With the Solstice passed and High Summer here, we’re finding it a little more difficult to leave our cool, dark caves—er, I mean, apartments—for the slow boil of the Arkansas wilderness. While connection to nature is just as important in the summer as it is in any other season, the heat gives us something different to strive for. Though dense heat saps the energy we had in spring, it allows us to unwind and be still in nature.
So throw your tent and sleeping bag in the car, grab a friend (furry, human, rock, whatever man), and head to one of our three top picks for easy places to camp and unwind in the Ozarks.
> Steel Creek Campground, Ponca, Buffalo National River
> 36.0407758, -93.3440483 | camp, hike, elk, float, fish
Steel Creek, a campground near Ponca, is one of the most popular campgrounds along the Upper Buffalo National River (BNR). Camping at Steel Creek is ideal if you are looking for access to hiking trails, as the Buffalo River Trail and the Old River Trail are accessible directly from the campground, and a short drive takes visitors to Lost Valley Trail, Smith Creek Preserve Nature Conservancy scenic trail, and Centerpoint Trail. Steel Creek is also a popular put-in for floating and fishing. Fish for smallmouth bass, catfish, and perch, either from a canoe or by wading. Nearby you can find the Ponca Elk Education Center and the Boxley elk herd, one of the most visible elk herds in the southern U.S.
Details: open year-round; 26 campsites, 14 horse camping sites; $12 / night (per site); restroom + water shut off November - March; no RVs.
Pro tip: always use the Buffalo Outdoor Center for floating on the BNR! They are top notch professionals, offering information, water levels, rentals, shuttles, and guides. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ll take care of you, on or off the river.
> Kyle’s Landing Primitive Campground, Jasper, Buffalo National River | pictured in header
> 36.0557563, -93.2812997 | camp, hike, swim, float, fish, wildlife, photography
The Buffalo River Chamber calls Kyle’s Landing “the hub of the Ponca wilderness”; it is the biggest campground near Ponca on the BNR, one of the most remote, and truly central to tons of favorite activities in the Ozarks. Kyle’s Landing is the finish point for the most popular leg to float on the Buffalo (Ponca > Kyle’s Landing). It’s just a couple of miles from the easiest trail to Hemmed-in-Hollow, the tallest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, and it also connects to the Buffalo River Trail and the Old River Trail. It’s near Jasper, Arkansas, a quaint town where you can stock up on groceries, get a bite to eat at one of the three cafes, stroll through a local art gallery, or visit “Emma’s Musuem of Junk” (a surprisingly popular tourist attraction).
Details: open year-round; 33 campsites; $12 / night (per site); no fees to camp when water is off; restroom + water closed November - March; 4WD / high clearance vehicle required for access; no RVs.
> Gunner Pool Recreation Area, Mountain View, Ozark National Forest
> 35.9943667, -92.2118167 | camp, hike, fish, wildlife, caves
Most people in Arkansas have never heard of Gunner Pool, but it’s one of the most private, beautiful campgrounds Arkansas has to offer. It sits on North Sylamore Creek, a 14-mile creek filled with smallmouth bass and lined with sandstone bluffs that rival the bluffs of the nearby Buffalo River. From the campground you can access the 15-mile North Sylamore Hiking Trail, which hooks up to a series of other short trails near Blanchard Springs and Barkshed, eventually leading to the Ozark Highlands Trail. Just a short driving distance from the campground is Blanchard Springs Cavern, an enormous below-ground limestone cave, as well as the small towns of Mountain View and Allison, where you might just be able to catch a folk music concert.
Details: open year-round; 27 campsites; $7 / night (per site); water turned off during winter months; 4WD helpful for access; no electricity; not ideal for RVs.
Need a soundtrack to guide your campout relaxation? Lend an ear to our playlist of new tunes for the summer months, Fayettechill Summer Snacks.
Words by Emalie Cockrell | Photos by Jeff Rose & Heno Head
Emalie Cockrell is a writer and English Literature graduate student at the University of Arkansas. On an ordinary day, you might find her reading or hitting the trails for a run, ride, or hike. Between mountains and the ocean, she'll pick mountains every time. You can keep up with her escapades on Instagram at @semi.wild.