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Big Piney Creek

Whether you're wanting to fish or float, the Big Piney is a great choice.

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At 67 miles, Big Piney Creek is not particularly long by Arkansas standards. But mile for mile, there's no doubt it ranks among the best float streams in the state. Whitewater enthusiasts will agree that stretches of Big Piney are prime spots for canoeing adventures.

For one thing, the Piney is situated in some very interesting country--the heart of the Ozarks. Its headwaters region is rugged and remote, and the few communities to be found have appropriate names like Fallsville, Limestone, and Deer.

The Piney itself is a clear mountain stream wasting little time on its journey toward the Arkansas River. It hurries pellmell over ledges and numerous rapids in a twisting course through Newton, Johnson, and Pope Counties. It flows past bluffs, alongside gravel bars, and under overhanging hardwoods. Some consider the Piney to be "the classic Ozark stream."

If nothing else, the Piney offers a classic mix of recreational opportunities. The creek and adjacent public lands provide an ideal setting for floating, fishing, camping, hiking, hunting, and swimming--not to mention other rituals like rock-skipping and plain old relaxing. In short, the Piney has something for everyone. In the cool, clear waters of the Big Piney, anglers have especially good luck with smallmouth bass fishing.

SECTION DESCRIBED: Source to Lake Dardanelle (Arkansas River), a distance of approximately 67 miles.

Characteristics: Depending on one's point-of-view, Big Piney Creek is either a series of short pools interrupted by rapids, or a series of rapids interrupted by stretches of relative calmness. Fishermen probably prefer the first description, while those who seek canoeing adventures will generally opt for the latter. In any event, the creek offers good water for both users.

The Limestone to Arkansas Highway 123 run is not a common float (the water's usually too low), but when conditions are right, the 10-mile section is worth considering. In this stretch the Piney has numerous rapids (some up to a class III rating), along with a good supply of those traditional canoe-catchers--willow thickets.

The next section is the Arkansas 123 to Treat run, a float covering about eight miles. As with the upper stretch, the water's clear and the scenery's good. Here, though, the valley is not so tight, and the stream's pace slackens a bit. The rapids are a little more subdued (all of the class I and II varieties), but willows--while not so plentiful as upstream--can still cause problems.

The third section of Big Piney Creek--the Treat to Long Pool float--is where the stream has earned its reputation among white water enthusiasts as a great stretch for canoeing adventures. The hills start crowding the creek for space along this 10 mile run, and one result is rapids--rapids with names like "Roller Coaster," "Surfing Hole," and even "Cascades of Extinction." Gravel bars are conveniently located just below most of these rapids and provide ideal spots for a breather, a picnic, or, in some cases, a salvage operation.

The Piney's next section--Long Pool to Arkansas 164 (or Twin Bridges)--slows down considerably in its five-mile journey. As the creek leaves the Ozarks, its pools become longer, and the rapids are generally in the class I category. Willow strainers, if anything, are more common here than in the upper reaches.

The stream's final stretch--Arkansas 164 to Lake Dardanelle (or points in between)--isn't for those who require their water to be white. In these last few miles, the Piney slowly meanders toward Piney Bay, an arm of Lake Dardanelle.

Seasons: Big Piney Creek offers year-round recreation. The season for canoeing adventures usually begins in late fall and can last through mid-June, depending on local rainfall. Fishing is a year-long possibility for those willing to wade-fish or drag their boats over the shoals during the drier months. And after the first frost has discouraged ticks and chiggers, hiking and backpacking are highly recommended, particularly in the 15,000-acre Hurricane Creek Wilderness just northeast of the 123 bridge.

Access Points: Considering the ruggedness of the country, access to Big Piney Creek is surprisingly good. At Limestone, the stream can be reached by Forest Road 1004. Forest Road 1002 also provides access a few miles south of the 1004 crossing. The next put-in or take-out points are at Arkansas 123 and Forest Road 1802. Perhaps the most popular beginning point for float trips is the Helton Farm access at Treat (Forest Road 1805), where local landowners allow canoeists to put-in for a small fee. Ten miles downstream is Long Pool, a Forest Service campground complete with restrooms, changing rooms, loading/unloading areas, and a parking lot. (The Long Pool site is a fee area except for the winter season.) The last major access point is another five miles downstream at Arkansas 164.

Scenery: While Big Piney Creek doesn't have the towering bluffs of the Buffalo River, it has no shortage of good scenery. The steep hillsides are covered with a mixed hardwood and pine forest and occasionally offer glimpses of deer, turkeys, or even black bears. Along the way floaters will pass an astonishing assortment of rocks--some house-sized--that over the eons have toppled into the stream. In addition, quiet travelers may discover great blue herons, wood ducks, or beavers along their route.

Fishing: A vast majority of those floating the Big Piney don't carry fishing equipment. No doubt some fear they'll lose their rods and reels at the first rapid, but most probably don't realize that the stream is a good place to fish. A veteran fisherman, though, will note the cool, clear water with its rocky cover and come to one conclusion--smallmouth bass fishing. That fish can be caught in the pools of the Piney and so can spotted, as can the gargemouth bass, longear and green sunfish and rock bass. But the smallmouth bass fishing is excellent at big Piney Creek.

Fishing the Big Piney can be a twelve month pastime, but most authorities will recommend the late spring/early summer period. In the hotter months, diehards may have some luck in the creek's deep pools, but getting there may require dragging boats over shallows or even bushwhacking through cane thickets. Anglers seldom visit the Piney during late fall and winter months, but it's during this period the largest bass are often taken.

Services Available: Supplies can be obtained in Dover or Russellville, and the latter city also offers numerous motels. Camping is permitted just about anywhere in the Ozark National Forest, but two "developed" campgrounds--Long Pool and Haw Creek Falls--are available. Canoes can be rented in the vicinity, and several local families are willing to provide car shuttles for a fee.

Other Information: The best time to float the Piney is when its water level is in the 3.0-5.0 range (call the Corps of Engineers' recording, 501-324-5150, for a daily report), although the uppermost reaches may require a higher minimum reading for best conditions. At five feet and beyond, the stream is considered dangerous.

Lastly, a good deal of private property borders the stream. Visitors should take care to avoid trespassing problems.