Arkansas streams can offer some good canoeing.


Mar 11, 2001
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Arkansas streams can offer some good canoeing.

By Tim Renken. St. Louis Post Dispatch, 08/01/2001

If you like canoeing the Ozark streams in Missouri, why not try the streams in Arkansas?

Arkansas has more float streams than Missouri and these streams offer greater variety. While Missouri has only a few miles of true whitewater, and then only in a short winter season, Arkansas has miles of it, true Class III and even Class IV water as challenging and many of the streams of the mountain West.

Of course, most mountain streams in northern Arkansas are at their best in spring, when rainfall and runoff are at their peak.

Arkansas has 17 float streams good enough to draw paddlers from afar. In alphabetical order, they are the Big Piney, Buffalo, Caddo, Cadron, Cossatot, Crooked, Eleven Point, Illinois Bayou, Kings, Little Missouri, Little Red, Mulberry, Quachica, Saline, Spring, Strawberry and White.

Most of these are served by float operators who rent canoes, furnish guides and do shuttles.

Here's what you need to know to make an exploration trip with your canoe or kayak. Your headquarters could be in the Little Rock area, 350 miles from St. Louis. Or you could stay in the old resort area of Hot Springs or in one of the campgrounds along the Buffalo National Scenic River.

What streams should you try first? That depends on the kind of paddling you're looking for. If you want family floating, the Buffalo is hard to beat. In its 150 miles, the country's first national scenic river offers solitude, good fishing and some spectacular scenery. Only in its upper reaches, in the Boston Mountains near Ponca, is it really sporty, and then only in wet weather.

For the experienced paddler seeking adventure, a good place to start is the Mulberry, which in season offers almost 50 miles of Class II and III whitewater. It's also a good fishing stream, in some years offering some of the best smallmouth fishing in Arkansas. Much of the Mulberry is within the Ozark National Forest.

For serious smallmouth anglers, the choice would be Crooked Creek, called by many the best smallmouth stream in the state. Best, probably, is the two-day stretch between Pyatt and Yellville, Ark.

Another excellent fishing stream, this one full of rainbow trout, is the Little Red River between Greer's Ferry Dam and Heber Springs, Ark.

There is excellent trout fishing in the White, though it is too big and too controlled by Bull Shoals Dam to be very attractive for paddlers.

For kayakers and those weird people who enjoy prying wrecked boats out of willow thickets, the unchallenged champ is the Illinois Bayou, known in the area around Russellville as simply The Bayou. This stream is actually four, with three forks and a main stem. The Middle Fork drops 20 feet per mile, the South Fork 25 through the East Fork Wilderness Area. In very wet weather, these streams are too wild to float. In dry weather they aren't floatable.

The Cossatot may have the only consistent Class IV water in Arkansas.

For general family recreation, which includes hiking, camping, etc., the Ouachita (pronounced wash-I-taw) would be good. Much of its 70 miles is through the Ouachita National Forest.

An excellent source of information on the floating opportunities in Arkansas, download the Arkansas Floaters Kit from: Another good source of information is Or write: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 (800-NATURAL).

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