Cool Coves

Summer means swimming in the Natural State

By Kat Robinson / Photos Courtesy Of The United States Geologic Service (USGS) And City Of Hot Springs/Ashlee Springer

Summertime means swimming time in Arkansas, and Natural Dam is just one of the hot spots that will get you cool.

Summertime means swimming time in Arkansas, and Natural Dam is just one of the hot spots that will get you cool.


Arkansas summer heat is hard to beat, with only a few ways to truly cool down when the temperatures rise. The real winners: shady groves, ice-cold watermelon and sweet swimming holes. It’s to this latter end that we look at some of the state’s more secluded spots for a relaxing dip. Here are eight top picks for whiling away a summer afternoon:


Natural Dam | Cedarville
(35.64869, -94.41216)

This eponymous rock formation along Mountain Fork Creek in Crawford County is an all-natural slab of stone that forms an eight-foot-high, 187-foot-long barrier behind which a lovely pool is held. The pebbled bottom of the creek's gradient allows for both beginner and advanced swimmers to enjoy the water. When there's rain, waterfalls form along the length of the dam. There are no picnic tables or restrooms, but there is a small parking area, so put on your suits before you go. From Interstate 40 at Van Buren, head north 15 miles on Highway 59, then turn left on Natural Dam road. 

Lake Sylvia | Perryville 
(35.06922, -93.32140)

Central Arkansas swimming hole lovers have long called this treasure a woods-surrounded paradise. Located 38 miles from Little Rock, this U.S. Forest Service-operated site was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the northernmost section of the Ouachita National Forest. The old dock is a jumping-off point for more adventuresome swimmers. There is a $1 per person or $3 per car entry fee for individuals wishing to swim. This is also a good lake to bank-catch catfish. Flush restrooms and picnic tables are nearby. Take Arkansas Highway 10 35 miles west of Little Rock to Williams Junction, then turn left on Highway 324 and go 3.7 miles to the lake.

Long Pool | Dover
(35.54844, -93.16321)

River Valley residents have kept this stony hollow a secret for generations. This big bend on Big Piney Creek near Dover holds back gorgeously green-tinted waters against the Ozark’s southernmost reaches. The camp is open to overnight visitors and day-use guests for a small fee. From Dover take state Hightway 7 north for 6 miles, turn left on Highway 164 and go three miles. Turn right on County Road 14, then in three more miles turn left on CR 15. Go two miles and you will see signs for Long Pool.

Little Grand Canyon | Bluff City
(33.42009, -93.05577)

Also known as Chidester Canyon, this stunning rock formation on the north side of White Oak Lake is tucked into the woods on the lake’s northwest shore. Cross the dike, park at the dead end and take a trail down to this natural wonder. Beware—there are no signs, and sections of the canyon can be deep, but the pine-studded crest of the canyon provides ample shade during most of the day at this southwest Arkansas oasis. From Bluff City, take state Highway 54 to Lower White Oak Lake, then cross the dike on Ouachita County Road 332 and proceed to its terminus. Follow the footpath to the canyon.

Bear Creek Lake | Marianna
(34.42310, -90.41480)

This hidden gem atop Crowley’s Ridge about seven miles southeast of Marianna offers a beautiful swimming beach within the borders of the new Mississippi River State Park. There are picnic tables, camping areas and vault toilets nearby. Pick up barbecue sandwiches at the James Beard America’s Classic winner Jones Barbecue Diner before heading out to swim. From Marianna, take Arkansas Highway 44 seven miles to Mississippi River State Park. Swimming area is located past Beech campground on the left.

Lake Hamilton | Hot Springs
(34.28565, -93.07558)

There’s not much secluded about this residentially encircled lake located mostly within Hot Springs’ borders, but the swimming is excellent. Best place to visit? Hill Wheatley Park, not far from Airport Road, which offers a light sandy beach and some great views on the north end of the lake. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a drinking fountain available, and the swimming is free. From U.S. Highway 70/Airport Road head west on Majestic Lodge Road one mile, then turn onto McDonald Loop and follow signs.

The Narrows | Glenwood
(34.23050, -93.36236)

Located on the Caddo River some seven miles west of Glenwood off Highway 8, this rock-lined riverbed is cool, clear and deep throughout summer’s hottest months. Slow, meandering currents and a great deal of distance between this blue hole and the nearest metropolis make this an excellent summer escape. From Glenwood, head northwest on Arkansas Highway 8 for seven miles, until you reach Highway 240. The swimming hole will be on your left just past the bridge.

Greers Ferry Lake | Tumbling Shoals
(35.32019, -92.00555)

This north-central Arkansas destination has long been a secret kept by folks who return to the lake year after year. Many prefer Sandy Beach with its crescent of white hot sand, but the best combination of shade and sunlight plus access to restrooms, parking and picnic area can be found at the Old Highway 25 Campground on the northwest side of the lake near Tumbling Shoals and the dam. From Heber Springs, take the state Highway 25 bypass over the dam and north to Tumbling Shoals, then turn left on Highway 25 Spur.