This Ozark National Forest camping guide is brought to you by our friends at Roanline, an outdoor apparel marketplace where you’ll find uncommon and localized brands, like Ozark-based retailer Fayettechill.
The Ozarks are a little mysterious. The region isn’t quite the South, nor quite the Midwest, spanning parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It’s bound by mountains and rivers, and is largely made up of a plateau; unfamiliar adventurers might overlook the region’s charm.
The Ozark National Forest contains some of the best features of the region in its 1.2 million acre span. It’s home to Mount Magazine (the tallest mountain in Arkansas), Blanchard Springs Caverns, Lake Wedington, White Rock Mountain, and six National Scenic Byways. It also includes some 400 miles of hiking trails, 1,000 miles of OHV trails, and the almost 200-mile long Ozark Highlands Trail that runs from the Buffalo National River to the Oklahoma border.
Camping in the Ozark National Forest
Naturally, there’s a lot of places to camp in all that acreage, and even more to keep you entertained while you’re out there. So if you’re headed to fish, kayak, canoe, bike, hike, or climb, here’s some of the best campgrounds in the Ozark National Forest.
At one end of the North Sylamore Hiking Trail is Blanchard Springs campground, made up of 17 campsites and two group sites with water, sewage dump, and capacity for smaller RVs (if you don’t mind the lack of full hookups). Like much of Ozark National Forest, the sites are simple but clean, and excellent for families. The main attraction here is the nearby caverns, so do expect it to be a little more crowded than other campgrounds in the park, and reserve ahead of time.
“The campground (and any other campground in the area) will not disappoint as the scenic views are amazing. There are rock wall and creek views for miles. You can walk and tube Sylamore Creek from right next to your campsite. Mirror lake is exactly as it sounds with a waterfall to see and an old mill along the creek. A handicap accessible trail also leads to a cave where the Springs appear.” — The Dyrt camper Brandie D.Camp Here
Right in the middle of the Ozark National Forest at the confluence of Cap Fork and North Sylamore Creek, Barkshed Campground offers primitive camping with vault restrooms and a picnic pavilion. This is also the terminus of the North Sylamore Hiking Trail, which winds for 23 beautiful miles along the sandstone bluffs which edge the creek. If you get up early, you can even hike to the Blanchard Springs Caverns and back.
“You have river access and wonderful scenery and views all over the area. The hiking is some of the best in the state if you are in the correct season. The bugs were terrible in early September. We have nicknamed this hike the biting fly hike for years as they drew blood every time! Go in winter and you will not be disappointed.” — The Dyrt camper Tom K.Camp Here
Just around the corner from Blanchard Springs Caverns, Gunner Pool campground is a destination in its own right. With 27 shady campgrounds, access to the White and Buffalo Rivers, and a top notch swimming hole, this is a lovely place to cool off. The grounds offer more primitive sites than the nearby Blanchard Springs, and are accessible by a winding dirt road, not recommended for large RVs.
“Our family loves this area. With the scenic rock wall along the creek, which is clear water, it has an awesome swimming hole. Hike the creek in both directions to discover the waterfall and other scenic views and unique swimming holes . . . The camp sites are well kept and very roomy. Don’t forget the lantern as there are no lights posted.” – The Dyrt camper Brandie D.Camp Here
4. Bear Creek
Situated within the 625-acre Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area, this is a great place to go if you’re into water sports. With 30 miles of shoreline, a nature trail that runs a full mile, a beach, and even a handicapped-accessible fishing pier, there’s a lot to do here. Go from bass and bream fishing to exploring the trails along local favorite Crowley’s Ridge.
“Peace and quiet in the beautiful national forest of Arkansas. Visited this camp in October and there was no one here. There’s actually 3 separate camping areas with in bear creek recreation area. Each has a pit toilet. There are also fire rings and picnic benches for a nice relaxing night by the fire.” — The Dyrt camper Daniel S.Camp Here
White Rock Mountain Recreation Area has one of the best ways to see the Ozarks is from up top, and it’s hard to find a better vantage point than 2,260 miles above sea level. There are campgrounds for the rustic, cabins for the cozy, and hiking aplenty along the Shores Lake loop trail, the National Scenic Mulberry River, Milk Creek, and hundreds of miles of ATV trails. The drive up to the site might be a challenge for some vehicles, so keep that in mind before taking your lowrider on your trip.
“This campsite has some of the prettiest views in the Ozark national forest. We stayed in a basic tent site and had no issues. Nice fire pit/ pit toilet/ water pump access. There is a house where the campsite host family lives. They were amazing and helped up navigate the area and plan our adventures. They have trail maps and firewood for sale, and are always willing to help.” — The Dyrt camper Clarissa F.Camp Here
Campers at Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area are lucky enough to get to pitch their tents among some of the Ozark’s gorgeous old growth hardwoods, near Big Piney Creek and the Ozark Highlands Trail. You should have plenty of privacy at this first-come, first-serve site, but take caution if rain is in the forecast. A gullywasher could come through, and park rangers tend to shut this campground down if there’s a chance of flooding. In clear weather, though, this spot is a real treat, close to the lovely Haw Creek Falls.
“Neighbors aren’t too close, and right smack dab in the middle of days of hiking! Great location unless there is a deluge, and you might get flooded out or stranded until the water goes down.” — The Dyrt camper Kris J.Camp Here
When you get back to civilization, celebrate your newfound love of the Ozarks with a little regional pride from Fayettechill, an outdoor apparel company based in Arkansas. Or stock up before you head out, and you’ll be all set for days playing in the creek, singing campfire songs, and exploring the Ozarks’ vast cave network – all the things that make this mysterious corner of the world a national best-kept-secret.