By Kristy Alpert
Virgin forests, soaring limestone bluffs, and crystal clear lakes aren’t just the backdrop for the Ozark Mountains’ best campgrounds; they’re the playground. Encompassing more than 32 million acres across four states, the Ozark region has flown under the radar for many travelers over the decades, which only adds to its untouched allure. From secret campsites near abandoned underground quarries to off-the-grid sites hidden within dense forest, check out these fantastic campsites in the Ozark Mountains.
Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area
The swimming holes nearby this uncomplicated campground are some of the best-kept secrets in the Ozarks, and the secluded Haw Creek Falls are only a short hike away. All nine of the sites are first-come-first-served, where campsite #8’s prime location on a mountain stream make it the top pick. The recreation area closes annually the third week in December through the third week in March, when spring blossoms begin to peak their way through the brush along the Big Piney Creek Trailhead.
Kyle’s Landing Primitive Campground
Located halfway between Ponca and Jasper, this tent-only campground offers 33 campsites along the Buffalo River, each featuring fire rings, picnic tables, and lantern hooks. The sites are easy to reach by car and have impressive views of the towering bluffs that rise dramatically above this calm portion of the river. Kyle’s Landing is an excellent basecamp for exploring the abandoned fur-trapping village along Beaver Jim Villines Homestead Trail or hiking through the former “Slacker Gang” hideaway at Hideout Hollow Trail. During the warmer months, the river is great for swimming, canoeing, and fishing (smallmouth bass and goggle-eye), but the best time to set up camp is during winter when the sites are free, and the brisk winds echo off the canyon walls.
Echo Bluff State Park
Camping options range from primitive and equestrian campsites to premium electric tent sites with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the park’s Timbuktu Campground. There are 60 full-service sites and 12 walk-in sites throughout the park, where campers can spend the days paddleboarding along Sinking Creek or grabbing a pint from local brewery Piney River Brewing Co. at the nearby Creekside Grill.
Hawn State Park
There are 50 campsites (electric and walk-in) throughout Hawn State Park, where more than 20 of them back up to Pickle Creek. However, the most coveted sites are the 10 backpacking campsites found throughout the park’s rustic pine forest. A permit to camp overnight while backpacking in the park is required, but it’s worth it to register for one (and free!) for the chance to sleep nearby the crashing waterfalls and wake up to wild azaleas along this 10-mile hiking trail.
Mount Magazine State Park
The six tent-only campsites at Mount Magazine State Park are as close as anyone can get to sleeping at the highest point of Arkansas, located just 200-250 feet shy of Mount Magazine’s 2,753-foot peak. Each site is offered on a first-come-first-serve basis, but reservations are available for the lower two campsites with hookups and the one-, two-, and three-bedroom “glamping” cabins with kitchens and outdoor hot tubs.
Prairie State Park
More than 100 bison roam freely throughout Prairie State Park, where tall grasses and dense thickets provide a surprising landscape within the otherwise mountainous Ozark region. The park features four drive-in campsites—all located safely behind the fence line to keep wildlife at bay—and one backpacking campsite on the Coyote Trail. Campfires at night are often serenaded by the hoots of owls and the howls of coyotes, as the campground is rarely at capacity. The park is also just 40 miles north of Carthage Underground, an abandoned marble quarry with abandoned factories, underground rivers, and super off-limits mines.
Located just 14 miles north of Branson, this boutique campground operates more like a camping commune, where all six campsites have equal access to the community fire pit and wild persimmon trees. Grand oak and cedar trees shade the more than 70 acres of the park, where mountain biking trails and hiking trails wind their way through the dense woods.
Gunner Pool Recreation Area
The Gunner Pool Recreation Area gives validation to the old folk saying that, “In the Ozarks, it’s not that the mountains are so high, it’s just that the valleys are so deep.” This primitive campground is open year-round, where 27 campsites each feature grills, tables, lantern poles, and tent pads. Most campers backpack in from the nearby North Sylamore Creek Trail, a 22.8 point-to-point trail near the ironically named town of Big Flat, Arkansas.
Redding Recreation Area
The Mulberry Wild and Scenic River flows gently beside the Redding Recreation Area campground, where a rock canoe launch offers easy access for sunset paddles or early morning fishing trips. The 27 campsites throughout the grounds are equipped with flush toilets, drinking water, and showers, which makes this a must-stop for hikers tackling the nearby Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), the 270-mile trail that crosses the most scenic portions of the Ozark Mountains.
Lake Wedington Campground
Located just 13 miles west of Fayetteville, this campground is on the National Register of Historic Places and surrounds the 102-acre Lake Wedington. Mountain bikers rave about the 7-mile North Twin biking trails, while families are often found near the water, whether they’re swimming, boating, fishing, or just lounging in the picnic areas on the shore. There are six historic cabins on the campground, with 18 primitive campsites.
Huckleberry Mountain Horse Trail
Although this portion of the Mount Magazine State Park was initially designed for horseback riding (hence the name), it’s now home to the only multi-use trails in the state park. Campsites are dispersed throughout the 34-mile trail—which winds past caves, waterfalls, and streams—and include the Sorghum Hollow Horse Camp, the Old Walnut Tree Camp, the Huckleberry Camp, and the Quarry Camp. Drive-in sites and backpacking sites are all available and are only available on a first-come-first-served basis.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
The Lake of the Ozarks State Park is one of the most popular campgrounds in the entire Ozark Mountains—for a good reason. The park offers outpost cabins, yurts, and four separate campsites that include direct access to the Lake of the Ozarks marinas and beaches. The “Section 4” campground on the water books up fast, but it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of the 12-month reservation window the park just instituted.
Pomme de Terre State Park
Set on the border where the tall prairie grasses merge with the deep forests of the Ozark Mountains, Pomme de Terre State Park was once the ideal landscape for French trappers to grow potatoes, or “pomme de terre.” Today the park is perfect for camping, fishing, and enjoying the numerous hiking trails that branch out from the 7,800 acres of Pomme de Terre Lake. The two campgrounds in the park are divided by the lake, where the Pittsburg side features 127 campsites, and the Hermitage side features 128 campsites.
Bull Shoal-White River State Park
Known as one of the top trout fishing locations in the United States (check out the 40-pound brown trout mounted in the Visitor’s Center), everything at the Bull Shoal-White River State Park revolves around the water. Even the 113 campsites (and three Rent-An-RV sites) are situated along the White River. Most of the sites include electricity and hookups, but the 20 tent sites are primitive, with no hookups. During the day, campers can float the White River, fish for a trophy trout, or take to the Oak Ridge Mountain Bike trail.
Devil’s Den State Park
Despite the ominous-sounding name, the sunrises from the historic scenic overlook at Devil’s Den State Park are nothing short of heavenly. The park contains the best-preserved Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures in the state, where hikers can explore the original cabins or venture through the jagged rock formations and caverns found off the trails. There are 17 cabins, six camper cabins, and 135 campsites (103 with hookups) that include hike-in sites and horse campsites with direct access to the horse trails.