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Big Lake NWR in Arkansas

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Big Lake NWR was established in 1915 to provide habitat and protection for migrating and wintering birds. Since most of the bottomland hardwood forests have disappeared, it has become more important to preserve and restore this habitat for the wide variety of wildlife it supports.

Once a free-flowing river system, Big Lake NWR was changed to a lake / swamp ecosystem by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. Big Lake today consists primarily of wooded swamps and open water. The lake is shallow with an average depth of three feet and is bordered by a virgin cypress-tupelo swamp with some black willow and buttonbush.

The refuge annually winters several species of waterfowl. Wood ducks are year-round residents and over 225 bird species have been observed on the refuge. Other wildlife to look for are beavers, otters, raccoons, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, bobcat and the occasional armadillo.

Some fishing boats are common on the lake, mostly john boats and a few bass boats, but speeds are kept down due the many underwater obstacles. I prefer the take my kayak through the submerged trees, which offers outstanding wildlife viewing, be prepared for a few collisions with under water stumps.


Manila, which is only 2.5 miles from the lake, offers some restaurants and gas stations, while Blytheville offers motels and a wide range of dining options. No camping is allowed in the NWR, or on game and fish commission lakes, however both Manila and Blytheville have campgrounds offering camp sites for RVs/Campers. Be prepared to share the campground with construction workers at campgrounds in both cities.


No fees or permits are require on either lake. A fishing license is requires to fish and a hunting license is required to hunt on the adjacent Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Regulations and limits are posted at the lake. If you don't already have them, it is best get them in Jonesborro or Blytheville. The Wal-mart in Blytheville is on Highway 18, just East on Interstate 55, and the Jonesboro Wal-mart is on Highland (Highway 18)


From Blytheville, Arkansas - take Highway 18 West, towards Manila. From Jonesboro, Arkansas take Highway 18 (Highland) East towards Manila. You cannot miss the signs, but you might miss the turns, so slow down when you see them.


You should contact Big Lake National headquarters at 870-564-2429 for the latest conditions before you go.

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location