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Serendipitous is the best way to describe Rock Town River Outfitters and the agile mindset of business owner Samuel Ellis. He grew up in Little Rock and enjoys living out his passion for sharing the Arkansas River with tourists and locals.
After college, he worked as a whitewater rafting instructor in Colorado, the dream for an outdoorsman who loves the water. But something kept drawing him back home.
So, on weekends Ellis took out his kayak and explored the waters in and around Little Rock. He shared pictures of his trips and scenic views and was often asked questions about his travels.
With three kayaks, he opened Rock Town River Outfitters, a guided kayak tour business, in 2017.
Ellis had to prove himself, and he used social media to help him spread the word.
“It seems like much of 2017, I would just go out by myself and post a picture of a sunset, the lights turning on the Arkansas River Bridge, or a scenic spot along the Little Maumelle River. Friends would ask me over and over, ‘Where is that picture you posted?’ ‘I want to go there.’ And I’d once again invite them to get in the water with me.”
The following year, the owners of a bike rental company in the Little Rock River Market reached out to see if Ellis wanted to take over the business. They were moving back to Chicago and knew Little Rock needed the bike rental service. Ellis said yes and made his first expansion as the outfitter company Little Rock needed.
The following year was spent expanding the kayak and bike rental business in two locations. Rock Town River Outfitters offers guided kayak tours, unguided rentals, guided bike city tours, and multiple-style bike rentals spanning from carbon-centered advanced mountain bikes and comfort hybrid bikes to kid trailers and the popular tandem experience.
One of the unique things about the Rock Town experience is that a person can load in their boat and leave their car parked at one of the busiest spots in the city, and within a few minutes be in a secluded, quiet spot on a river listening to frogs and crickets.
This unique, niche experience in the city he loves is what drives Ellis day after day.
The serendipity did not run out as the COVID-19 pandemic hit; it just required a new level of creativity for the growing entrepreneur. After expanding and claiming a third location site in the River Mountain Park near the Two Rivers Bridge in Maumelle and surviving the 100-year flood of the Arkansas River in 2019: What else could happen?
In spring 2020, tourism in Arkansas shut down, and the River Market area went dark.
So, Ellis shifted his business more toward the River Mountain Park location.
“I found that people were tired of being inside, so they started searching online for fun things to do in Little Rock. Most of us never live like tourists in our own city, but that’s what people were doing. They were ready to get out and explore fun, safe, family-friendly things to do that would be outside and socially distant.”
In an industry marked by tourism customers, his whole business shifted to locals. They had no idea they could access the river this way in their hometown. Some people even mentioned having bikes or boats in their own garage but couldn’t move other things around them and didn’t have a way to carry them in their vehicles. With Rock Town River Outfitters, they can get on the equipment right at a trailhead or the dock.
Making the river and outdoor experiences accessible to others is Ellis’ biggest goal as he expands and grows his business. He wants people to see how easy it is to be active and be outdoors and likes to serve as a conduit to make that happen.
“My favorite thing is when people come in off the water and tell me they underestimated Little Rock or that they’ve lived here their whole life and never experienced anything like this.”
Little Rock’s new expansion of mountain bike trails in River Mountain Park opened in June and is already providing more business for Rock Town, giving adventure-seekers access to advanced and basic mountain bike styles and resources for children who are exploring trails for the first time.
Rock Town River Outfitters uses a unique approach to safety and guidance. Their primary customer base is the first-time kayak user, and with a special technique for boat and water entry, they repeatedly find customers who want to come back. As local access expands and the tourism options reopen, Ellis has big ideas for the next growth phase for his company.
In the meantime, they are adding back their Sunday “Brunch-and-Bike” tours, where guests experience and interact with five different local Little Rock River Market restaurants while on a downtown city tour.
During the offseason, Ellis and his dad teach a boat-making workshop, and year-round he partners with Yacht Weddings Arkansas, a new venture with his parents who own Alda’s Magnolia Hill wedding venue.
Locations: Little Rock Rivermarket, Rocktown Marina in North Little Rock, or River Mountain Park near Two Rivers Bridge in Maumelle
Follow: Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok
Reviews: Trip Advisor and Google
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