The Charlton Recreation area is a beautiful spot in the Ouachita National Forest with a pleasant campground, hiking, picnic areas for day use, and one of the coldest, clearest, and cleanest swimming holes in the state!
This is a perfect place to cool off if you are visiting the area in the heat of an Arkansas summer! It is our favorite swimming hole in the state and we go there every summer.
Although it is officially known as the Charlton Recreation Area you may hear locals calling it Camp Charlton.
Charlton Recreation Area
Charlton Recreation Area is located about 20 miles west of Hot Springs along Highway 270. You will see signs indicating the entrance!
To learn more about the city of Hot Springs check out this post: Complete Guide to Hot Springs.
There is a charge for day-use of the Charlton Recreation Area. As you turn into the recreation area you will head to the right down a little hill and encounter a self-serve payment box.
The cost for day use when we were there was $5 per car. This is a bargain!
I have heard that employees do drive by and check to make sure that people have paid…plus it’s just the right thing to do!
Campsites here used to be on a first come first serve basis but now can be reserved by visiting Charlton Recreation Area at recreation.gov.
Sites can be booked up to six months in advance.
Camping fees range from $15 per day to $40 per day depending on the amenities offered at each site. There are three main loops at the campground.
- A-Loop campsites do not offer electric or water services available at the campsites. Community water spigots are available through-out the loop.
- B-Loop RV/Tent campsites offer 30-50 amp electrical service and water connections at the sites.
- C-Loop campsites offer 30-amp electrical service and water connections
Be sure and check the recreation.gov website for all the details that you need to know about the various sites.
We really enjoy this campground because it is very shaded and very quiet. Best of all it is beautifully situated in a little valley along beautiful Walnut Creek. Some of the campsites are located right along the creek.
There is a bath house with warm water showers and flush toilets. There are also paved roadways and campsites with gravel tent pads for setting up tents. Best of all the campground has a dump station.
The campsites are located downstream from the swimming hole below the small dam.
Swimming and picnicking in the Charlton Day Use Area is included as part of the campsite fees.
The Swimming Hole
We love finding a great swimming hole in Arkansas and in our opinion, the one at the Charlton Recreation Area is in the top three!
In our opinion this swimming hole is perfection!
Why? It is clean and cold and deep.
Walnut Creek is a spring fed stream. This is why the swimming hole at Charlton Recreation Area is known as one of the coldest and cleanest swimming holes in Arkansas.
Plus it has shaded spots for sitting along the banks of the creek along with a concrete swim platform and a ladder to help you climb out of the water.
There is a stunning natural stone CCC built dam from the 1930’s which creates the deeper water for swimming.
You can also wade upstream to the low water bridge or explore the creek below the dam. This is a great place for fishing, wading, splashing around, and just generally enjoying this gorgeous creek.
Hiking and Biking
Besides all the fun along the water, there is also access to a few hiking trails in the Charlton Recreation Area.
Prayer in the Woods Trail: This is a short interpretive trail that is only .8 miles long. It is located in the camping area.
Charlton Trail: This is a 4.1 mile one way trail. It begins at the Charlton Recreation area and leads to the Crystal Springs Recreation Area on Lake Ouachita. It is a trail for both hiking and mountain biking.
The first part of the trail leading up from the campground is pretty steep for the first 1/2 mile. After that the trail becomes easier although there are some ups and downs.
I typically only like to hike 4 miles or so at a time so if you, like me, don’t want to do an 8 mile out and back trail here are some other options:
- Have someone drop you off at the trail head at Crystal Springs Recreation Area and then hike the 4.1 miles back to Charlton.
- Hike from Charlton until you come to what is known as Pipe Springs. You will see a pipe with trickling water coming from a rock wall on side of the trail. This is approximately halfway so at this point you can simply turn around and go back.
Note: We have been told that the water from Pipe Springs is NOT potable. Don’t drink it, y’all.
Lake Ouachita Vista Trail: You can access this trail by hiking or biking the Charlton Trail to Forest Service Road 47 at the previously mentioned Pipe Springs.
The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is actually a 39 mile hike that runs near the shores of Lake Ouachita. You can learn more about it on this website which is maintained by trail volunteers. Here is a post that describes what it is like to hike the entire trail.
CCC Built Structures at Charlton Recreation Area
Both the dam and the accompanying changing rooms / bathhouse were built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the years between 1935 and 1938. There were both built using local stones found on site.
The 20 foot high dam was built by someone with an extremely artistic eye using a “fitted stone” method. It is very lovely and looks so pretty in the wooded setting.
More Amenities and Points of Interest
- Picnic tables with grills along the creek in the shade of the trees.
- Rustic CCC built stone bathhouse
- CCC built natural stone dam and spillway
- Paved roads and parking
- Nice swimming area
- Hiking Trails
- Picnic Shelter for groups
We hope that you enjoy Charlton Recreation Area as much as we do! Enjoy the “coldest swimming hole in Arkansas!”
Thanks for stopping by!