Information About River Listings
DISCLAIMER: READ ALL OF THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER BEFORE USING THE
INFORMATION PRESENTED IN THIS DOCUMENT! YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN
INTERPRETATION AND USE OF ANY INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT. THE INFORMATION
PRESENTED HERE IS IN NO WAY GUARANTEED TO BE ACCURATE OR UP-TO-DATE. YOU
ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY WHEN YOU BOAT THESE OR ANY OTHER CREEKS.
YOU SHOULD OBTAIN PROPER TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO RUN
ANY WHITEWATER RIVER OR CREEK.
INTRODUCTION AND RATING INFORMATION
This document contains information on the whitewater rivers and creeks of
Arkansas. The information is NOT guaranteed to be completely accurate or
up-to-date. Rapids, hazards, and access status may change quickly for many
of these creeks. All ratings and descriptions are solely the opinion
of the author, and the reader assumes all responsibility for his or her own
interpretation of the material presented here. When you choose to paddle
any creek, you do so at your own risk! Don't substitute these
ratings and descriptions for scouting and good judgement.
To help put the ratings in perspective here are some sample ratings of rivers
in other parts of the country that I have done:
Nantahala R. (NC) = II-III
Chattooga R. (GA) Sect III @ 2.5 ft. = II-IV
Ocoee R. (TN) @ 1200 cfs = III
Tellico R. (Ledges) (TN) @ 500 cfs = III-IV
Pine Cr. and Numbers, Arkansas R. (CO) @ 1200 cfs = III-IV (V)
Chattooga R. Sect IV @ 2.5 ft. = III-V
Upper Gauley R. @ 2800 cfs = III-V
Cascades of the Nantahala @ optimal flows = IV-V
These may seem a bit low to you if you're a beginner, or they may seem a
bit high to you if you're a seasoned expert. And, of course, some of these
runs, such as creek runs like the Cascades and Tellico, compare better
with Ozark streams than bigger river runs like the Chattooga and Gauley.
Just remember that a class III rating in this document generally means that
you can expect a lot of solid class III action. If the rating is class IV
or V there will be oppourtinites for serious injury or even death for
an out of control paddler.
The Index by Difficulty section (below) provides a fairly good comparison
of the overall difficulty of the creeks. Creeks of equal or very similar
difficulty have been listed in alphabetical order. Also notice that some
creeks that have similar ratings have very different hazards (Cossatot R.
and Fall Cr. for instance). On the lower end of the scale, don't assume
that just because you have successfully run the Big Piney and Hurricane
creeks, you are ready to tackle creeks such as Spirits Cr. and Kings R.
The gap between class II to II+ and class III to III+ is a big one. Take
time to hone your skills on the runs you are comfortable with before
moving on to the next level. Above the class III level, the creeks become
very tight and technical, and very fast paced (with Richland Cr. being a
relatively big, medium volume entry in the class IV category). The margin
for error on these creeks is often very small, and the penalties for
mistakes can be very high. Runs at the top of the scale such as Whistlepost Cr.,
Beech Cr., Shop Cr., and Sulphur Cr. represent the limit of navigable
water in the Ozarks. These runs have already produced injuries, accidents
and several near misses, despite only having been run a few times
each. Even boater who routinely run these types of creeks put themselves
at great risk when attempting these runs. Please don't try to establish your
reputation by running these dangerous steep creeks. These runs can
put a permanent end to your whitewater career.
The rapidly changing water levels on many of the Ozark creeks can greatly
influence the difficulty and danger of a run. On many of the small, steep
creeks, an optimal run is had at less than 300 cfs. A little more water
can turn a fun class III run into a class V death trap. Many creeks are
also choked with fallen trees and willow strainers. These hazards are
unpredictable, and they can form overnight. A badly placed strainer can
turn a class II rapid into a portage-or-die situation. Higher water levels
increase the current's speed and force and make strainers a much greater
hazard. Be aware of the dangers of flood stage paddling, and don't hesitate
to opt for a safer run or no run at all when the water is high.
Many of the rivers and creeks described in this document (as well as many
others) can be found in Tom Kennon's excellent guidebook Ozark Whitewater
(Menasha Ridge Press). This is a great resource
for Ozark paddlers of all levels, and no paddler should be without it.
This list is devoted primarily to the more challenging Ozark whitewater
streams. A good source of information on less difficult whitewater
rivers can be found on the "Floating The Ozarks" Page or in the
Arkansas Floaters Kit Page maintained by the Arkansas Parks and Tourism
Department. Another good source is the GORP Arkansas Rivers Page at
This document is divided into North and South Arkansas. The dividing line
between north and south is I-40, and most directions are relative to I-40.
When trying to locate put-ins and take-outs, USGS topographic quads and a book
called "The Arkansas Atlas and Gazetteer" may come in handy. Also, a book
named "The Roads of Arkansas" provides good non-topographic map coverage for
the entire state.
One final note concerning put-ins and take-outs. Many creeks in the
Ozarks are located on privately owned lands. Most landowners are very
reasonable about using their land for putting in or taking out as long as
you follow some simple guidelines:
1) Always get permission BEFORE accessing a creek on private land. Failure
to do this will certainly irritate even the most friendly landowners,
and it will often result in the landowner denying access to everyone!
If you can't find out who owns the land, find another creek to run, and
come back for that one after you contact the owner. The long-term gain
of avoiding trouble with the owner will far outweigh any short-term
thrills. Also, be aware that anyone caught trespassing in Arkansas
may face stiff fines, jail time, or, worse, the end of a shotgun
2) Always treat the land with great respect. This applies to public
as well as private lands. Don't litter, cut down trees, cut fences,
or deface any property. Try to leave the land and the creek in better
shape than you found it.
3) Always treat the landowner with respect. Don't argue with an irate
landowner. Try to calmly and politely explain your side, but respect
his (or her) side as well. After all, he does own the land, and
you are essentially in his backyard.
4) Respect the landowner's privacy. Don't use obscene language, don't
behave in an offensive way, and don't STRIP DOWN NAKED in view
of a landowner or their house. You'd be surprised how much these
actions can piss off someone who has small children.
5) If a landowner denies you access to his land, please let other paddlers
know about it. Spreading the word helps to ensure that there won't
be more trespassers who might aggravate the situation further.
The general format of each creek listing is as follows:
NAME of the creek or river
Rating: classification (I to VI) for the entire run
(A rating in parentheses such as III-IV (VI) indicates that
there is one rapid or section that is not characteristic of
the overall run.)
(A "*" indicates that rating is an estimate or that the author
has not run the section in question.)
TDCR Rating: Rating (0 to 9) of four different factors. These
ratings should be used for comparison purposes only!
1) Technical Difficulty: how hard is it to run good lines
(avoiding major hazards)? 0 = easy, 9 = very hard
2) Danger Level: if you screw up (see #1 for how easy it
is to screw up) how high a price will you pay?
0 = very little risk, 9 = high risk of injury or death
3) Continuity of Rapids: how fast/continuous are the rapids?
0 = long pools, short rapids, 9 = almost no pools or
4) Remoteness: if you screw up (#1) and get hurt (#2), how
far away is help? 0 = road right beside river,
9 = 3 day hike to somewhere that a helicopter
The rating is given as a four digit number like this: 6431.
This would indicate that a river is technically a 6,
danger level is 4, continuity is 3, and remoteness is 1.
These ratings are based on opinions collected from people
who have actually paddled the rivers in question. Some
runs are not rated because I couldn't get an opinion on them.
Warning: This system may not correspond to the international
system (I - VI).
Location: Counties and put-in and take-out locations (when available)
NOTE: Please read the section on Creek Access before
trying to access any creek.
Topo Quad(s): USGS topographic 7.5 minute (1:24000) series maps
Gradient: average in feet per mile
Length: length of the run in miles
Season: ALL = all year round, FALL = Fall, SPRING = Spring,
RAIN = only after local rains,
FLOOD = only after local flood
NOTE: If a run is of type RAIN, you may be able to
catch it one to three days after a heavy rain.
If a run is of type FLOOD, you probably
need to be there within hours of a heavy rain.
FLOOD runs are not easy to catch, unless you
live very near them, so don't drive in from
out-of-state expecting these to be running,
even during periods of wet weather.
Our season in Arkansas is generally from
October to May with the best months being
March to mid May.
Gauge: as much gauging info as is available
Hazards: rapids, strainers, and landowners that can threaten life
Description: A short description of the run.