COVID-19 Cramps Arkansas Camping Season

COVID-19 Cramps Arkansas Camping Season
A family picnics at Petit Jean State Park (Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism)

The 2020 camping statistics for Arkansas State Parks will require a footnote to explain a historic drop still taking shape. The spring season lost a month when April camping was closed as part of the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

For now, the camping ban through April 30 extends to overnight stays in lodges, cabins and group lodging in the State Parks system. Where it goes from there is undetermined.

“We still haven’t done anything with May,” said Joe Jacobs, marketing and revenue manager at Arkansas State Parks. “We’re waiting to see what the governor wants to do.”

In April 2019, camping revenue at Arkansas State Parks totaled $504,535. The May 2019 tally for renting campsites was $593,272. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, camping fees generated more than $5.2 million at the state’s parks.

In addition to tent sites, the dollar totals include daily rents collected for group camping areas, camper cabins along with yurts, large circular tents styled after the Mongol fashion. A few rent-an-RV sites and one rent-a-camp complete the roster.

At the federal level, a camping ban encompassed campgrounds managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Park Service. The closures by state and federal agencies severely reduced camping destinations with bathroom amenities featuring flush or vault toilets.

With developed campgrounds closed by state and federal overseers, camping choices for pitching a tent on public lands in Arkansas are largely left to primitive sites in the Ozark, Ouachita and St. Francis national forests.

With the pandemic in play, rounding up Arkansas camping numbers from federal sources proved problematic. Not so at Arkansas State Parks.

What were the favored state park campgrounds last April among the 29 tracked by the agency?

Crater of Diamonds led the way at 83% occupancy. The southwest Arkansas park includes 47 Class AAA campsites (with water, electric and sewer hookups) and five walk-in tent sites.

The chance of finding gems and getting to keep them lures visitors to the campground, where searchers find more than 400 diamonds each year in the park’s 37-acre plowed volcanic field.

The size of the white, yellow or brown diamonds found are most commonly in the 20- to 25-point range on a scale where 100 points equals a carat.

“The mine field itself is a big draw on bringing people,” said Drew Edmonds, assistant superintendent at Crater of Diamonds. “But we also have a water park and three trails.”

Five other state parks also surpassed 50% occupancy during April 2019:

  • Lake Catherine at 75.2%. Southeast of Hot Springs, Lake Catherine is home to 70 campsites (47 Class AAA and 23 Class B with water and electricity), six tent sites, a rent-a-camp with all the gear and a rent-a-yurt.
  • Lake Fort Smith at 68%. The park, containing the westward end and eastward beginning of the famed Ozark Highlands Trail, offers 30 campsites (20 Class AAA and 10 Class B).
  • Lake Ouachita at 63.9%. On a wooded peninsula on the state’s largest lake, the park boasts 93 campsites (58 Class AAA, 23 Class D and 12 tent sites).
  • Bull Shoals-White River at 57%. World-class trout fishing is the calling card of this north Arkansas park with 113 campsites (63 class AAA, 30 Class B and 20 tent sites) plus three rent-an-RV sites.
  • Woolly Hollow at 50.8%. Northwest of Conway, the park rolls out 30 AAA campsites and 10 tent sites for fishing, hiking and more around its 40-acre lake.

Sam Files, park interpreter at Woolly Hollow, said the park’s ease of accessibility and proximity to Conway make it a popular family camping destination. “It’s a good getaway from the city with-out being very far from the city,” Files said. “That’s a big draw.”

To bring a touch of the outdoors indoors, Arkansas State Parks has posted seven backgrounds for downloading to liven Zoom teleconferencing.

Two of the images are from Petit Jean with the balance from Devil’s Den, Lake Catherine, Historic Washington, Lake Chicot and Lake Dardanelle. See more at

What Is Closed in the Arkansas State Parks System

► All campgrounds, cabins, lodges, group lodging, restaurants, swimming beaches, visitor centers, playgrounds, gift shops and park interpretive programming.

► The Highway 300 day-use area and East Summit Trail parking area at Pinnacle Mountain along with the East Summit Trail, West Summit Trail, Base Trail, Kingfisher Trail and Little Maumelle Boat Ramp.

► Cedar Falls and Cedar Falls Overlook Trails at Petit Jean.

► The Fossil Flats Mountain Bike Trail and the Woody Plant Trail at Devil’s Den.

► Crater of Diamonds State Park diamond search field and Diamond Discovery Center.

State Parks Information Online

Arkansas State Parks has posted links to enjoy state parks while keeping suggested COVID-19 protocol in mind:

Help Us Protect Your Arkansas State Parks
Physical Distancing at Arkansas State Parks
How to Safely Use Arkansas State Parks Trails and Outdoor Spaces During COVID-19.

Arkansas State Park Campsite Occupancy
Fiscal Year 2019 (July 2018-June 2019)

  # of Campsites Occupancy
Bull Shoals-White River 113 38.9%
Cane Creek 32 33.7%
Crater of Diamonds 55 60.5%
Crowley's Ridge 35 13.4%
Daisy State Park 103 24.9%
Davidsonville Historic State Park 30 16.3%
Devil's Den 140 41.6%
Jacksonport 70 6.4%
Lake Catherine 82 62.4%
Lake Charles 58 24.5%
Lake Chicot 122 10.6%
Lake Dardanelle 74 42.2%
Lake Degray 116 27.9%
Lake Fort Smith 30 55.9%
Lake Frierson 8 18.3%
Lake Ouachita 96 52.4%
Lake Poinsett 35 8.3%
Logoly State Park 5 2.2%
Millwood State Park 45 22.2%
Mississippi River 48 19.1%
Moro Bay 33 28.1%
Mount Magazine 30 44.0%
Mount Nebo 42 13.0%
Petit Jean 146 38.1%
Queen Wilhelmina 51 24.5%
Village Creek 106 26.6%
White Oak Lake 53 25.0%
Withrow Springs 39 32.8%
Woolly Hollow 40 41.4%
Total 1,837 31.6%