Welcome to the very first post in my Arkansas State Parks Project series, Cane Creek State Park! I really felt called to start this project when I realized that, after looking at the long list of 52 state parks in the Natural State, I had only visited about 25%. And I hike a lot! If I had never even heard of some of these state parks, let alone visited them, how many other folks are ignorant of what’s in their own backyard? And what better excuse to get outside with my camera? So, the Arkansas State Parks Project was born, and here goes nothing. (You can follow #ARStateParksProject on Instagram to keep up as well!)
Once I got this idea in my head, I wanted to start somewhere totally new to me, someplace completely out of left field. As an Ozarks native, I’m familiar with the idea that there is nothing pretty in Arkansas south of Little Rock. It’s all flat farmland and boring as hell, some say. Well, I heard some intriguing things about Cane Creek State Park from a few friends in the know. I figured I had better check it out myself.
How to Get to Cane Creek State Park
Cane Creek State Park is located near Star City, AR. It’s a 10 minute drive from Star City; 40 minutes from Pine Bluff; and an hour and 15 minutes from Little Rock. A dirt road provides access to the fishing pier and boat launch on the north side of the lake (separate from the park facilities). It is flat and well-maintained, so any car can make it.
A Brief History Lesson
Although the proposal to develop Cane Creek Lake was first introduced by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 1973, progress was slow, and the state park did not open until 1992. The AGFC hoped to create more recreation opportunities in the southeast of Arkansas. Construction began in 1983 when the AGFC built a 5-mile levee, damming Cane Creek at its junction with Bayou Bartholomew and flooding the lake. By 1987, the lake was stocked with fish. The State Parks Department began building roads and park facilities in 1990, and after twenty-one years of work, Cane Creek State Park opened to the public on May 18, 1992.
Sunrise At Cane Creek State Park
It’s August in Arkansas, the true dog days of summer, and I knew I wanted to do any outdoor exploring well before the hottest part of the day. I got up at 5 a.m. to make it to Cane Creek by sunrise. Though the morning was cool, the 90% humidity made for heavy, eerie fog on my drive.. I got to the fishing pier near the boat ramp just in time for a hazy sunrise over the highly reflective lake. The lake is full of “snags” and “stobs” (sparse timber), breaking up the almost mirror-like reflection. There are also lots of American white water lilies in this area in late summer, a major attraction for me.
I sat on the pier for a while, just enjoying the sunrise in solitude. There were a few fishermen already out on the lake, but it was otherwise very quiet. Woodpeckers were making noise in the woods, and dozens of herons and egrets strode the shore, fishing for their breakfasts. Although it was a little muggy, it wasn’t hot yet. This is my favorite part of the day, and the fishing pier was a particularly nice place to enjoy it.
Exploring the North Side of Cane Creek Lake
A friend in the know told me not to miss the north side of the lake, where there is a stand of bald cypress trees carpeted by water lilies. Though technically still part of the state park, the north side of the lake is separate from the state park facilities. On highway 114/11, a “Cane Creek Lake” sign points down a dirt road, aka Gateway Road. Make sure you turn down this road and not the one right next to it, Frizzell Farm Rd. Google Maps makes it look like the roads intersect, but there is a gate at the end of Frizzell Farm Rd blocking access. (Yes, I found that out the hard way.)
I followed Gateway Road to where it dead ends at a boat ramp on the lake, about 4.5 miles from the highway. From the small parking lot, the cypress stand is due west along the levee. Looked like someone had recently brush hogged the route, thank goodness! It was pretty buggy, even early in the morning. The air was thick with mayflies and copper dragonflies that glinted in the sunlight– very neat. The mayflies freaked me out at first, but since they were just hanging out on my camera bag, I figured they could stay. I learned later they are not blood suckers, as I had assumed, but “detritivores” that feed on algae.
This area along the north side of the lake is absolutely stunning. A grove of bald cypress juts up regally out of the water, towering over a blanket of white and yellow water lilies. As I moved closer to the water’s edge for photo opportunities, a huge black water snake took me by surprise, sliding heavily into the murky water about 3 feet from me. I kept back from the water after that! Next time I’ll bring some gaiters or galoshes so I can approach the water a little more confidently. Even with some protection, though, you should keep your eyes peeled– I didn’t see one, but supposedly gators live here!
Cane Creek State Park Highlights
There are several other highlights of Cane Creek State Park I didn’t even get to explore! The Cane Creek Lake Trail (15.5 miles) is a multi-use trail for backpacking and mountain biking. I’ve heard some rave reviews about it! The trail is known for its suspension bridges and diverse views, ranging from cypress brakes to lake views to hardwood forest. The trail also has a shelter off a short spur for overnight hikers, by permit only. A 29-site campground sits near the visitor center, along with pavilions, a playground, and one Rent-an-RV. Kayak and bicycle rentals are available from the visitor center too.
In addition to the Cane Creek Lake Trail, a 2.5-mile kayak trail meanders across the lake, and is marked by yellow blazes and buoys. I think this would be the ideal way to explore the lake in the cooler months. Once it’s autumn, I definitely plan to return to hike the backpacking trail and rent a kayak for the lake or nearby Bayou Bartholomew. Bayou Bartholomew is the world’s longest bayou, beginning near Pine Bluff and flowing over 350 miles to its confluence with the Ouachita River outside Sterlington, Louisiana. It’s also full of bald cypress, and absolutely gorgeous.
I was pleasantly surprised at the scenic beauty of this park, and enjoyed the solitude. There was hardly anyone around on a beautiful Sunday morning in the summer. This area is nothing like the Ozarks, and that really made it special for me. There’s something about the cypress trees, water lilies, and murky waters that creates an ethereal vibe. I really think Cane Creek State Park is a hidden gem.