Shining Star: Cane Creek State Park great for fishing, hiking

Cane Creek State Park offers rich opportunities for fishing, hiking, and camping where the Mississippi River Delta meets the Western Gulf Coastal Plain.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
Cane Creek State Park offers rich opportunities for fishing, hiking, and camping where the Mississippi River Delta meets the Western Gulf Coastal Plain. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

STAR CITY -- On a cool Sunday in Southeast Arkansas, Cane Creek State Park looks like a misplaced slice of Upstate New York.

My adventuring partner and I visited recently as part of our quest to visit all 52 Arkansas state parks in one year. Cane Creek State Park was the first stop in a swing that included Lake Chicot State Park at Lake Village and Arkansas Post Museum at Gillette.

Sampling Arkansas's best breakfast eateries has also become part of this quest, and Sunday's appetite led us to Carla's Cafe in Star City. My adventuring partner and I both had a one-egg Western omelet that was slam full of sausage, bacon, cheese and other goodies. A side of hash browns made it complete, slightly crunchy and not greasy. And, of course, we heard all of the latest happenings among the staff while sipping coffee that was strong but smooth. We were out the door for about $20, including tip.

The state park is about 15 minutes from the Star City square. Its well-groomed grounds occupy about 2,100 acres at the transition zone where the Mississippi River Delta meets the Gulf Coastal Plain. The terrain rolls gently among low hills and shallow ravines.

The park was created in 1973 from a partnership between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service. The park's centerpiece is Cane Creek Lake, a 1,675-acre impoundment of Cane Creek near its confluence with Bayou Bartholomew. Construction began in 1983. The lake filled in 1986, at which time the Game and Fish Commission stocked sport fish. The Game and Fish Commission opened the lake to fishing in 1987.

Greg Hackney, the 2014 Bassmaster Angler of the Year and a three-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner, hails from Star City and cut his teeth bass fishing at Cane Creek Lake. He has said that it is an exciting lake to fish.

My only previous visit to Cane Creek State Park was in 1997, when I was compiling material for my book, "Arkansas, A Guide to Backcountry Travel and Adventure." We are using that book for our state parks odyssey, and it tells us that the lake offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and panfish.

"Natural cover consists of flooded timber and aquatic grass near the shoreline. Local anglers have also installed brushpiles throughout the lake to attract crappie. Thick shoreline vegetation makes bank fishing difficult and fly casting impossible."

In 1997, the lake looked like a pincushion of trees. Most of the trees have fallen and the surface is now mostly open. There was no aquatic vegetation present during the recent visit, which is not unusual for late winter. Its size and profile make it ideal for kayak fishing if vegetation is not present, and we intend to return to fish it in that manner.

When you enter the park, you encounter -- appropriately -- a bait shop where you can buy crickets, minnows and worms. About 10 steps away is the visitor center, a warm, cozy place that accentuates the park's Adirondack vibe. We do love the modern visitor centers at other parks, but they lack the relaxed charm of older structures like this one and the one at Mount Nebo State Park.

About a quarter of a mile from the visitor center are the trailheads for a pleasant and well-conceived trail network. Walking is the best way to explore the park, and we did so on the 2.5-mile Delta View Trail. It traverses a mixed forest of mature hardwoods and giant pines that whisper in a late winter breeze. The ice storm that we experienced early in the year has taken a toll on some trees, including a few that fell across the trail and damaged some of the footbridges. Trees are passive-aggressive life forms that are not happy unless they can fall across a trail and break things. The park staff has cleared them, so the Great Tree Uprooting of 2023 was mostly in vain.

Because of recent deluges, the ground was very wet and spongy. Waterproof hiking boots kept our feet dry, but the footing among thick leaves and pine needles was slick and sometimes unstable. That will improve with drier weather.

The 15.5-mile Cane Creek Lake Trail is a multi-use path for cyclists and hikers. You can camp along the trail at designated shelters after Mile 6. A free, mandatory camping permit is available at the visitor center. Horses and ATVs are not allowed on the trails, and hikers that do not have camping permits are not allowed on the trails after sunset.

For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com/parks/cane-creek-state-park.