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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.