From its headwaters south of the Big Fork community to the
backwaters of Lake Greeson, the Little Missouri River descends some 1,035 feet. For the
29-mile journey, that's an average drop of 35 feet per mile, and that means one
But the stream offers more than excitement. It also provides a solid introduction to the Ouachita Mountain country
of southwest Arkansas. Pine-covered ridges tower hundreds of feet above the rocky channel.
In several places, the Little Missouri has cut through the twisted rock layers that are
the very essence of the Ouachitas. It is, in short, an interesting stream.
SECTION DESCRIBED: Headwaters area to Lake
Greeson, a total of 29 miles.
The stream's first section--from its source to
the Albert Pike Recreation Area --is not one for floating. This upper stretch has its
merits, however. A chief attraction is the Little Missouri Falls area which has been
developed for day-use activities (i.e., no camping) by the Ouachita National Forest. While
there are no developed facilities between the falls and Albert Pike, the river corridor
offers possibilities for all kinds of outdoor pursuits--swimming in deep pools, hiking
along the stream bank, and wildlife photography, just to name a few.
The Albert Pike Recreation Area to Arkansas 84 run is one of
the best in the state. It begins on national forest property near the junction of Forest
Roads 73 and 106, and continues for about 8.5 rough-and-tumble miles. This stretch of the
river heads downhill at a good clip--25 feet per mile. The rapids are exciting (up to
class IV in high water), with many featuring standing waves at their bases. Along the way
floaters will pass the mouth of Greasy Creek, near which Albert Pike--the famed
pioneer lawyer, general, and poet--once lived in a well-appointed cabin. More
noticeable will be Winding Stair Rapid, a series of drops that may well put water into
one's boat. The rapid--which is approximately three miles below the
put-in--can, and should, be scouted from the left (east) bank; heavy flows can put it
in the class IV level. The remainder of the float features numerous rapids in the class
I-class III categories, including a diagonally-running ledge about a quarter mile below
Winding Stair that can be tricky.
While the Arkansas 84 to Lake Greeson section doesn't
require the technical paddling skills of the upper section, it, too, offers
gunnel-grabbing excitement. Its claim to fame is standing waves--some of the biggest
in the state when the water is up. The floating distance is 10-11 miles.
The Little Missouri River is among the most seasonal of
Arkansas streams, primarily because of its small watershed. It's
"floatable" only after periods of considerable rainfall, and even then the
stream may not stay navigable for long. The wet months of spring offer the best chances
for catching it at a good level. An old low-water bridge just below the Arkansas 84 bridge
offers a primitive but acceptable gauging system: one to two feet of water over the slab
means that conditions are desirable.
The stream's major access points are: the Albert Pike Recreation Area at Forest Road 106 north of Langley; the Arkansas 84 bridge west of
Langley; and the U.S. 70 bridge at the Star of the West area on Lake Greeson. All roads
are paved with the exception of those in the Ouachita National Forest.
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 ridgelines, 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
Finally, the Arkansas General Assembly has even recognized
the beauty of the Little Missouri River. In 1985 the legislature passed an act placing
this 29-mile stretch into the Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers System--one of the
first such designations.
Like many of Arkansas's other mountain streams, the
Little Missouri harbors smallmouth bass, spotted bass, green sunfish and longears which
may be taken year-round. White bass are also present in the headwaters of Lake Greeson
during the spring spawning run.
The Little Missouri seldom comes to mind when the
state's great trout streams are mentioned. However, thousands of rainbow trout are
stocked in the stream both above and below Lake Greeson, providing a great opportunity for some Little Missouri fly fishing and an exciting sport for
The lower Little Missouri (below Narrows Dam) differs from
other Arkansas trout streams in that it is primarily a cold-weather fishery. When there is
no demand for electricity, the flow from Narrows Dam is cut to a mere 15 cubic feet per
second, which isn't sufficient to sustain lower water temperatures required by trout.
As a result, the trout season here runs from early December (when the Arkansas Game and Fish
Commission begins its annual stocking program on the river) to Memorial Day or
thereabouts. Stocking is finished by early April each year, and by late May, fishing
pressure and rising water temperatures have just about wiped out the trout. Few fish
manage to survive through the summer, but the lower Little Missouri offers excellent
fishing for about five months each year for trout in the one-half to three-quarter pound
range, and that's nothing to sneeze at. With some Little Missouri fly fishing prowess, Rainbow trout can be caught in the river
above Lake Greeson, especially near the Albert Pike Recreation Area, year-round.
A privately operated campground is available on the east side of the river. This
operation also features rental cabins, a grocery store/snack bar, and gasoline. Other
services are available at the nearby towns of Langley, Kirby, and Daisy. Several public
campgrounds can be found on Lake Greeson, including one--Star of the West--at the
take-out point for the lower float.
Few people realize that much of the Little Missouri River
and the surrounding landscape nearly became a national park back in the late 1920s/early
1930s. Only a last-minute veto by then-President Calvin Coolidge prevented establishment
of the 165,000-acre Ouachita National Park.
The Little Missouri River can also be floated below Lake
Greeson, and is popular with trout fishermen for the first half-dozen miles below the dam.