Located just 30 minutes from Memphis between Tate and DeSoto counties in northern Mississippi, Arkabutla Lake is situated among rolling hills with thick forests of oak, hickory, beech, sweet gum and birch trees. Known for some of the best fishing in the southeast, it’s rated one of the “Top Five Crappie Fishing Lakes in America.” It also boasts an abundance of channel and flathead catfish, along with largemouth and white bass.
While Arkabutla Lake is wildly popular for its fishing, there’s plenty more to do if you’re an active outdoorsman.
What to Do at Arkabutla Lake
As far back as the 19th century, locals in the Mississippi flood zone–where Arkabutla Lake currently stands–began to understand the importance of flood control. Years and years of catastrophic water damage from the river took its toll on the land, culminating with the worst flood in the area’s history in 1927.
After the Great Mississippi Flood of that year, engineers began establishing plans for massive flood reform by constructing dams along Mississippi tributaries. This led to the construction of the Arkabutla Dam in 1942, a tremendous undertaking at the time. Not only was the dam an engineering feat for the area, it was also built on top of the town of Coldwater…literally! The federal government committed $250,000 to relocate 700 residents roughly one mile south of the dam in order to complete the project.
To this day, remnants of the old town lie underwater, beneath Arkabutla lake.
1. Find Arkabutla Camping at Hernando Point
To experience the natural beauty that surrounds this unnatural lake, you can’t go wrong with Hernando Point camping.
Hernando Point is located in the scenic upland hardwood area and sits along the waterfront of Lake Arkabutla. It has 83 family camping spots available, all with electric hookups and a group day-use shelter. There is RV parking as well, and the site is pet friendly with WiFi available.
A year-long recreation area, Hernando Point has flushing toilets, showers and drinking water so you’re not totally roughing it. There’s also access to a playground, picnic sites and shelter, a swimming beach and boat launch ramp not too far from camp.
“Lots of water view spots and plenty of private wooded spots. Clean bathrooms.” — The Dyrt camper Shana D.
Once you’ve found your site and pitched your tent, it’s time to find the fun. There’s no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy at Arkabutla Lake:
2. Visit the “Underwater” Town of Coldwater
As you cruise down I-55 on your way to the campsite, take the Coldwater exit and head towards the location of the old town. There you will find a small monument to Old Coldwater, detailing its rich agricultural history and subsequent struggle with flooding.
While small and modest, the memorial is a great educational tool for little ones, and a fun piece of history for locals and travelers alike.
Some movie-goers will also get a kick out of the site, knowing its connection to the Coen brothers’ film ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ In the movie, George Clooney’s character Everett McGill buries his treasure by a cabin in the valley, where it remained during his incarceration. But when McGill learned that his treasure would soon be submerged under Arkabutla Lake, he broke free and set out on a mission to retrieve his goods. Despite his best efforts, the town of Coldwater is submerged, but only in the film. You can still walks the streets of Coldwater today.
3. Go for a Sail, or Bag a Quail
Arkabutla Lake is 33,000 acres, but 11,000 of those are reserved as a ‘recreation pool,” offering some of the best sailing east of the Mississippi River. If you’ve got a boat, we highly recommend bringing it. There are also three pristine beaches that are great for swimming.
If you’re into hunting, Arkabutla Lake boasts a combined 30,000 acres of public hunting lands where deer, wild turkeys, quail, waterfowl and quail roam. These hunting lands are open throughout the year.
4. Take Advantage of Local Nature Trails
The Coldwater River Nature Trail System consists of seven trails, each with a different focus, from hiking to biking to canoeing, kayaking and horseback riding. There’s also a trail devoted to outdoor education, with an amphitheater for small groups and classes. From these trails, you can get gorgeous views of Lake Arkabutla as well as open fields and swamps.
5. Bring Your Horse, Too
Part of the Coldwater River Nature Trail System, this 4.5 mile trail in the Sunfish Bay Area at Arkabutla Lake has multiple large, open unloading areas to park several horse trailers. As you ride your trusty steed along the trails, you’ll see many types of forest, from old growth to hilly pine forests.
6. Squeeze in a Round of Disc Golf
There are two disc golf courses nearby. Lost Indian Spring Disc Golf Course is an 18-hole course located below the Arkabutla Dam. Named after the natural spring that winds throughout the center of the course, it accommodates every skill level, from beginners to professionals.
The Swampy Hollow course has nine holes and is located below the dam as well. This course is laid out so golfers can play it separately, or in conjunction with the Lost Indian Springs course. For a 27-hole experience, just play the Lost Indian Springs course through hole 13 and then start playing on Swampy Hollow.
Whatever you decide, there are plenty of things to do in and around Arkabutla Lake. And if you get bored with Arkabutla, one of the many other excellent campgrounds in Mississippi will be waiting!