One Tank Travels: Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area

Wickes is a small town in Polk County in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains.  From Hot Springs , you are looking at around a 2.5 hour venture. So getting there and back is going to be a bit more than a tank of gas. But you can get there on one!

If you are into rugged beauty, the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area extends for 12 miles along one of the most rugged river corridors in the central U.S. The state park-natural area includes rugged wooded slopes, geological features and clear waters of the river. Class III and Class IV rapids attract experienced floaters during the season. The river, the word “Cossatot” is an Indian word meaning “skull-crusher.”- ouch!, was designated a National Wild and Scenic River by Congress in 1992.

Preserved within the park are the Cossatot Falls, where the river snakes over and between upturned Ouachitas strata to create challenging stretches of whitewater. The area’s rocks are polished smooth by the river and are among the state’s most scenic geological creations.

Two species of fish, the Ouachita Mountain shiner and the leopard darter,have been found nowhere on earth except in streams of the Ouachita Mountains. The darter, in fact, has been found in only three of those. Like many minnow-like species, they are susceptible to changes in their habitat and both require the kind of clean, moving water found in the upper stretch of the river. Waterfall’s sedge and Ouachita Mountain twistflower, found only in a few counties in the Ouachita Mountains, and a number of other sensitive plant species, thrive within the park’s five natural plant communities.

Snorkeling tours are available at the park all summer. Fishing is also a draw. From start to finish there are also  20 –miles of different diverse hiking trails. The 14-mile River Corridor Trail extends between the Ark. 246 and U.S. 278 areas. The Harris Creek Trail is a four-mile loop starting near U.S. 278. Waterleaf Trail begins at the east end of the visitor center parking lot. Brushy Creek Nature Trail, located at the Brushy Creek Recreational Area, has an ADA accessible portion that allows access to the pedestrian bridge over the river just south of the Highway 246 Bridge. The total trail is three- fourths of a mile in length and connects the east side of the recreational area with the west.

There is also a visitor center with nature exhibits, picnic sites, and campsites ( be aware that there are no hookups and no running water).

Though renowned for its whitewater (the river is a big draw for kayakers and canoeists) be aware that the Cossatot is not consistently at floatable levels.  And water levels are normally too low for paddling during the summer. Floatable river levels are usually  limited to late-fall, winter and spring. For river stage information (in feet) from the Highway 246 access, call 870- 387-3141. If you go to the park’s website, you can click on the real time data link and go to the U.S.G.S. site for river stage information as well Due to flow levels dependent upon rainfall, no floater services are provided on the river. Also remember that the Cossatot is only for very experienced floaters as sporting rapids rate up to Class V in difficulty. Park interpreters also provide guided kayak tours in the months of May June and October when water levels are between 2.3 & 3.5 feet.
For dining options in the area, click here. There are also lodges and cabins you can stay at if camping might not be your thing.  The park is located between Ark. 246 and U.S. 278 near Wickes. It is the largest natural area in the state . Nearby attractions also include Black Fork Wilderness, part of the Ouachita Trail, Shady Lake Recreational Area, Bard Springs Recreational Area, and the Wolf Pen Gap ATV Trails.

For more information, contact Stan Speight at 870-385-2201 or check out  Stan is a very knowledgeable contact at the park so if you visit, be sure to try and tell him hello. Enjoy!

Join the Conversation