Summer is coming, ushering in the peak of camping season in Arkansas
As spring departs, the weather will get drier, but also hotter. With the right equipment, you can camp in comfort during the sweltering days and nights of summer.
Where to camp
Arkansas is a camper's paradise, with unlimited places to pitch a tent or hammock or park a camper.
State parks are the most popular places to camp in recreational vehicles. Popular RV campgrounds include Lake Dardanelle State Park near Russellville, White Oak Lake State Park near Camden, Devil's Den State Park near Fayetteville, Lake Catherine State Park near Hot Springs, Daisy State Park near Murfreesboro, and Withrow Springs State Park near Huntsville. These and other state parks have developed campgrounds with asphalt pads for camp trailers and RVs. They are equipped with running water and electricity which are included with the camp fee.
Many state parks also have primitive camp areas for tent camping. These are apart from the developed areas. They are remote and quiet.
Federal campgrounds offer the same opportunities. The most popular campgrounds are on the banks of our big Corps of Engineers reservoirs. Lakes Ouachita, Beaver and Bull Shoals have a lot of campgrounds.
Buffalo Point Recreation Area is a prime camping area on the Buffalo National River. Blanchard Springs Recreation Area is a popular campground in the Ozark National Forest.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management areas have designated campsites that are open year round. They are mainly cleared, open spots in the woods that have no amenities. However, WMAs are deserted outside of the hunting seasons, so you can camp in solitude to enjoy the excellent fishing and wildlife watching opportunities available at most WMAs. It's also a great way to familiarize yourself with a WMA and find prospective sites to bowhunt for deer in the fall.
Today, the Game and Fish Commission approved a regulation that will initiate a camping fee on WMAs. Camping will be free if you have a valid hunting or fishing license. If you don't have a license, you will have to obtain a $5 WMA camping permit. The permit will be $15 to camp at Camp Robinson Demonstration Area.
Finally, you can camp just about anywhere in the Ozark and Ouachita national forests. Undesignated campsites are visible on almost every road in the national forests. They are used as hunting camps in the fall, but almost nobody visits them in other seasons.
There are also designated car campgrounds in the Ozark National Forest at Ozone, Fairview, Richland Creek and Haw Creek Falls recreation areas. Established campgrounds in the Ouachita National Forest are at Lake Hinkle near Waldron, Shady Lake, Bard Springs and Crystal.
Tents and hammocks are the most basic and most portable camp shelters. They are small and compact, allowing you to hike and camp deep in the backcountry. The advantage to hammocks is that they negate terrain. Two trees is all you need to string a hammock.
Tents are roomier, of course, but they require fairly level terrain for comfort.
Tent size directly affects comfort, as well. For backcountry camping, backpackers want a light tent. For backpackers, a tent is a necessity, not a luxury. It's merely a dry place to sleep.
For car camping and canoe camping, weight is not an issue. You can carry as big a tent as you want as long as you have a big enough space. Many family size tents have openings for power cords, which means you can run a box fan or even a small air-conditioner.
Camper trailers and recreational vehicles are the most comfortable shelters. Many are self-contained home units that contain kitchens, lavatories, dining and sleeping quarters.
Small, compact campers for primitive camping have become popular in recent years. No Boundaries (NoBo) is a popular brand that offers light, downscaled camper trailers that can be pulled behind small SUVs. A teardrop camper is light enough to be pulled by Jeeps or small all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicles like the Subaru Outback or Toyota Rav4.
In my 20s, I backpacked from Arkansas to Maine with no kind of ground pad. I slept every night with only a sleeping bag between me and the ground. I'm not tough enough to do that anymore. Fortunately, you can choose any kind of bedding that you can carry.
For canoe camping on gravel bars, I use an inflatable air mattress. Deflated, it folds into a small, compact square, and it fits nicely inside a tiny, one-person backpacking tent.
In the summer, a cot is an excellent option. It elevates you off the ground and allows air to circulate beneath and around you. This is especially helpful if you use a fan or an air-conditioner.
On Ozark rivers, nights can get surprisingly cold in the dead of summer. A light sleeping bag is all you need for warmth.
Food preparation and security
For multi-day camping trips, a high-performance cooler will prevent food spoilage in hot weather. Prices for premium coolers have come way down in recent years. Choose one with the most robust latching system. We also recommend rated bear-proof models, as well as external locks to deter highly motivated scavengers.
For tent or car camping, a propane stove or a traditional white gas stoves are excellent and dependable. When you're hungry after an active day on the water or hiking and cycling trails, they allow you to prepare your food rapidly and safely.
As you refine your camping skills, you will quickly identify more items to make your experience more rewarding. You will also quickly identify items you don't need.
The best resource for camping in Arkansas, if you can find it, is "Arkansas, A Guide to Backcountry Travel and Adventure." Written by somebody you might recognize, it is out of print, but copies are available on Amazon.