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Statewide Travel 1

13 Arkansas Float Trips

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Summer in Arkansas is the perfect time to jump onto a tube, grab a kayak or canoe and embark on a relaxing float trip. From the Ozarks to the Delta, you’ll find floatable rivers, creeks and water trails with beautiful Arkansas scenery, a view of native wildlife and unplugged outdoor family bonding time. According to Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the state boasts more than 600,000 acres of lakes and more than 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks.

Here are 13 float trips in the Natural State.

1. Buffalo National River

The godfather of rivers in Arkansas, the Buffalo River is the United States’ first National Scenic Riverway. The river is 135 miles long and flows through some of the most beautiful scenery that northern Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains have to offer. There are three very distinct areas: the Upper, Middle and Lower. Research and choose where you want to float based on what kind of Buffalo River float trip you would like to experience. I recommend checking the water level ahead of time to know if your group will be comfortable with the current.

2. Spring River

Beautiful, crystal-clear and COLD water, this natural spring has long pools, whitewater falls and hardwood forests that make this an Arkansas must-see and do adventure. Bring your pole, because fishing is amazing and relaxing on the Spring River.

3. Big Piney Creek

The Big Piney takes you through sandstone bluffs, alongside gravel bars, waterfalls, pools and under overhanging groves of oak, hickory and pine. The creek and adjacent public lands provide an ideal setting for floating, fishing, camping, hiking, hunting and swimming. In the cool, clear waters of the Big Piney, anglers have especially good luck with smallmouth bass fishing.

4. Caddo River

Grab your canoe, kayak or tube, the Caddo River is a great choice for a relaxing float. The Caddo has few, if any, difficult sections so it is a perfect float to take the family and let the slow current carry you away. There are plenty of banks to pull over and enjoy a picnic in the shade. Looking to fish? You’ll find channel catfish, hard-fighting white bass, good-eating rock bass colorful sunfish and more.

5. Mulberry River

The Mulberry River originates in the heart of the Boston Mountains, the highest and most rugged peaks of the Ozarks. It is as free as rivers can be without any obstruction in its tributaries by dams. As one of the premiere whitewater destinations in Arkansas, the Mulberry River begins in the upper Ozarks near the mountain community of Fallsville. It descends through 60 miles of forested hills and rock outcrops on its way to the Arkansas River. House-sized boulders and untamed scenery make the river popular with avid whitewater boaters. The ideal season for the Mulberry is later October to mid-June. This odd season is due to how shaded the river is during the hot summer months, preventing the river from receiving a lot of rainfall to keep water levels high.

6. Ouachita River

Nearly 70 miles of the Ouachita River above Lake Ouachita can be floated when water conditions are right. The 10-mile section West of Lake Ouachita from the Arkansas 379 bridge at Oden to the Rocky Shoals campground at the U.S. 270 crossing east of Pencil Bluff. This float features deep pools, stimulating rapids and beautiful scenery, including a towering bluff a few miles above the take-out. Looking to fish? There are high-jumping smallmouth and spotted bass.

The lower stretch of the Ouachita River is great to float for a quick day trip. A five-mile stretch of river, with views of mountains, cliffs and a few whitewater segments at the end, has something for everybody.

7. Saline River

The Saline has four tributaries: the South, Middle, Alum and North Forks. Flowing from the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains between Hot Springs and Little Rock, the Saline River is one of the best-kept secret fishing spots for bass, sunfish and crappie. The serene river runs through forests, fields and farmlands and is a great spot for fishing, swimming and scoping out wildlife. It is a close-to-home option for families in central Arkansas.

8. Little Red River

One of Arkansas’ best fishing spots, this “little” river flows from the Ozark Mountains and is full of rainbow and brown trout, spotted, rock and smallmouth bass, and bluegill, longear and green sunfish. Depending on the nearby dam, the Little Red is almost year-round. Campgrounds surround the area, so if you want to take a boat out for a few hours, stop and hike and then continue the next day.

9. Little Maumelle

If you’re looking to get the most out of nature, this is your place. Towering cypress trees, sprawling American lotus and solitude near the city draw paddlers to the Little Maumelle River. Beavers, white-tailed deer, wading birds and birds of prey all make the Little Maumelle their home. The water is not known for rapids, but some parts can be quite fast for beginners, so it’s better to come with others to be safe. Fishing on the river is common for bass, crappie and bream.

10. Eleven Point River

A year-round river, the Eleven Point runs parallel to its sister river, the Spring River. The river is fed year-round by its numerous springs, including Greer Spring, which is the second largest in the state. Even during droughts and immense heat waves, the Eleven Point still provides a great amount of movement for floating. The Eleven Point River is not as fortunate as the other spring-fed rivers in the state, which have plenty of gravel bars for camping, but it makes up for this by beautifully cutting its course through narrow steep bluffs and forested valleys. Although the gravel bars are scarcer than others, there are a number of float camps located along the steep banks of this river. These camps are cut into flat forested areas along the river, most provide fire pits, benches and outdoor toilets.

The Eleven Point River not only provides stable, quick-moving, clean clear water but also has some of the best trout fishing in the state.

11. Cossatot River

The Cossatot River is known to be Arkansas’ whitewater destination for kayakers and canoers. The river is dependent on rainfall, and when there’s a storm, you can guarantee there will be paddlers on the water the next day hoping to ride out some whitewater waves. The National Park Service describes it as “probably the most challenging” white-water float in the state. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a little more emphatic, saying it “is the most difficult whitewater stream in the state of Arkansas.” Early Native Americans simply called it Cossatot—their word for “skull crusher.”

The stream heads up in rugged Ouachita mountain country just southeast of Mena. It flows in a southerly direction for about 26 miles before its current ceases at Gillham Lake. Along the way, the Cossatot travels through the Ouachita National Forest, alongside a wilderness area, and over and around upended layers of jagged bedrock. This last characteristic is what gives the stream its Class IV/Class V rating among river-runners.

12. Little Missouri

The Little Missouri has numerous small waterfalls, crystal clear water, and outstanding scenery including towering rocky bluffs crowned with pine. It is not a float trip for beginners after a good rainfall or when the Narrows Dam empties. Starting at the Riverside Picnic Area, the most popular area of the river to float is about a 10-mile stretch. Frequent floaters say the first 5 miles and the second 5 miles are polar opposites to one another. Do them as one trip or separate the two. The first half is the fast, choppy segment that gets the adrenaline flowing; the second half is for the more relaxed and less advanced floaters looking for a lazy river.

13. Kings River

Gentle and clear, the river twists through an endless expanse of the rolling north Arkansas Ozarks, from the Boston Mountains of Madison County to southern Missouri’s Table Rock Lake. It would be hard to find a more peaceful, scenic float stream than the Kings River. Plus, I think it is one of the most visually interesting rivers in the state, with clear pools, gravel bars, rocky cliffs and a waterfall. The river is commonly broken up into parts with the upper stretching 11 miles and the lower portion around 8 miles. Both parts offer eye-catching geography, so choose one or both to make an extended trip. There are plenty of areas to pull over and set up camp, so pack all of your gear and see a little more of Arkansas.

The U.S. 62 bridge put in between Eureka Springs and Berryville is the starting point for one memorable run on this 90-mile-long river. The 12-mile float down to Summers Ford (off Arkansas 143) has pretty gravel bars where you can picnic and swim, and plentiful rock bass, catfish and smallmouths for fishermen.

Things to remember:

  • Wear lifejackets. Children 12 and under must wear a life jacket that is securely fastened while on board any vessel. Yes, you can get a ticket!
  • Bring along plenty of water and snacks.
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat and protective footgear.
  • Pack a first-aid kit in case of scrapes, bumps or bruises, and bring along insect repellent.
  • Know your physical limitations and the limitations of your children, and don’t go on a long trip for your first float.
  • Check weather forecasts and call an outfitter ahead of time to confirm that the river is currently safe for paddling.
  • If you go over in a current, keep floating until you can get out where it’s safe. Swim away from the boat, so that it doesn’t wash down on top of you. If you fall out of the boat in a rapid, do not try to stand up. Your foot can get stuck on the bottom of the river, and the pressure of the current could pin you down.

Pack the car, stock the ice chest, and get out there to experience some of the great rivers to float in Arkansas.

Photos courtesy of Arkansas Parks, Tourism and Heritage and OnlyinArk writers.

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Stephanie Buckley, aka The Park Wife, Wife+Mom+Founder+Tribe Builder+OG Blogger~ Community Entrepreneur, Southern-born storyteller, ❤️ Jesus. Coffeehouse Owner. Content Curator/Editor for OnlyinArk.com

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