It wouldn't be completely accurate to describe the Mulberry River as 50 miles of whitewater, but it would not be far from the truth for several months of the year. According to one publication, the stream is definitely the state's wildest river during spring. From its beginnings deep in the Ozarks to its confluence with the Arkansas River, the Mulberry pours over ledges, shoots through willow thickets, and whips around sharp turns. These "wild" characteristics are what give the stream its class II/III rating, and high marks from the floating public.
In drier times, the river takes on a completely different personality. It's a good place to swim, wade, skip rocks, and stalk the wary smallmouth. The best floating during the summer months is on an air mattress at one of the local swimming holes.
In short, the Mulberry River is a seasonal stream, but the good news is that it offers a season for just about anybody. The General Assembly recognized this fact in 1985 when it officially declared the Mulberry to be "a scenic river of the State of Arkansas."
Section Description & Characteristics
The Mulberry flows in a west-southwesterly course in its rush to leave the Ozarks. Access points are fairly common, particularly where the stream is within the Ozark National Forest.
Source to Arkansas River, a distance of 50-55 miles.
The Arkansas 103 Crossing
The first major put-in point is at the Arkansas 103 crossing about two miles southwest of the Oark community. Takeout for this float is frequently the Forest Road 1504 crossing (11.5 miles downstream), although the Wolf Pen Recreation Area, a U.S. Forest Service development situated 2.5 miles below the 103 bridge, can also serve as a put-in/take-out location. This section of the river is fast moving with a good mixture of class II rapids, standing waves, and willow strainers. The Little Mulberry joins up with the main stem about two miles below Wolf Pen; paddlers will note its entry on the right side (north shore) of the Mulberry.
1504 Access to the Arkansas 23 Crossing
The second float begins at the 1504 access and concludes six to seven miles later at the Arkansas 23 crossing, known for years now as Turner's Bend. There is plenty of class II excitement along this route, including some rather large boulders that tend to influence the streamflow. Redding Campground, a Forest Service development, is located midway through this trip, while a private camping area is found at Turner's Bend.
Highway 23 Bridge to Milton's Ford
The third major float originates at the Highway 23 bridge and continues for some 8.5 miles to a place known as Milton's Ford (located on Forest Road 1501 west of Arkansas 23). Like the Mulberry's earlier floats, this one features solid class II whitewater, plus several notorious willow thickets that should be negotiated with caution.
Milton's Ford to Arkansas 215
The Mulberry's last section-from Milton's Ford to Arkansas 215 north of the city of Mulberry-is the favorite of some floaters. During this 18-20 mile trip, canoeists pass through remote, virtually inaccessible country. The pools are longer, requiring a bit more paddling, but many feel this is more than offset by the solitude offered during this stretch. Class II rapids and the ever-present willow thickets can be expected.
Traditional floating months are late fall to June, but conditions can vary according to local rainfall. The best bet for canoeists is to call the Corps of Engineers' river level recording (378-5150); readings between 2.0 and 4.0 are ideal, while 4.5 and beyond are considered dangerous.
Primary points of access include Arkansas Highways 23, 103, and 215 (all paved), and Forest Roads 1003, 1501, and 1504. And while the Mulberry is located in some of the state's wildest country the stream is amazingly convenient; the Highway 23 crossing is less than a dozen miles north of Interstate 40.
Visitors to the Mulberry can expect basic Ozark Mountain scenery-narrow canyons, tree-lined bluffs, and dense woods. A good assortment of wildlife is found in the immediate area. including one of the state's largest concentrations of black bears. The stream itself is clear, cool, and challenging.
The Mulberry River is a fine fishing stream provided you're on it at the right time. In early spring, it's frequently too high and fast for a"laid back" fishing trip. In late spring and early summer, though, when things have calmed down somewhat, the river is an excellent choice when angling for smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, and green, and longear sunfish. The potholes can be fished during drier months but getting to them may require some hiking up or down a slippery streambed.
Supplies and overnight accommodations are available in Ozark, a city located about 15 miles south of the Highway 23 crossing. In addition, several outfitters are located on or near the river.
The Forest Service operates two campgrounds- Redding and Wolf Pen - on the river, and three others - Shores Lake, Ozone, and White Rock Mountain - within easy driving distance. Campsites are also available in conjunction with a couple of the outfitting operations.
While much of the Mulberry River is within the boundaries of the Ozark National Forest, the stream frequently flows through private property, a good bit of which is posted. Visitors, therefore, are urged to take care not to abuse the rights of riparian property owners.
Canoeists should also make a point of checking into local weather forecasts. A heavy rain can quickly transform the Mulberry into a rampaging torrent. Because of the chance for these sudden rises, visitors are advised that camping on islands and gravel bars is generally not recommended.
Finally, anyone desiring more information on the stream should read Margaret and Harold Hedges '"The Mighty Mulberry," a 16-page guide to the entire river. It is available through the Ozark Society Foundation; P.O. Box 3503: Little Rock, Arkansas 72203.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication