The state of Arkansas has more than 600,000 acres of lakes. A lake is a body of water surrounded by land, usually fed and drained by one or more rivers or streams. Large lakes are called seas, while small lakes are called ponds, but no consensus has been reached about the exact size a body of water needs to be in order to receive a certain name. By convention, larger lakes are named with the word “lake” first—such as Lake Ouachita—while smaller lakes are named with the word “lake” last—such as Cove Lake—but again no firm rule has been reached, and some bodies are known by both versions—such as Lake Nimrod, also called Nimrod Lake.

Lakes occur in basins, or low spots of land, where water gathers. Often those basins are wide portions of rivers or streams, but other factors can produce lakes; the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812 created the “sunken lands” in northeast Arkansas, which filled with water and became new lakes. Oxbow lakes are formed when a river changes course, leaving behind lower areas in the former riverbed still filled with water. Arkansas has many such oxbow lakes near the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, the largest being Lake Chicot. Artificial lakes are made when a basin is dug and filled with water or when a river or stream is deliberately obstructed to retain water in a lower area along the stream.

The lakes of Arkansas provide habitat for many plants and animals; many of them also provide drinking water for the people of Arkansas. Lakes in Arkansas are also used for recreation, including boating, fishing, and swimming. Artificial lakes have been made for both purposes, as well as to control flooding of rivers and to provide a source of hydroelectric power.

Information about the noteworthy lakes of Arkansas can be found in commonly used atlases or materials provided by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, especially many that are associated with a particular community, state park, wildlife management area (WMA), or national wildlife refuge (NWR). 

For additional information:
Arkansas State Water Plan: Lakes of Arkansas.
Little Rock: Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, 1981. Online at (accessed March 12, 2013).

Lakes of Arkansas: Reins for Raindrops. Little Rock: Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, 1968.

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 6/9/2014