Many people enjoy being tent campers because they don’t have to plan ahead all of the time. They know that their tent is neatly packed away in the bottom of their closet and they can grab it and go anytime they want.
It feels spontaneous and fun.
However, many Arkansas campgrounds have converted to a reservation system which makes spontaneity a little more difficult. Back in the day, you could pull up to a campground, drive around until you found the perfect site, then go pay the gate attendant.
Now, campers are booking their favorite campsites a year in advance.
So what are you supposed to do when you suddenly have a free weekend but you don’t have a reservation?
Best Tent Camping in Arkansas Without a Reservation
Here is an awesome list of campgrounds and locations in Arkansas where you can camp without a reservation.
Long live spontaneity!
Gulpha Gorge in Hot Springs
There are only 40 campsites in this beautiful campground which makes it a very quiet place to relax.
“All sites have full hookups: 30 and 50 amp electric, water and sewer connections. Sites are not pull-through. Each campsite has a picnic table, pedestal grill, and water. There are modern restrooms but no showers.” -source
Sites are first-come, first-served. You cannot make a reservation.
At Gulpha Gorge, you will also find one of 5 AMAZING Hiking Trails in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
You’ll find Gulpha Gorge Campground here:
305 Gorge Road
Hot Springs AR 71901
Latitude 34° 31′ 24.6324″ N
Longitude 93° 2′ 10.6044″ W
Don’t miss: BEST Tent Camping in Arkansas
Shady Lake near Athens
Shady Lake is beautiful, remote, and first-come, first-served.
Many of the sites even have water and electricity!
“Scenic 25-acre lake in remote mountain setting. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the Shady Lake Recreation Area in 1937. The Shady Lake Trail traverses Saline Creek and passes the historic Shady Lake Dam. It continues along the eastern edge of the campground. The trail is ideal for day hiking. Mountain bikers may also use the trail.” -source
You’ll find Shady Lake here:
Latitude : 34.3628361
Longitude : -94.0277694
Charlton Recreation Area in Royal
This is a beautiful campground that’s perfect for some excellent tent camping! Be sure to check out all the AMAZING hiking trails in the Ouachita Mountains while you’re there!
“Charlton Recreation Area is located 20 miles west of Hot Springs along Highway 270. Picnic, swim, hike, and fish along picturesque Walnut Creek, a cold, spring-fed mountain stream in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest. 48 individual camping units: some units equipped with electricity, water, and sewer.” source
You’ll find Charlton Recreation Area here:
523 Highway 270 East
Royal, AR 71956
Primitive Camping in National Forests
Some of the BEST tent camping in Arkansas can be found in our National Forests. The Ouachita National Forest and Ozark National Forest are scenic places to explore and pitch a tent without a reservation. In fact, many tent campers enjoy the free camping near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
If you would rather head north, there is also plenty of free and cheap camping in Northwest Arkansas that does not require a reservation.