Southeastern Outdoors Backpacking in the Brooks Range
Southeastern Outdoors
  Home > Outdoor Activities  Paddling > Arkansas Float Trips
Gear designed for the elements.  Go.  Do.  Be.Web Site Promotion

Arkansas Float Trips Access
State's Backcountry Wonders

By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Not all of Arkansas's scenic byways are paved. Once used for wilderness travel by Native Americans and early pioneers, free-flowing stretches of The Natural State's rivers and creeks still provide some of the quickest and grandest routes into and through the state's backcountry.

Just east of the Ponca community, for example, the Buffalo River has spent eons carving sandstone and limestone layers of the Ozark Mountains into bluffs that soar hundreds of feet -- the tallest between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains. And a half-mile hike from the an upper section of the

river into Hemmed-In Hollow leads to mid-America's highest waterfall.

In the Ouachita Mountains, the clear and sparkling waters of the Little Missouri and Cossatot rivers have created often noisy and always picturesque cascades where the streams have etched their way through ridges of upturned rock. And, while those two and parts of other Arkansas streams are recommended only for experienced canoeists and kayakers, many Arkansas waterways offer trips suitable for novice and intermediate floaters.

On most Arkansas creeks and the upper reaches of most small and mid-sized rivers, sufficient water levels for floating generally occur from late fall through mid-June, depending on rainfall. Year-round floating is usually possible on middle to lower stretches of most rivers.

Among the exceptions to those general rules, however, is the Spring River, which has the most unusual source of any Arkansas float stream. Barely south of the Missouri border in Fulton County, 9.78 million gallons an hour of 58-degree water flow constantly from Mammoth Spring, the state's largest spring. Floatable year-round, the river's 17 miles between Mammoth Spring State Park and Hardy, an historic town in northern Sharp County, make up its most popular stretch. It is suitable for beginning to intermediate canoeists and is appropriate for family outings. Among the attractions for floaters on the Spring are the rainbow and brown trout harbored by the upper river's naturally cold waters.

Another stream drawing family and other group outings is the Caddo River, particularly its six miles between Caddo Gap and Glenwood in Montgomery and Pike counties. Like many of Arkansas's popular float streams, the Caddo features large gravel bars suitable for picnics and natural pools ideal for swimming.

The National Park Service began oversight of 132 miles of the Buffalo, the state's most widely known float stream, when it became the country's first national river in 1972 following a protracted fight by environmentalists to prevent its damming. In all, the river runs freely through the Ozarks for some 150 miles across Newton, Searcy and Marion counties in north-central Arkansas before flowing into the White River.

Experienced floaters can find challenging whitewater on the Buffalo's extreme upper reaches when water levels are sufficient, while many stretches downstream are suitable for family outings, with easy rapids requiring only marginal maneuvering for safe passage.

Big Piney Creek, meanwhile, enjoys a reputation among veteran Arkansas floaters as the classic Ozark Mountain stream. It features ledges and rapids with names like "Roller Coaster," "Surfing Hole," and "Cascades of Extinction" in a twisting 67-mile course through Newton, Johnson and Pope counties.

Many Arkansas float streams are popular with anglers seeking, in particular, smallmouth bass. Crooked Creek, which begins in Newton County and flows through Boone and Marion counties before emptying into the White, is especially renowned for float trips in search of the feisty "brownies." The White, Little Red and North Fork rivers are the state's most renowned trout streams and offer water suitable for fishing floats, whether in canoes or johnboats. Guided fishing trips are available from resorts and guides on these streams.

Fish, however, are not the only fauna to be enjoyed along the creeks and rivers traversing the state's more remote terrain. The variety of wildlife that may be seen includes bear, bobcat, deer, beaver, mink, wild turkey and a variety of other birds, especially belted kingfishers and great blue and green herons in search of a meal.

While Arkansas's streams offer plenty of safe water for novices in search of a rewarding experience of the state's backcountry, floating in a canoe, kayak or other craft can be made dangerous by high water levels and exceeding the limits of one's skills. Local outfitters can provide information on stream conditions.

In addition to day trips, some outfitters offer multi-day floats and such amenities as cabins, campgrounds and riverside catering for group outings. Canoe rentals and shuttle service for under $50 for two persons are common in Arkansas, a reasonable expense for a day's worth of outdoor adventure.

Detailed descriptions of 18 of Arkansas's best-known float streams, including maps and contact information for outfitters, are provided in the Arkansas Floater's Kit, which can be viewed on-line and downloaded for printing at The floater's kit is also included in the Arkansas Adventure Guide, a part of the Arkansas Vacation Planning Kit, which can be ordered on-line at or by phoning toll-free 1-800-NATURAL.



Paddling Info
Paddling Main
Paddling Forum
Leatherwood Ford
Camp Recipes
Ouachita River
Cane Creek Park
Sponsor Links
Related Links
National Parks
Arkansas B&B
Cabin Rentals
Canoe Books