Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

Thermal springs aren’t the only famous water in this resort town. The city is also regarded as a recreational hot spot thanks to three lakes on Hot Springs’ southern and western edges. 

Lake Ouachita, Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine were created by dams on the Ouachita River primarily for hydroelectric purposes. Today, the lakes attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for boating, fishing, camping, hiking and nature watching. 

Lake Catherine includes Lake Catherine State Park, which features boat rentals, tours, guided horseback trail rides and guided hikes, as well as a pavilion, camping area and visitor center. The 1,900-acre lake is one of Arkansas’ smallest with only 11 miles of shoreline. (That makes real estate around this lake hard to come by.)

Below the dam, there is great rainbow trout fishing, and kayaking is popular across this peaceful lake. 

Completed in the 1950s, Lake Ouachita is the newest lake, and at 40,000 acres, it’s also the largest man-made lake in Arkansas. Known for its clarity, Lake Ouachita is a great spot for scuba diving. Fishing enthusiasts are fond of Lake Ouachita too; its waters are filled with bream, crappie, catfish, striped bass and largemouth bass.

Lake Hamilton (left and middle) and Lake Ouachita (right)

The lake is connected to Lake Ouachita State Park, which offers camping, cabin and boat rentals, and wilderness trails. Several privately-owned resorts line the shoreline, including a visitor favorite, Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa.

Lake Hamilton is the busiest of the three lakes. Its shores are dotted with vacation homes and rentals, marinas and restaurants. Vacation home sales are booming here, fueled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the regional population looking for alternative travel plans.

Watersports abound here, too. On any given lake-weather day, you’re sure to find boats anchored in swimming coves, families taking leisurely cruises, children tubing, wakeboarders showing off and fast-charging jet skis racing playfully. 

In the summer, visitors flock by boat to the lake’s annual Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend fireworks shows.

For lake sightseeing, the famous Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat travels Lake Hamilton offering its popular tours and sunset cruises. There’s even a dock at Garvan Woodland Gardens for visitors wanting to come see the attraction by boat.

The Lake District is also known for its assortment of restaurants, like Back Porch Grill, JB ChopHouse, J&S Italian Villa, JavaPrimo Coffee House or The Thermal Pub & Eatery at The Lodge.


Lake Hamilton visitors love to grab a bite to eat via their boats. Here are some of their favorite spots to dock and dine:

501 Lakeside
501 Prime’s new lakeside location with two food trucks and a liquor wagon

Back Porch Grill
For a nicer dinner out, great steak, wine and cocktails

Bubba’s Brews
Fun and casual, spacious sports bar vibe that’s good for large parties and families

Cajun Broilers
Divey local hot spot for casual seafood, including fried favorites

Fisherman’s Wharf
Bustling for lunch and dinner on the lake, large deck, delicious seafood

Sam’s Pizza Pub
Great pizza; popular for calling in orders to pick up by boat, recently expanded for more docking and dining on location, too

Lake Catherine


Back Porch Grill
JavaPrimo Coffee House, Cafe & More
JB ChopHouse
The Lodge Restaurant at Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa

J&S Italian Villa
Martini's on the Bay

Garvan Woodland Gardens
Hot Springs Marina
Iron Mountain Fishing Guide John Duncan
Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina
Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina - Mountain Bike Trail System
Mid-America Science Museum
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa - Premier Lake Ouachita Fishing Guides Chris Darby, Mike Wurm
Mountain Harbor Riding Stable
Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf

Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn
Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa
Red Oak Ridge
Willow Beach Resort

Garvan Woodland Gardens
JavaPrimo Coffee House, Cafe & More
Mid-America Science Museum Store

Turtle Cove Spa

Lake Catherine is one of Arkansas' smallest lakes with only 11 miles of shoreline.