The DeGray Lake Island Trail hugs the lake's shoreline and offers beautiful views of the water, foliage (primarily hardwood trees which are especially beautiful in the fall!), and wildlife (deer, squirrels, and a plethora of birds). This 1.1 mile loop trail is easy enough for beginners. With stable elevation, this trail is child-friendly. Dogs are welcomed, but must be leashed at all times.
This trail starts at the DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge, so parking is available. Water fountains and restrooms are also available at the lodge. Start your hike after having a nice breakfast at the lodge restaurant, or wrap up with dinner there. Be sure to save one of your rolls, then visit the lakeshore behind the lodge to feed the ducks!
The Island Trail is easy to spot, marked by a large wooden sign featuring a diving eagle on a light blue background. The trail begins near the DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge entrance and is a favorite of those who want an easy walk with scenic lake views.
The loop trail is one mile of flat, even terrain to accommodate all levels of hikers. Note that the trail is not paved, however, and thus not wheelchair accessible or ADA compliant.
The trail splits into a loop about 75 yards in. Walkers in the Spring and Summer will enjoy the shade of the predominant hardwood forest. The trail also features a thicket of Devils Walking Sticks, known more scientifically as aralia spinosa. The colloquial name is attributed to the tree's spiky trunk.
Speaking of trees, there are a couple of great ones for photo ops along the trail. Locals refer to one as a "goblin" tree. An opening in its trunk appears to be a monstrous wide-open mouth. There is a bench tree, with a unique shape that allows for hikers to sit and take a break (or a photo) on the tree. Also be on the lookout for wildlife nesting in some of the holes in the trunks of a few of the hardwood trees along the trail. Wildlife you might see along the trail include armadillos, raccoons, squirrels (even some flying squirrels), and of course, snakes. In the winter months, keep an eye on the sky and the lake for loons, ducks, and eagles.
The Island Trail gives walkers several access points to the lake along the trail. When it's warm enough, pop in for a quick swim in one of the coves.
Island Trail is one several in DeGray Lake Resort State Park's trail system. DeGray Lake was created along the Caddo River for the dual purpose of providing flood control to the area and harnessing hydroelectric power. Harvey Couch, founder of Arkansas Power & Light Company, began looking at damming the site in the early 1900s. Two other dams were built first on the Ouachita River, however. Damming to create DeGray Lake was approved by Congress in 1950, but was delayed due to the Korean War. Work finally began on the project in 1964 and it was completed on May 20, 1972, for a total cost of $64 million.
The Caddo River is named for its original inhabitants, the Caddo tribe, that dates back in the area to 700 A.D. This tribe met Hernando DeSoto and led him to the healing hot springs located in the Ouachita Mountain Range in what is now Garland County, Arkansas. Today, the Caddo River is known as south Arkansas' premier floating site. Floaters begin rafting at the Lower Dam area of Lake DeGray then float the Caddo River to a designated stopping point in Caddo Valley, Arkansas. Just beyond this stopping point is the last remaining Caddo mound near what was originally the Jacob Barkman property. This early settler of the community once used the mound for watching horse races on his property.
Today, both the Caddo River and DeGray Lake boost summer tourism in south Arkansas.