The Ozark and St. Francis National Forests are two different forests but are grouped together for administration reasons. The Ozark National Forest covers 1.2 million acres of Ozark mountains and boasts the tallest point in the Arkansas, which is Mount Magazine. These mountains are actually plateaus that are lifted up as one unit, with a few faults and folds. The southern part of the forest meanders along the Arkansas River and south to the Ouachita Mountains.
The St. Francis National Forest is one of the smallest forests in the country at only 22,600 acres. Located on the east-central corner of Arkansas, it gets its name from the St. Francis River. You can also walk along the shores of the Mississippi River here. This forest has the best habitat for wild critters including rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, elk, bear, and deer, so hunting is popular here. In fact, you can even hunt alligators in this forest!
Fishing is a popular sport in both forests, and you can find just about any fish you want, including trout, bass, catfish, and crappie. RV camping is also very popular in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. There are 13 RV campgrounds here ranging in size from the small 13-site Spring Lake to the large 41-site Long Pool. We have highlighted our top three choices for you below.
In northwest Arkansas, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest is a vast wooded wonderland, and the drive to get there is part of the fun. Several Arkansas State Scenic Byways pass through the Ozark National Forest. One of these includes the St. Francis Scenic Byway, which is 21 miles from Mariana to West Helena taking you past Bear Creek Lake and Storm Creek Lake. You will also see the St. Francis and the Mississippi River Valley along the way. Also, the Ozark National Forest Scenic Byway is 60.6 miles of Highway 7 that connects Louisiana to Missouri right through Arkansas.
The drive may be beautiful, but it can also be treacherous, especially if you are driving a large rig or pulling a trailer. The Ozark backroads are known for their winding and narrow streets that can be difficult to maneuver. If you are traveling here in the winter, you should be even more careful because these roads do not get plowed like city roads.
And when you get into the campground areas, they are mostly gravel and dirt roads that can be tough to manage as well. There are many potholes and low hanging branches to watch out for too. Most people just park their rig at the campsite and walk to where you want to go if you can.
Close to Paris, Cove Lake Campground has 36 campsites on the banks of Cove Lake. Eighteen of these can be reserved online. Each campsite has campfire rings with grills, picnic tables, and can accommodate trailers and RVs from 20 to 60 feet in length. The campground also provides drinking water hydrants, restrooms, showers, and several vault toilets for your convenience. You can also find picnic areas with BBQ pits, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and a playground for the kids. They even have a miniature golf course here!
This 1,625-acre park boasts the 160-acre Cove Lake at the bottom of the 2,753-foot-tall Mount Magazine, which is the highest spot in Arkansas. The boat ramp is available at the marina where you can also rent boats and other equipment. Fishing is excellent here since the lake is stocked every other year with crappie, sunfish, bluegill, bass, and catfish. Dogs and cats are permitted but must be restrained and accompanied at all times. You need to reserve your spot well in advance because they fill up fast.
On top of Crowley’s Ridge, Bear Creek Lake Campground in Marianna, Arkansas has three campgrounds with 31 spacious and wooded campsites, so you have plenty to choose from. Each of these sites provides a picnic table, a fire ring with a grill for cooking, and enough space for an RV or trailer up to about 30 feet long. You can also get drinking water from one of several hydrants and there are vault toilets in several areas of the park. This is a first-come, first-served campground so make sure you get here early to get a spot, especially on weekends and holidays.
There are 30 miles of shoreline along the 625-acre Bear Creek Lake, which has trophy-sized largemouth bass, channel catfish, and red-eyed bream. You can also swim at the large sandy beach or take a hike on the one-mile Bear Creek Nature Trail. Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing are popular on the lake as well. Bring along your pooch because pets are welcome as long as they are restrained and accompanied at all times.
Just a few miles from Mountain View, Blanchard Springs Campground has 18 campsites that include lantern hangars, picnic tables, and fire pits with grills for cooking. RVs and trailers up to 32 feet in length are welcome. The park offers modern restrooms with hot showers, drinking water spigots, and an RV dump station. They also have two group camps that can accommodate up to 50 people. All of the campsites are within walking distance to the North Sylamore Creek, where you and the kids can splash around.
The campground also has a recreation area with a swimming area, cavern tours, interpretive programs, and a kids playground. Enjoy a walk on the North Sylamore Creek Trail, which is a paved trail that takes you to a beautiful waterfall. You can catch rainbow trout in Mirror Lake, where the water is always crystal-clear. Just a few minutes away, take a float trip down the White River or go canoeing on the Buffalo River. Pets are also welcome but must be restrained and accompanied at all times. You will have to get here early if you want a spot though because it is first-come, first-served.
Just 15 minutes from Jasper, Sam’s Throne Recreation Area is one of the best rock-climbing sites in the Midwest so pack your climbing gear in the RV. From short and easy climbs to 75-foot pitches, there is something for everyone here. Top roping is a popular activity and there are many cracks, knobs, and pockets to explore. This place can get crowded during the weekends but there are some other popular climbing areas nearby including Cherokee Crags, Kent Mountain, Rickett Mountain, and Horseshoe Canyon.
The Ozarks is a popular place for off-highway vehicles, and you will have no problem finding your favorite spot in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. In fact, there are more than 1,000 miles designated for OHVs including motorcycles, dune buggies, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, and side-by-sides. The Big Piney District has the largest area of OHV trails just off Highway 40 between Russellville and Jasper. Right to the west, the Pleasant Hill District also has some fantastic trails. Hook the trailer to the RV so you can bring your bikes or ATVs, and make sure you have your helmet, gloves, and boots as well.
Make sure you don’t forget to pack your inner tubes and rafts in the campervan so you can do some floating on one of the rivers in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. There are six different rivers here including Richland, North Sylamore, Mulberry, Hurricane, Buffalo, and the Big Piney River. Some of the most popular places for float trips includes Wolf Pen Recreation Area, Spring Lake, Shores Lake, Mulberry River, and the Brock Creek Lake Recreation Area.
If you are an equestrian, go ahead and hook up your horse trailer to the RV because the Huckleberry Mountain Multi-Use Trail is known for being an awesome equestrian trail. Starting at the Mount Magazine Horse Camp in Paris, you can take the trail from a half mile within the park or keep going until the end, which is 34.3 miles away. There are two loops, which are the 22.4-mile Huckleberry Mountain Loop and the 11.9-mile Apple Loop. You can find other equestrian trails in the forest including Brock Creek, Upper Buffalo, Moccasin Gap, and Mill Creek.
If you are hunting big game like bear, deer, elk, or alligators, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest has plenty to offer. Some of the best spots include East Fork, Gunner Pool, Hurricane Creek, and Leatherwood Wilderness. You can also find a plethora of small game like turkeys, quail, rabbits, and squirrels with the best spots for them being the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, Salt Fork, Richland Creek, and the Ozark Highlands. So make sure you pack that hunting gear in the camper, and don’t forget your hunter orange and hunting license.
If you need some shooting practice before heading off to hunt, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest has several shooting ranges you can use. Pleasant Hill Shooting Range boasts 100-yard rifle range with 12 shooting benches and a 50-yard pistol range with six shooting benches. Shelton Point Shooting Range has five shooting stations with 25, 50, and 100-yard backstops for both pistol and rifle use. Sylamore Shooting Range has two ranges including a 200-yard rifle range with 12 shooting benches and a 50-yard pistol range with eight firing lanes and one shooting bench.