View of the Ouachita River
View of the Ouachita River

One Tank Travels: Paddling the Ouachita River

Editor's note- this piece is from 2020. 

All Arkansans are within one tank of gas to the many beautiful waterways that can be found here. Paddling the Ouachita River is a chance to experience the beauty of Arkansas from an interesting vantage point. The family-friendly river goes past a picturesque landscape that includes scenic bluffs in its upper reaches to scenery such as swamp bottoms filled with cypress trees as one approaches the lower sections. Along the way you can picnic, watch wildlife and fish.

The river is a long one, flowing around 600 miles, starting in Mena and ending in Louisiana.  It is pretty wide and along with being a great paddling destination, it also is a great fishing one, housing prime habitat for bass, catfish, and sunfish.

The river is divided into an upper and lower section and the first free flowing section flows through the Ouachita Mountains until it reaches the western end of Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in the state. The speed on the river varies according to river depth and flow. When there is a lot of rain the river can become fast, but in the summer the water level is normally low.

Ouachita River map

The river was flowing at around 2 miles an hour when we paddled it in early June and we saw eagles, herons, an alligator gar, fish, and interesting rock bluffs along the way. From Hot Springs, you can reach the Oden river access in a little over an hour. This is where we launched from and from there we paddled a little over 13 miles before taking out. We arranged for a shuttle service beforehand and there are a variety of spots in the area that provide such services should you so want. Lush trees lined the river and there are pull out sections where you can land your kayak or canoe to enjoy the scenery and enjoy a packed lunch from. Resorts, cabins and camping areas can be found along the river too if you want to make a day trip into multiple nights.

Ouachita River

There are many access points along the river to choose from, via which you can launch and take out from, depending on how many miles you want to float.

After paddling, an interesting side trip option on the way back to Hot Springs is to stop and explore the town of Mount Ida. Here you can enjoy a post paddle treat at spots like the Dairyette or Mount Ida Cafe or browse through the many rock shops that line highway 270. For more active fun, you can also take a hike on the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, which has many segments to choose from, including a quick 1.25 mile loop called the Watchable Wildlife Trail that has features like an elevated walkway to enjoy the scenery from. 

As for where the river goes after Lake Ouachita, the river is actually the source of two other lakes in the area: Lake Hamilton and Catherine, and each lake is a prime recreational destination in itself. From here, the river flows near Arkansas towns like Arkadelphia, Camden, and El Dorado before it reaches Louisiana.