Ouachita National Forest

Paddling
Gorp.com

It doesn't take a geologist to note some differences between the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozarks. Floaters can pick up on them, too. Bluffs, which are common on many Ozark rivers, are unusual in the Ouachitas. Unlike the flat-topped mountains found in the northern parts of the state, steep ridges—many of them the hogback variety—are the rule in the Ouachitas. And where streams have worked their way through these ridge lines, they've exposed upturned rock strata whose rough, jagged edges are unlike anything in the Ozarks. Floaters beware! In short, the Ouachitas are no less scenic than their sister mountains to the north; they're just built differently.

Three ridge systems make up the Ouchitas, and each have their own distinctive river-types. Class I and II rivers are generally found in the Fourche Mountains. The Central Ouchitas are steeper and have some of the most difficult rivers. The Athens Piedmont Plateau has a mixed bag of rivers.

The Ouachita River is a lazy, isolated float. It never gets above Class II, so this is really a river to relax on. Its watershed is protected by the forest, and there are no large communities along its banks. So expect to see lots of wildlife, and to find lots of peace and quiet.

The Little Missouri River offers a little more excitement, with runs that reach Class IV. This is not the river for an inexperienced paddler. If you take this river on, be prepared for large standing waves and frequent Class III whitewater. What you get in return (as if the whitewater isn't enough) is dramatic scenery experienced in isolation and a rare sense of adventure.

The Cossatot River flows out of Ouchita National Forest. It is one of the most difficult rivers in Arkansas, with whitewater up to Class V. The first 17 miles above Gillam Dam is known as the Shut-Ins. This is a section for experts only.

Other names to watch out for are the Caddo (easy with an edge, plus pretty scenery), Saline River (dense forest and abundant wildlife), and Baker Creek (rough and tumble, with good water quality).


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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