The Six Best Places To Float In Arkansas

Feb 26, 2024

Adventuring with Cecilia

Nestled in the center of the continental US, Arkansas is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Our little oasis offers an unparalleled opportunity for awesome float trips that cater to adventurers of all skill levels.

In this guide, I’ll take you on a brief tour of the six best float trips in Arkansas. From leisurely floats to thrilling whitewater adventures, prepare to be amped for the quickly-approaching floating season. Grab your paddle, pack your sense of adventure, and let’s dive into it! 

Beginner: Big Piney Creek 

The Big Piney offers quintessential Arkansas floating. The creek (if it can even be called that) spans just short of 70 miles. The rapids are classified from II-III, with various areas calm enough for an inner tube or leisurely swim. The stretch of the Big Piney near Long Pool boasts the more serene waters of the float–perfect for canoes and kids. The Long Pool Recreation Area, a Forest Service campground, has everything needed for a fun-filled family day: picnicking, swimming, fishing, hiking, and camping. S'mores around a campfire after a long day of canoeing and swimming? Yes, please! 

Popular access points: Limestone: Forest Rd. 1004 & 1002, Helton Farm (at Treat): Forest Road 1805, Long Pool, Arkansas 164


Beginner: Buffalo National River 

The Buffalo National River nabbed the second spot of the “beginner” recommendations, because it is massive (135 miles) and thus, has sections for everyone. The rapids of the Buffalo range from I-II, with the occasional class III when the river’s feeling spicy (AKA, after loads of rain). Whether you’re searching for a short scenic trip, or a weekend-long camping and floating excursion, the Buffalo has you covered. The star gazing along the Buffalo is unrivaled and may be just as worth it as the actual float (in my humble opinion). 

*fun fact: The Buffalo National River was established in 1972 and is America’s first national river! 

For details on specific access point locations, water levels, and outfitters: see here, this website ROCKS. 

Popular access points: Boxley (beginning), Ponca, Kyle’s Landing, Hasty, Woolum, Tyler Bend (I HIGHLY recommend camping here), Gilbert, Buffalo Point 


Intermediate: Mulberry River 

The Mighty Mulberry boasts mixed reviews on classification, although American Whitewater lists it at I-III. BUT, to err on the side of caution, we’ll throw it in the intermediate group. Because this river meanders through parts of the Ozark National Forest, it’s quite popular and sought after by visitors. The Mulberry has gorgeous waters, lots of sandstone to marvel at, and could easily be considered the most scenic floating in the state, a close second to the Buffalo. 

Popular access points: Campbell Cemetery (Forest Road 1512), Byrd’s Adventure Center, and Wolf Pen Campground (off Arkansas 215)

If you have yet to visit Byrd’s Adventure Center, you’re missing out–they’re the primary outfitter for the most beautiful parts of the Mulberry!


Intermediate: Kings River

The Kings has class I-III+ rapids, so I had to throw her into the intermediate class. The river flows for more than 90 miles, starting at the base of the Boston Mountains and eventually pouring into Table Rock lake in Missouri. From the towering rock faces and glistening waters, to the snippy rapids, the Kings faces off with the glory of the Buffalo. The Kings is fantastic for multi-day float trips and has an abundance of gravel bars for camping! 

Popular access points: Please see this breakdown! 


Expert: Little Missouri 

I have not personally floated the Little Missouri, but from what I hear, the 10 mile float is evenly divided in two parts: Pretty freakin’ difficult and a leisurely river float, although the water is nowhere near as crystalline as those aforementioned. The Little Missouri is  classified with class II-III+ rapids, and I’ve read that although they’re easy on the technicality side of things, some would argue for a higher class rating due to the sheer amount of rushing water. 

Popular access points: Riverside Picnic Area near Narrows Dam in Murfreesboro  

*no outfitters I know of 


Expert: Bear Creek 

Bear Creek is a tributary of the Big Piney with class IV-V+ rapids–the true whitewater of the Ozarks. Bear Creek begs to be taken seriously and hosts at least three waterfalls–absolutely do not attempt this float as a novice or solo floater. Shuttle services from outfitters vary throughout the state from very, very predictable and organized to holler at the local gas station to see if someone will drop you off. Bear Creek floats would entail the latter. 

Popular access points: American Whitewater breaks down the exact access point–it is near Pelsor

*no outfitters I know of


——

Honorable mention for our experts: Ben Doodle Branch (class IV-V; Crawford Co.) and Cossatot River (class IV; Wickes) 

Embarking on a float trip in Arkansas is a recreational activity for many families, friend groups, and solo voyagers–although I’d strongly advise to always take a buddy, come on, y’all. Whether you're a novice seeking tranquil waters or an experienced paddler craving adrenaline-pumping rapids, the Arkansas River Valley and surrounding areas has something to offer everyone.


Tips from a native Arkansan, although an admittedly novice floater: 

  • Never, ever, EVER float alone. Period. 

  • ALWAYS wear a lifejacket. Ahhh but Cecilia they look so goofy and dumb. Says who? It’s better to feel a little silly than potentially drown. Who would feel stupid then?  

  • Stay hydrated and nourished! No, Mich Ultra and Coors don’t count. Make sure to bring plenty of icy H2O and snacks on your river journeys. 

  • Lastly, check the river conditions! Scour local Facebook groups, call nearby outfitters, and simply do your due diligence before embarking, especially if you’re planning to float after loads of rain. 


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