Lake Ouachita, DeGray is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and offers a vast selection of access points and parks.

On its shores, you will find 20 recreation areas with seven designated beaches, a dozen boat ramps, and a wide selection of campgrounds and trails. There is plenty of space for everyone!

And if you fancy something more luxurious, there is DeGray Lake State Park Resort – a 90-room lodge on the island with modern amenities like a hot tub, pool, tennis court, and a golf course.

Naturally, DeGray Lake has hardly any restrictions for water recreation. Like the other five Diamond Lakes, it offers crystal clear water that is irresistible in summer!

Related: 10 Fantastic Lakes near Texarkana

5. Lake Greeson

  • Official Page: Lake Greeson
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 47 miles (1h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, MTBs, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Jet Skiing, Scuba Diving

Lake Greeson is the last of the five Diamond Lakes. It’s similar in size to Lake Hamilton but located an hour’s drive away from Hot Springs.

Like the previous options, the reservoir offers plenty of recreation sites managed by the Corps of Engineers. Swimming beaches, boat ramps, and campgrounds are all easily accessible and plentiful.

And when it comes to recreational activities, there is everything you can imagine, with hardly any restrictions or rules. Just keep safety in mind.

Daisy State Park can be the perfect place for the first visit as it offers familiarity and developed campgrounds with all the facilities you’ll need.

Where Lake Greeson loses to other Diamond Lakes is trails. Although there are 30 miles of them, the selection isn’t as great as Lakes Ouachita or DeGray.

And another drawback is the distance from Hot Springs. Many cities would give an arm and a leg to have a lake like Greeson, but with other fantastic options around, the reservoir is a touch too far.

Still, it is a great option worth the one-hour drive, especially if you are looking for something new or want to give each of the five lakes a shot.

6. Lake Winona

  • Official Page: Lake Winona
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 40 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

Lake Winona is a 1,240-acre reservoir 40 miles north of Hot Springs. It’s very different from the lakes mentioned thus far.

Although it’s surrounded by Ouachita National Forest, the reservoir belongs to the water authorities and is designated as ‘fishing only.’

However, the lake is divided into two zones. The zone by the Spillway has restrictions on any recreational use, while the rest of the lake is open for fishing and boating. More details are in this brochure.

There are two access points to the lake. The Spillway in the southeastern corner has parking, picnic areas with grills, and viewpoints. It’s great for a quick pitstop and a place to start the trail that circles the lake.

The second access point is in the opposite corner, which requires navigating gravel road. It has a boat launching ramp and parking; this is where boating and fishing are allowed.

The best thing about Lake Winona is that it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s a remote place with hardly any visitors. Despite the restrictions on activities and somewhat difficult access, it’s a fantastic spot for solitude seekers, utterly different from Diamond Lakes.

7. Lake Sylvia

Lake Sylvia
  • Official Page: Lake Sylvia
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 47 miles (1h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Swimming

Lake Sylvia is a small 18-acre reservoir on the edge of the Ouachita National Forest, west of Little Rock.

The lake is a family-friendly destination mainly used for swimming as it offers a fantastic little beach and a concrete dock. 

Despite the reservoir’s small size, it has a developed recreational area with highly-rated trails, campsites, and cabins. You can easily spend a week here and not get bored.

When it comes to restrictions, motorized boating is prohibited, but to be frank, the lake is too small for that anyway. Instead, you can go kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. In fact, the reservoir is perfect for SUPs as it is too small to have waves.

 Many describe this location as a hidden gem, and rightly so. It’s a pleasant and well-kept destination that rarely disappoints. If you are looking for something new and cozy, the one-hour drive from Hot Springs may just be worth it.

Related: 10 Fantastic Lakes near Texarkana

8. Little Bear Creek Lake

  • Official Page: Little Bear Creek Lake
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 31 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics

Little Bear Creek Lake is a place that is largely unknown and unexplored. It’s a small reservoir, about 20 acres in size, neatly tacked away in Ouachita National Forest, 30 miles north from Hot Springs.

Route 7 provides straightforward access to the area, but the approach to the lake is via a gravel track, with a steep final descent – a challenge even for OHVs.

The reservoir doesn’t have any amenities and is pristine and undeveloped. And the best activities here are paddling and fishing. In fact, because there are hardly any anglers, the lake is known for decent-sized bass.

Remote and peaceful, Little Bear Creek Lake isn’t for everyone. And those people who use it probably keep it for themselves. 

9. Hot Springs Village Lakes

Hot Springs Village Lakes
  • Official Page: Hot Springs Village
  • Distance from Hot Springs: 19 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Boating, Swimming, Hiking

Hot Springs Village is a gated community north of Hot Springs that features 11 recreational lakes; this can’t be ignored when talking about water fun in the area.

Yes, it’s private land with no public access, but there are a couple of ways to get in. For example, the village runs 3-day discovery tours with full access. You can explore the area, enjoy the lakes, and maybe even decide to settle.

Another way is to rent a house in the village via VRBO, which will grant you full access, too. It’s a great way to get a sneak pick into the community and explore it on your terms.

The 11 lakes vary in size and use, but together they cover every activity imaginable. From swimming and fishing to wakeboarding and jet skiing, everything is possible at Hot Springs Village.

Granted, this is an unorthodox way to enjoy the lakes, but you do get 11 in 1 here, and who knows, maybe you will fall in love with the place.

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