Siloam Springs Kayak Park
Check the website, siloamspringskayakpark.com, for updates during this time of social distancing. The park has been open but the bathrooms have been closed during the pandemic.
The headwaters of the spring-fed Illinois River start just southwest of Fayetteville, near the community of Hogeye. The river then wends its way through the northwest corner of the state, eventually passing under Arkansas Highway 59 southeast of Siloam Springs before entering Oklahoma.
This scenic river has long lured people to enjoy its clear water framed by rural farmlands, hardwoods and rock outcroppings. Near Siloam Springs the hot spot for fun for decades was a placed called Fishers Ford. Today, this play hole has been transformed into the Siloam Springs Kayak Park.
“It was always kind of a spot for people to go to but it was never public,” Holland Hayden, communications officer for the City of Siloam Springs, said. “It was a way to get to the Illinois River. There was like a little path. People used it for kayaking and fishing and a swimming hole. It’s called Fishers Ford because that’s the name of the road.”
The Siloam Springs Kayak Park was developed at Fishers Ford in 2014. “The land where the kayak park sits now was granted to the City of Siloam Springs through the Walton Family Foundation,” she explained. “They paid for the cost of creating it and that was all done before they gave it to the city.”
Free for all users, Siloam Springs Kayak Park offers parking, changing rooms, and vault bathrooms. It has engineered rapids running about 700 feet in Class I and II difficulty along with an ADA designed riverbank, climbing boulders, picnic area, accessible walking trails and rain garden.
The kayak park has three and a half feet of drop with two major drops in it that are rated Class I-plus. It’s a great place to learn to kayak, tame eddies or how to roll. It has everything boaters love - chutes, ladders, waves, and calm pools. It’s also the only play area in the state that runs year round.
The park is designed for kayakers to enjoy the rapids best between 200 and 600 cfs. It does close when the flood stage reaches 13 feet. River levels for the park can be found at waterdata.usgs.gov.
But boaters aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the scenic river and landscaped park.
Hayden said the easy river access, paved parking, restrooms and changing rooms are amenities that many free places don’t normally have; thus, the park is extremely popular with the general public in general.
“They can swim. They can picnic. They can bring shade structure and just enjoy a free day at the river,” she explained. “During peak hours of the summer, it’s mainly people swimming and tubing because it is very challenging to have mixed use there, meaning kayaking and tubing. The rapids are too small to have both. So kayakers come out earlier in the morning or later in the evening or in cooler weather.”
“When it’s colder, we have kayakers here literally every single month,” Hayden said. She added they are usually more experienced kayakers. Cooler weather also still attracts people who fish and some who just like to sit and take time for themselves.
The park is open from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is a big draw for folks from Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.
Plus, Siloam Springs boasts a number of outdoor enthusiast activities such as mountain biking, hiking, birding, frisbee golf, paddle boarding and fishing. For example, just south of Siloam Springs is City Lake, a 165-acre city park offering all of those outdoor recreation opportunities.
“It’s a beautiful area for the family to use that’s also free,” Hayden said.
She added that people should stop into downtown Siloam Springs too. “It’s just a beautiful picturesque downtown. Memorial Park opened last year and is a beautiful gateway to downtown with a mural by a world-renowned artist,” she said. The well preserved downtown also has an amphitheater, farmers market, water features, public library, restaurants, shops, and brewery.
“For food we have everything from Columbian to Ozark plateau to German to wonderful cafes,” Hayden said. “There’s a big variety in downtown and it’s all walkable. With Sager Creek going through the downtown, it’s really, really pretty.”
Siloam Springs sits atop a plateau where the southern plains meet the Ozark Mountains. It has many dogwood trees growing across the landscape and is known for its annual Dogwood festival.
If You Go:
— From Ark. 412 in Siloam Springs, take Lincoln Street (Ark. 59 S) south 1.9 miles to Devor Road. Take a left on Devor Road and travel .4 miles to Fisher Ford Road. Turn right on Fisher Ford Road and follow it to the park.
— Boat rentals are not available. There is no commercial outfitter for the park at this time.
— There are no concessions. Users can bring their own food and drink to the park, except for alcohol. The use of charcoal or wood burning grills is prohibited. (Gas/propane grills are okay.)
— Kayaks, canoes and even tubes are acceptable. However, ALL users are strongly encouraged to wear life jackets. It is also not recommended to “free swim” through the rapids.
— There is no lifeguard on duty or first aid station.
— Parking in the grass or restricted areas is not allowed.