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Explore the Hot Springs and Diamond Lakes Region

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Canoeing on Lake Catherine
Canoeing on Lake Catherine

Full of scenic beauty and outdoor adventure, Arkansas’s Diamond Lakes region welcomes you for hiking, mountain biking, water sports, fishing and more. Located in southwest Arkansas, the Diamond Lakes region includes Arkadelphia, Caddo Valley, Glenwood, Hot Springs, Malvern, Mount Ida, Murfreesboro and surrounding communities. The region is named for its five iconic lakes: Lake Catherine, DeGray Lake, Lake Greeson, Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita, and also is home to historic Hot Springs National Park. While you’re visiting the area, you can explore the world’s only public diamond mine, a water and theme park, mountain biking including IMBA Epic trails, a luxury casino resort with live thoroughbred racing, and much more!

Hot Springs National Park

No trip to the Diamond Lakes region is complete without a stop in historic Hot Springs. Native Americans called it “Valley of the Vapors” for the steam that rose from its thermal waters. Nineteenth-century tourists traveled from all over the nation to seek healing benefits from these hot springs. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson designated the area as the nation’s first federal reservation. Now, in 2021, Hot Springs National Park is celebrating its official 100th anniversary as a national park! Fun events and celebrations will take place all year long, so check out the centennial webpage or hotsprings.org for more event information.

Today, Hot Springs National Park occupies the northern part of the city and contains nearly 50 natural springs and more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. Downtown Hot Springs features historic Bathhouse Row with working bathhouses and historic hotels, as well as all kinds of shops, restaurants, museums and music venues.

The lake resorts in the region are far enough away to let you be one with nature, but close enough so you can visit town with ease. Spend a day on the lake, fishing, boating or hiking, head into town for entertainment, shopping or dining, and be back in your comfortable lodge or lakeside cabin in time to see the breathtaking lake sunset.

Wherever you choose to stay, bring your bike. Some of the best trails in the country are in the Diamond Lakes region. Three of these trails are designated as IMBA Epic Rides – Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT), Ouachita National Recreation Trail and the Womble Trail. Hot Springs is recognized as an IMBA Regional Ride Center for the amenities and resources available to riders. The Northwoods Trail System offers nearly 30 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking for all skill levels, less than 5 miles from downtown.

Mine for Diamonds and Crystals

The Diamond Lakes region holds the world’s only public diamond mine, Crater of Diamonds State Park. You can keep whatever rocks you mine, and some record specimens have gone home with visitors! Located in Murfreesboro, the state park is also the site of an aquatic park and splash pad for cooling off post-dig.

Stop in at Mount Ida, the Quartz Capital of the World, where you can find crystal mines that are open to the public. Dig your own crystals at one of several mines there or in nearby towns, or find a lovely crystal at a town shop to keep your perfect souvenir.

On the Water

Lake Catherine is an 11-mile fishing lake located near Hot Springs and surrounded by the breathtaking Ouachita Mountains. Lake Catherine State Park offers campsites, cabins and the only full-service marina on the lake. Many of the historic buildings in the state park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Hiking trails include the Falls Branch trail leading to a lovely waterfall and grotto.

DeGray Lake (13,400 acres) is home to DeGray Lake Resort State Park. You can enjoy disc golfing or horseback riding while you stay in the resort’s lodge. Play a round of golf at the scenic and challenging 18-hole championship course, then enjoy unique dining experiences before heading to the beach or to the trails. Private resorts nearby offer luxury lakeside cabins with fireplaces and hot tubs. The popular Iron Mountain trail system (26 miles) attracts mountain bikers from all over the nation and features a new loop earning rave reviews for the ride and scenery.

Twelve-mile-long Lake Greeson is known for its excellent fishing and kayaking opportunities, but you’ll also love its swimming holes, picnic areas and campsites. Over 45 miles of trails surround the lake. Pick up a trail map at Daisy State Park, where you can also book a campsite or yurt. Other resorts also offer log-sided cabins on the water, charming and affordable motel rooms near the lake, and welcoming full-service marinas.

One of the state’s most popular recreational and residential lakes, Lake Hamilton is a great family fun spot with boat rentals and lodging. On the lake is Garvan Woodland Gardens, a first-rate botanical garden accessible by boat or land. Treehouses, elevated walkways, children’s play areas, waterfalls, meditative landscapes and gorgeous blooms make the gardens a sure crowd pleaser.

Fishing on Lake Ouachita
Fishing on Lake Ouachita

Fishing on Lake Ouachita

The largest lake in the state at 40,100 acres, Lake Ouachita can be peaceful even on the busiest weekends. Rent a vessel or gear for sailing, boating, water sports and scuba diving. Anglers can catch bream, crappie, catfish, or striped bass in open waters or quiet coves. Lake Ouachita consistently ranks as one of the top 10 spots in the nation for largemouth bass fishing. Surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, the lake has more than 100 uninhabited islands for camping. Lake Ouachita State Park features campsites and cabins, while luxury lakeside resorts offer top-quality lodging and full-service marinas.

Rivers Wild and Peaceful

A favorite scenic float trip for Arkansans is the Caddo River. For kayaking, canoeing, rafting, or tubing, find easy access to the water at Glenwood or Caddo Valley. Popular trips include Collier’s Creek to Arrowhead (an easy 3 miles), Arrowhead to Glenwood (7.8 miles for all levels), and Norman to Arrowhead (8 miles of fast, difficult floating, intended for experienced paddlers only).

The Little Missouri River runs 29 miles through Ouachita National Forest. Below the river’s dam near Murfreesboro lies a well-known stretch for trout fishing. If you’re more experienced with whitewater rafting, a series of wild rapids in the river’s upper reaches holds Class II and III ratings. Take a swim in one of the deep pools or hike along the bank to capture the best wildlife photography.

The Ouachita River runs for over 600 miles, feeding into three of the Diamond Lakes on its way through the region. Known for great floating for all skill levels, the Ouachita has five Forest Service float camps. Above the lake, the river offers good fishing for smallmouth bass. Below the dams, rainbow trout are popular with anglers.

Northwood Trails
Northwood Trails

In the Woods

Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) offers 45 miles of mountain biking on the scenic shore of the lake. This IMBA Epic ride starts with 10 miles of rolling hills, then turns steep and strenuous in the last 35 miles from Joplin to Hickory Nut Mountain. The ride is worth it for those views at the top!

Ouachita National Recreation Trail is the longest mountain biking trail in the state at 108 miles. Another IMBA Epic, this trail promises a big, challenging climb. This trail is not recommended for novices.

The Womble Trail near Mount Ida is also an IMBA Epic trail on 37 miles of loose rock with occasional packed dirt. Mostly rolling terrain, it includes a few steep drop-off sections that require skill and focus. The ridgeline leads to beautiful views from the bluffs of the Ouachita River.

A popular trail system next to DeGray Lake, the Iron Mountain Trail has over 24 miles of loops including some of what bikers often call the best “flow trails” in the state.

A ride on the 26-mile Northwoods Trail System will take you from downtown Hot Springs to total wilderness in spectacular fashion. Suitable for riders of all skill levels, these trails have plenty of tricks up their sleeve for even the most advanced riders.

Out and About

Magic Springs Theme & Water Park is full of adventures to bring out the kid in you! Arkansas’s only theme and water park features roller coasters, waterslides, a wave pool, lazy river and more. If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to stay for the summer concert series, which brings national touring acts to the outdoor amphitheater.

The Mid-America Science Museum is an award-winning Smithsonian affiliate and interactive museum with more than 100 exhibits including the new DinoTrek, a permanent outdoor dinosaur exhibit. Kids will enjoy the Marvelous Motion Gallery where they can play with a sand pendulum and vertical wave machine. The Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk will impress the entire family with views of 21 acres of woods that surround the museum.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs features live thoroughbred racing and is a Kentucky Derby qualifier. Oaklawn has been a renowned racetrack for more than a century. The 2021 opening of a major expansion adds a brand-new, eight-story luxury hotel, a world-class spa, and fine and casual dining with views of the track. The newly renovated casino offers table games, slots, sports betting, video poker, blackjack and a High Limits area.

Diamond Lakes Region: A Gem of a Vacation

When you want to combine wilderness fun on the water with town entertainment, great food, and historic atmosphere, the Diamond Lakes region is your go-to getaway. The value of the state’s low cost of living means that you can vacation in high style and treat yourself to anything you like at a budget-friendly price. Discover the fun, beauty, and relaxation at one of America’s longest-treasured vacation destinations! Visit us at diamondlakes.org to start planning your perfect trip.