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12 Best Recreational Lakes near Little Rock, AR

Little Rock has a wide selection of fantastic lakes and reservoirs, most of which are within an hour's drive. Many are parts of WMAs offering incredible fishing and paddling, while others are popular family-friendly spots for swimming and camping.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Little Rock Arkansas

Little Rock is probably the best city in the country for lake recreation. The selection of lakes and reservoirs here is plentiful and diverse.

Many of the options on the list are parts of Wildlife Management Areas, offering fantastic fishing and paddling.

Places like Lake Sylvia and Beaver Fork Lake are family-friendly destinations with excellent swimming, paddleboarding, and camping.

Also, if you like kayaking and canoeing, Grassy Lake is recommended for its canoe trail and the swampy environment with cypress trees.

Whatever your reasons for visiting a lake, there are plenty of excellent options nearby. Check out what Little Rock has to offer!

Lakes near Little Rock:

  1. Murray Lake
  2. David D. Terry Lake
  3. Lake Maumelle
  4. Grassy Lake
  5. Lake Conway
  6. Harris Brake
  7. Pickthorne Lake
  8. Lake Winona
  9. Lake Norrell
  10. Beaver Fork Lake
  11. Lake Dardanelle
  12. Lake Sylvia
Lakes near Little Rock Arkansas Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Murray Lake

murray lake arkansas in Little Rock
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Murray Lake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 10 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Located a few miles northwest of downtown Little Rock, Murray Lake is the name given to a section of the Arkansas River upriver from the Murray Lock and Dam. 

Also known locally as the Big Dam Bridge, Murray Lake is one of a handful of “lakes” within the river that manage water flow as the river continues toward its merger with the Mississippi River. The network of locks also allows for some commercial activity moving up and downriver. 

Approximately 4,455 acres in size, this section of the river has multiple public parks and recreation areas. Some of these locations – such as Maumelle Park – have campgrounds and public boat launch facilities. 

Two Rivers Park, at the confluence of the Little Maumelle and Arkansas rivers, offers 1,000 acres of outdoor recreation that includes both open spaces and wooded areas.

With so many outdoor activities, anglers can bring their skateboard or bicycle along with their rod and reel. Fish often caught in the Murray Lake section of the Arkansas River include carp, crappie, catfish, bream, and bass. 

2. David D. Terry Lake

Lake in Arkansas during a sunset
Source: unsplash
  • Website: David D. Terry Lake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 17 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Named for David Dickson Terry, a former Arkansas politician, the David D. Terry Lake section of the Arkansas River flows past downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. 

This lake covers the section of the Arkansas River between Murray Lock and Dam and the David D. Terry Lock and Dam. This area includes multiple parks and recreation sites, including Burns Park, Willow Beach Park, and Murray Park. Locals also know the Terry Lock and Dam area as “Pool 6.”

Numerous parks found along this section of the Arkansas River that passes through the state’s largest urban corridor offer multiple recreation opportunities. These include biking, camping, boating, golfing, horseback riding, picnicking, kayaking, and water skiing. 

Fishing opportunities proliferate throughout this section of the Arkansas River. Whether boating or casting a line along the river bank, there are opportunities to catch species such as blue catfish, channel catfish, and largemouth bass. 

3. Lake Maumelle

Lake Maumelle in a distance
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Maumelle
  • Distance from Little Rock: 21 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Lake Maumelle is 20 miles west of Little Rock. Originally the site of lowlands northwest of Pinnacle Mountain, waters that have been impounded in the area by Central Arkansas Water since 1958 have created a reservoir to provide drinking water for the Little Rock metropolitan area.

The lake has grown to cover 8,900 acres, with a shoreline of 70 miles. 

With an average depth of 24.7 feet, this lake stores a large amount of water. Trails provide access to bank fishing destinations.

As a drinking water supply, swimming and other direct body contact with the water are not permitted. Boats are allowed, with restrictions. Some stands of timber remained submerged, posing a problem for boaters in shallower areas. 

Occasional sailing regattas have taken place along Lake Maumelle. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has created underwater structures to expand the fishing habitat. Anglers can expect to find bass, bream, catfish, and crappie in Lake Maumelle. 

4. Grassy Lake

Cypress Swamp for kayaking
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Grassy Lake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 24 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

Less than 25 miles north of the city, public lands provide access to Grassy Lake. Most of the lake falls under the purview of the Bell Slough State Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a 2,040-acre area of wetlands and woodlands.

The AGFC also manages the Camp Robinson Special Use Area, immediately east of Bell Slough, that includes the southeast tip of the lake. 

Hunting and camping are possible in some portions of these preserves, in accordance with seasonal restrictions. The state has also created the 3.3-mile Grassy Lake Water Trail for those who enjoy paddling within the lake. 

Local anglers visit this destination, one known for a variety of species. Bass and catfish are the top catches, though sauger, saugeye, walleye, bream, and pickerel bite the bait every so often. 

5. Lake Conway

Lake Conway in Arkansas
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Conway
  • Distance from Little Rock: 26 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Immediately north of Grassy Lake and above the Palarm Creek Dam, Lake Conway represented an engineering achievement.

The damming of Palarm Creek in 1948 led to the creation of this lake, which spans 6,700 surface acres, the largest artificial lake ever created by the AGFC or any similar wildlife commission. 

Similar to Lake Maumelle, boaters who navigate in this estuary must do so carefully in shallow areas to avoid submerged logs and stumps.

Boating lanes created by the AGFC steer vessels away from dangerous areas, an important consideration since the lake’s average depth is only 4.5 feet. 

Visitors will witness diverse and abundant wildlife that includes bald eagles, pelicans, ducks, and deer. A quiet destination popular with kayakers, Lake Conway also attracts anglers with boats who fish for great crappie, bass, and catfish, bluegill, and bream. 

6. Harris Brake

Tree in a fog on a lake during sunrise
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Harris Brake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 44 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping

A 44-mile drive northwest of the city, Harris Brake was created as a reservoir in 1955 and remains the third largest artificial lake managed by the Game and Fish Commission.

Cypress trees, extensive areas of brush and sunken timber, and underwater islands exist in this 1,300-acre body of water. 

The lake and adjacent Harris Brake Wildlife Management Area are popular destinations for fishing, hunting, boating, wildlife viewing, and trail access.

The AGFC has set aside primitive camping areas along the lake, as well as multiple boat ramps and an ADA-compliant fishing pier.

Visitors will see a variety of vessels on the water during busy weekends, including paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes. 

Harris Brake remains a popular fishing destination. Crappie, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish are commonly caught along the lake. 

7. Pickthorne Lake

  • Website: Pickthorne Lake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 21 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping

A drive of a little more than 20 miles northeast of the city and past Jacksonville brings anglers to Pickthorne Lake. Created in 1990, the Tommy L. Sproles Pickthorne Lake has a consistent and shallow average depth of only 4.8 feet.

Although some stands of timber sit along the lakeshore, the lake generally lacks logs or other timber impediments found at other impounded reservoirs in the region. 

Managed by the AGFC, this 347-acre lake sits immediately west of the 6,190-acre Holland Bottoms Wildlife Management Area. The facility at Holland Bottoms includes some designated campsites and potential hunting opportunities. 

A public boat launch on the west side of Pickthorne Lake provides access for anglers who want to try their luck fishing.

Only rod and poll fishing are permissible along Pickthorne Lake. Fish commonly caught in the lake include saugeye, bluegill, catfish, redear sunfish, and crappie. 

8. Lake Winona

Lake surrounded by hills in arkansas
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Winona
  • Distance from Little Rock: 36 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

A 36-mile drive west of Little Rock, Lake Winona covers the former site of a lumber-harvesting and subsistence farming community named Walnut Bottom. 

During the late 1930s, the federal Public Works Administration provided the area funds to create a new watershed to supply potable water. The Lake Winona Dam flooded Walnut Bottom, creating a 1,240-acre lake.

Central Arkansas Water owns Lake Winona, along with Lake Maumelle, to provide drinking water for the Little Rock area.

Recreational activities within the lake are limited to those that do not allow human contact with the water to prevent possible contamination of this water source. Picnicking, camping, and hiking away from Lake Winona are permitted, however. 

Fishing is allowed and even encouraged. The lake is well-stocked with catfish, crappie, and bass, though some of the access roads to reach the lake are in need of repair. Motorists with high-priced vehicles and those who plan to attach trailers should check local conditions.

9. Lake Norrell

  • Website: Lake Norrell
  • Distance from Little Rock: 26 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A drive 26 miles west of downtown Little Rock brings anglers to Lake Norrell, a 280-acre reservoir known mostly to locals. Managed by municipal authorities in Benton, this lake offers a variety of water recreation activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, jet skiing, and scuba diving.

In 1977, a group of property owners formed the Lake Norrell Area Association in 1977 as a non-profit with the purpose of improving and protecting this lake and areas immediately around it. 

The lake first took shape in 1953 when efforts to impound water led to the creation of this artificial reservoir as a backup source for drinking water. Named for William Frank Norrell, a local politician, the lake is regularly stocked by AGFC and has become a popular water recreation destination. 

Those who visit Lake Norrell will experience a quiet getaway from the busy world around them. While boating in the water, they can focus on catching bluegill, green sunfish, and largemouth bass. 

10. Beaver Fork Lake

Island on a lake during a sunset
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Beaver Fork Lake
  • Distance from Little Rock: 36 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Beaver Fork Lake offers an escape from Little Rock. A 35-mile drive north-northwest from the city, this 960-acre lake within the community of Conway is surrounded by large numbers of oak, maple, and pine trees, as well as private residences.

The 25-acre Lake Beaverfork Park sits along the west side of the lake, offering the launching point for journeys into the lake.

Known locally as Lake Beaverfork, the lake and adjacent waterfront park have become popular places for viewing birds, kayaking, canoeing, and boating. The 18-hole disc golf course is in high demand, along with picnic areas, a seasonal swimming beach, and boat ramps.

Visitors can also see the oldest surviving bridge in Arkansas. Built in 1874 and moved to the park for preservation in 2011, the Springfield Bridge once crossed a section of Cadron Creek more than 12 miles to the north of the lake. 

When not windsurfing or swimming, guests who visit this artificial lake originally created as a water source in 1955 can try their luck fishing. Bass, catfish, crappie, and bluegill are regularly caught in this lake. 

11. Lake Dardanelle

Lake Dardanelle Pier in State Park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Dardanelle
  • Distance from Little Rock: 83 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Dardanelle is another reservoir system created along the Arkansas River. After a drive of approximately 83 miles northwest of downtown, visitors will see a lake that spreads over nearly 35,000 surface areas of water at and behind the Dardanelle Lock and Dam. 

Multiple recreation options exist in the area. In addition to some local parks and recreation sites, Lake Dardanelle State Park occupies two locations on opposite sides of the lake.

An interpretive area on the Russellville side of the park is a Trail of Tears National Historic Site that describes the forced removal of Native American populations from the South.

Those who make the journey from Little Rock to fish here may encounter blue catfish, sauger, flathead catfish, spotted sunfish, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and hybrid striped bass, among other species. 

12. Lake Sylvia

Lake Sylvia in Arkansas
Source: flickr/public domain
  • Website: Lake Sylvia
  • Distance from Little Rock: 39 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Lake Sylvia is a small 18-acre reservoir situated in Ouachita National Forest, almost 40 miles from Little Rock. Surrounded by the thick forest, it provides a gorgeous setting for swimming, paddling, and fishing.

Lake Sylvia Recreational Area is managed by the state parks system and offers hiking trails, restrooms, showers, campgrounds, and a hugely-popular swimming area.

The lake is too small to accommodate gas-driven boats, making it an excellent and tranquil spot for kayaking and canoeing. Also, it’s an unintimidating lake for learning to stand up on a paddleboard.

Once discovered, folks tend to return to this family-friendly gem.

However, note that as of fall 2022, the lake is drained for dam repairs. Check here for up-to-date information before traveling.

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