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Statewide Travel 3

Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas

Newton County, AR - April 30: A two-day float and camp on the Buffalo National River in Newton County, AR on April 30, 2022. (Photo by Will Newton/ADPHT)

Going on a camping trip is pretty much the best thing ever, but planning can be a little overwhelming, especially if you are new to camping life. Arkansas is unique because you can camp almost year-round, and quite a few campgrounds offer sites 365 days a year.

Whether you are looking to tent camp, RV camp, or perhaps a combination of both, there are some things to consider and plan for before you head to your nearest campground. Especially in recent years, camping trips have become increasingly popular, and some campgrounds are changing to keep up with increased demand.

Keep reading this guide to camping in Arkansas (or anywhere) to help you get the most out of your outdoor vacation. See the beauty of Arkansas and enjoy a successful trip with these tips and tricks.

Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas

Choose a location and make a reservation

To make a reservation for an Army Corps of Engineers Parks in Arkansas, you must book online through Recreation.gov. The COE parks will allow you to make reservations up to six months in advance, and prime sites fill up quickly.

To book a site at any of the Arkansas State Parks that offer camping, there are 32, you must visit the Arkansas State Parks website, select the individual park and make your reservation. Arkansas State Parks allow for reservations up to one year in advance.

In the past, many Arkansas campgrounds had first come, first serve sections available for guests without reservations. Unfortunately, that has disappeared in most campgrounds, and the vast majority operate under reservation-only policies. You still have an opportunity to snag a last-minute reservation by going online or calling the park before you head out, but it’s not quite as ‘spur of the moment’ as it once was.

Hot Tip: Selecting the perfect site can be tricky, especially if you visit a new park. The photos available on reservation sites may not be updated or missing altogether. Join an online group such as Camping Arkansas to get recommendations, find site pictures and meet fellow Arkansas Campers.

12 Campgrounds In Central and Northeast Arkansas

17 Arkansas RV Parks

Select your camping gear

Everyone has their opinion about camping gear. Whether you camp in a tent, an RV or like to hammock camp is entirely a personal preference. Each still requires a fair amount of packing and planning for your camping trip.

Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas

RV Camping

RV camping has grown in popularity over the last few years meaning many people are new to the pastime. It’s important to note that not all sites are created equal when it comes to parking an RV. Most likely, you will want a site with an adequate power supply rated for your RV. Water and sewer hookups are nice amenities but are rare, so you will need to use your holding tanks until you can make it to the dump station.

Another thing to consider when RV camping is the quality of the site pad. Is the space level? Are there overhead obstructions such as tree branches? Will the driveway of the site be long enough for your rig?

If you want to experience RV camping without making a significant investment, you can rent an RV. Many places will even do the hauling and setup for you. All you have to do is make a reservation and show up!

Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas

Tent Camping

The vast majority of campgrounds in Arkansas were developed with tent campers in mind, but sites still vary. Primitive sites will not have electricity and may or may not have a centrally located water source.

Tent pads vary from grass to bare ground to tent pads with sand or gravel bottoms.

Hot Tip: When tent camping, you will likely want access to bathroom facilities. Most bathhouses are well lit, so while selecting a site within easy walking distance of a bathroom, you will not want to be too close, or the lights may make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Hammock Camping

Hammock camping is a relatively new concept that seems to be growing. Instead of camping in a tent or an RV, outdoor lovers simply string a hammock between two trees and sleep under the stars. You can sleep in a traditional hammock, but specially designed camping hammocks include amenities such as a rain fly, mosquito netting and even a built-in pillow.

It is important to note that some campgrounds require you to have a wheeled unit (RV) or a poled unit (tent) to officially occupy a site. Sometimes, a hammock may not be an acceptable dwelling, so always consult an individual park when making your reservation. Hammocks are the perfect choice when camping while hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail or for backpacking trips across the state.

Plan Your Meals

Eating al fresco is one of my favorite parts of camping trips. If you plan to cook all of your meals, you’ll want to make a meal plan and have plenty of cooler space available. If you are camping with friends, divide the shopping list, and don’t forget staples like cooking oil, salt and pepper and basic cooking supplies and utensils.

Breakfast: Cereal is quick, convenient and filling, so we always have cereal at least one morning. However, there is nothing like the smell of bacon and sausage cooking and sipping on coffee as you sit lakeside, so we often plan at least one big breakfast of pancakes and sausage or bacon and eggs.

Lunch: We keep lunch super simple and go with sandwiches all the way. Ham and cheese, bologna, and peanut butter and jelly are all simple to make and don’t require many ingredients. We can easily toss a few sandwiches into our backpacks to take with us on a hike or in a cooler as we swim or boat.

Dinner: Grilling and camping go hand in hand. Many campsites have basic grills or campfire rings equipped with grill grates. Simply provide the charcoal and you are good to go. You can also cook over the open fire or bring your own grill or griddle. Our favorite camping dinners include hamburgers, hot dogs, steak or grilled chicken. I always like to grill corn no matter what we have for the main dish.

Dessert and Snacks: Is it really camping if you don’t have s’mores or grill marshmallows over an open campfire? Trailmix, cheese and crackers or prepackaged snacks are also convenient to have on hand.

Hot Tip: Prep as much as possible before leaving your house. I like to chop all my veggies, mix up my scrambled eggs and marinate my meat. Everything can be stored in bags or reusable containers in the cooler. Simply pull out what you need at meal time. I also freeze anything that can be frozen and pack it into the cooler frozen. It will help keep the cooler at a safe temperature and, as long as you don’t need it the first night, should be perfectly defrosted when needed.
Delicious Grill Recipes
Trail Mix
Baked Beans
Maple Roasted Pecans

Pack Your Car

Every time we go on a camping trip, I am shocked by the amount of stuff we need. Especially with children, it seems the list is never-ending. Now that we have an RV, many of our essential supplies stay stored in the camper, but when we tent camped, it often felt as if we were packing for a cross-country move.

When packing, I always pack my tent supplies and coolers where they are easy to access. The first thing you will want to do when you arrive at camp is put up your tent and you don’t have to unload the whole car to find it.

Hot Tip: When tent camping, leave your clothes in the car and just grab what you need when you need it. If a heavy downpour soaks your tent, you will still have dry clothing.

Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas

Be Aware of Campground Etiquette

As with many activities, some unspoken rules regarding campground etiquette are important to be aware of. These rules aren’t meant to keep you from having fun but are more to ensure everyone can have fun, feel safe and enjoy their camping trip.

  1. Follow check-in and checkout times. Vacate your campsite by the times set by the individual campground. If you plan to arrive early, check with the park attendant to make sure the site is ready.
  2. Keep your campsite clean. Take trash to the dumpsters and don’t leave food where animals can access it.
  3. Obey quiet times. Camping is fun, especially with friends but keep the noise level down after quiet time.
  4. Don’t move firewood. The emerald ash borer, fire ants and several other invasive insects are a genuine concern in Arkansas. Moving firewood can spread pests and diseases and may be illegal.
  5. Don’t burn trash in the fire pit. I am always amazed at the things I find in the campground fire ring. Nothing bugs me more than having to shovel out someone’s trash before I can make a fire for my family. Don’t burn anything other than wood, leaves or paper. If there is anything leftover in the firepit, shovel it out before leaving.
  6. Be aware of excessive lighting. People love to decorate their campsite with bucket lights and string lights but when you turn in for the night, turn them off. Excessive lighting is disruptive to animals and can make for a rough night’s sleep for some people, especially tent campers.
  7. Watch your language. Have a good time, but if you like to cuss, tone it back for a day or two, especially when you speak loud enough for your neighbors (and their children) to hear.
  8. Keep your music low. I’m a huge Def Leppard fan, but I realize that not everyone loves them as much as I do. If I listen to music while camping, I do so low enough that my neighbors aren’t subject to hearing if hair bands aren’t their style. I prefer to leave my music in the car and listen to the sounds of nature anyway.
  9. Don’t pass through other sites. Just as you wouldn’t want someone passing through your hotel room, campsites are personal spaces, and you shouldn’t pass through someone’s site without permission.
  10. Keep pets quiet. If you bring your fur babies along, please don’t allow them to bark every time your neighbor moves. Also, many campgrounds have rules against dogs left unattended at a campsite.

Hot Tip: Most people who camp are really friendly. Introduce yourself to your neighbor. Perhaps you’ll make a new friend, or at the very least, they will keep an eye on your site and you can keep an eye on theirs, so everyone has a great trip.

Cover photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and teaches art part-time at a local private school. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas where they raise chickens, farm hay and bake bread. Julie loves adventure and sharing it with her husband and son. They frequent the trails, campgrounds and parks of Arkansas, always on the hunt for new adventures and new stories to share. Learn more on her blog Seek Adventures Media.

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3 responses to “Planning Your Camping Trip in Arkansas”

  1. […] a while, but heading into the woods with a list of activities will keep your trip fun and exciting. Planning and packing for your camping trip is only half the battle. This list of fun camping activities will ensure a good time once you get […]

  2. […] Planning a Camping Trip in Arkansas […]

  3. […] Fun Camping Activities in Arkansas Planning your Camping Trip in Arkansas Kid-Friendly Camping at Wolly Hollow State Park Stargazing in Arkansas 12 Campgrounds in Central […]

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