Just an hour drive southwest from Little Rock, Arkansas, lies a diamond in the rough. In Hot Springs you’ll find an escape from city skylines and the opportunity to play underwater. Diving doesn’t always need to be challenging or complicated — here, you can run at a slower pace amid national forests with your best dive buddy as you explore the local lakes.
If You Have One Day
The calm of early morning surrounded by towering evergreens is surprisingly beautiful in the Ouachita Mountains. While Hot Springs offers the luxury of more options for dining, find lodging on the shores of Lake Ouachita, where you can be first on the water. Spend the morning shore diving from the Lake Ouachita dam with free entry but limited parking. Purpose-sunk attractions underwater are tied together and marked by buoys to make navigation simple along a sloping bottom. Return to Hot Springs National Park after your dive to warm up and indulge in an afternoon soaking in thermal springs.
If You Have Two Days
Spend a day on the lake with a picnic and barbecue by renting a boat on Lake Ouachita. This will help you explore the largest lake in the Natural State and dive some of its 200 islands, where steep walls of Blakely sandstone striped by white quartz create an intriguing dive stretching down to 135 feet. The most geologically distinct sites are known locally as Zebra Rock and Checkerboard Point. The water is so clear in the shallows, you can finish the day snorkeling along the shoreline.
If You Have Three Days
If a change of scenery suits your interests, head north four hours to explore Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs in the Ozark Mountains. Another morning of shore diving awaits at designated dive sites accessed from the parking lot on the south side of the lake. Entry is easy, and the man-made attractions here are a bit more exotic with water scooters, sculptured submarines, and even a plane fuselage. Finish the day near Hot Springs by trying your luck digging for diamonds in Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in the world visitors can search. But no trip to the South would be complete without a proper taste of the region. Complete the evening with good Southern cuisine at the Next Level Kitchen or Smokin’ in Style BBQ.
Need to Know
When to Go: Water during spring is clearer, but summer is warmer and clear at depth.
Dive Conditions: A 5 mm wetsuit with hood is recommended.
Operators: Full dive-equipment rental is available at Lake Ouachita Dive Center, part of Brady Mountain Resort & Marina, where you can rent boats.