Before You Go
For more information, on Arkansas State Parks contact 1-888-AT-PARKS (888-287-2757) or visit online at the Web site
Contact the Buffalo National River at (870) 741-5443, or visit online at
To contact Devil’s Den State Park, call (479) 761-3325.
For reservations at DeGray Lake State Park, call 1-800- 737-8355; visitor information is (501) 865-2801 or visit online at
To plan your Arkansas camping trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks, CampBook and TourBook guides.

Rough or ready made
Whether you’re a hermit, hedonist or somewhere in between, Arkansas has a camping site for you

Published: Jul/Aug 2002
By Elaine Warner

The falls at Devil’s Den State Park. /A.C. Haralson, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photos
Sunlight filters through leaves playing on the water like a spotlight on a singer’s sequins. Massive bluffs rise up on either side and your canoe begins to move a little faster. The only sounds you hear are those from the river and an occasional thread of melody as a cardinal stitches a bright red path through the green foliage. When you’re tired, you pull your canoe up on the bank, roll out your bedroll and wait for the stars to start their nightly parade across the sky. Sounds like a fantasy, but it can be reality on the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas.

The river wild

Spectacular views can be seen on canoeing and rafting trips on the Buffalo National River, America’s first federally protected river. /Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo
Designated by Congress in 1972 as America’s first national river, the Buffalo National River winds its way more than 135 miles from high in the Boston Mountains to its confluence with the White River. A float trip is the best way to see this river, and when it’s time to take out the canoe for the day, campers have plenty of options.

There are 13 designated campgrounds accessible by car. Buffalo Point offers the most services with 83 RV sites with electricity, 20 tent sites, five group tent sites, a restaurant and rental cabins. Two other campsites offer RV spots, but no hook-ups. The remaining sites are for tent or open camping. Some of the campgrounds are handicapped accessible. Campers who want a more primitive experience may camp anywhere in the park as long as they are at least one-half mile from any developed area. Many canoe enthusiasts camp along the river.

The river is managed as three different districts. The largest district is the upper section of the river containing two wilderness areas and some of the most rugged terrain in the park. This also has some of the most challenging water. The Lost Valley Trail here features waterfalls, cliffs and a 200-foot-long cave with a waterfall inside.

The middle river section includes an area known as The Narrows. A favorite feature nearby is Skull Bluff. Several cavities in the bluff give it a cadaverous look and if the water level is low enough, you can even paddle inside.

Downstream the Tyler Bend Visitor Center offers information about all areas of the park and has a variety of scheduled programs and activities including guided hikes and canoe trips.

Buffalo Point is located in the lower section of the river. The area around the campground is among the most popular and populated spots on the river. The stretch of river between Buffalo Point and Rush is tranquil and glides past some of the most spectacular scenery on the Buffalo.

In addition to canoeing, campers can enjoy hiking, fishing or watching birds and wildlife. More than 200 bird species use the area for at least some part of the year. Deer, beaver, raccoon, opossum, bobcat, mink and bear are found in the park. Elk were reintroduced to the area in 1981 and have adapted well, with sightings common on the middle to upper river.

Horsing around at Devil’s Den

Northwest Arkansas is home to Devil’s Den State Park. The terrain is rugged and heavily forested with oak and hickory. The 2,200-acre park, tucked into a steep valley, is named for 550-foot Devil’s Den cave, which visitors enjoy exploring. No special equipment is necessary except flashlights, though protective clothing is desirable for crawling or squeezing through some of the narrower spots. Devil’s Den and 220-foot Devil’s Icebox are also home to eastern Pipistral bats, and the interpreters offer several programs to educate guests about the little mammals.

Lee Creek runs through the park and has been dammed creating a charming eight-acre lake where visitors can paddle a canoe or pedal a boat. The cascade of water over the natural stone dam is a favorite photo spot.

Devil’s Den is particularly appealing to equestrians for horse camping. There are 43 sites with water and electricity and two wash bays for the horses. Campers tie their horses to lines strung between trees, though some people haul portable stalls. Three horse trails offer approximately 20 miles of riding with the Old Road Trail being the easiest. The more challenging Gorley-King Trail and Vista Point Trail feature overlooks affording panoramic views of both the Lee Creek and neighboring Blackburn valleys. This is strictly BYOH (bring your own horse); there are no horses for rent in the park.

Other campers will find an ample supply of camping spots, including some preferred class A sites with waterfront views. Campers are welcome to use the park swimming pool for a small fee. A bathhouse with showers also is on site.

Devil’s Den is about 25 miles from Fayetteville, where the University of Arkansas is a big attraction, and about 45 minutes away from historic Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Roughing it resort-style

In the rolling, pine-covered, Ouachita Mountain region of southwest Arkansas, you’ll find the state’s premier resort state park–DeGray Lake. This park is not for campers who want to get away from it all–this is for campers who want it all. Situated on the north side of a beautiful, blue, 13,800-acre lake, DeGray Lake State Park is a full-service resort.

Thirty-seven of the park’s 113 campsites are on the waterfront. There are no regular primitive or wilderness sites.

One of DeGray’s unique features is Rent-A-Yurt, ideal for beginning campers. The yurt is a large tent mounted on a deck that will sleep six in three bunk beds. Mattresses are provided but guests have to bring their bedding. Water is available, and there are electrical outlets in the yurt. Grills and propane burners are on the deck.

For guests who don’t want to cook, the Shoreline Restaurant at the renovated lodge offers a full menu.

All the resort activities, with the exception of the lodge swimming pool, are open to campers. Fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding and boating are popular. DeGray’s championship, 18-hole golf course is also open to the public. Check the activities schedule for special events, like summer starlight boat cruises and fall/winter eagle tours.

Explore the area outside the park and see Hot Springs with its historic bathhouses, shopping and tourist attractions. The newly-opened Garvan Woodland Gardens has 210 acres with camellias, magnolias, azaleas and antique roses. All of this is just 25 miles from the park.

Array of options

Arkansas’s state parks this year are celebrating 75 years of service. They offer all sorts of accommodations for campers, from full-service spots to primitive areas. Diverse activities include hunting for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park, exploring the remnants of an old river town at Jacksonport State Park and hiking to the base of a 95-foot waterfall at Petit Jean State Park. There’s a place for every kind of camper in Arkansas.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.