Flowing out of the Ouachita Mountains in west central
Arkansas is one of the state's most underappreciated streams--the Caddo River. Those
that know it, however, describe the Caddo as among the best "family outing" type
streams in the state.
It begins in southwestern Montgomery County, and flows
near or through the communities of Black Springs, Norman, Caddo Gap, Glenwood, and Amity
before entering the backwaters of DeGray Lake. In fact, throughout this 40-mile journey,
the Caddo River is never very far from civilization. Railroad tracks parallel the stream for
several miles, a few houses can be spotted from the river, and cattle frequently gaze down
at passing floaters. This surrounding landscape may not be original wilderness, but it
sure is peaceful.
The Caddo itself is also peaceful-- at least in most
places. But to prevent paddlers from becoming too complacent, a handful of faster rapids
(class I/class II) have been strategically placed in the stream. The river also features
some top-notch gravel bars--ideal places to stop, lean back, and contemplate the
mysteries of moving water.
SECTION DESCRIBED: Source to DeGray Lake, a
stretch about 40 miles in length.
While the Caddo River is "floatable" above
Norman (the water has to be high, and it's a very fast float), most float trips on the
stream's upper reaches begin at the southwest edge of this small town. The eight-mile
float down to Caddo Gap is scenic, but is possible only after extended periods of
Probably the most popular Caddo River canoe is the
six-mile journey from Caddo Gap to Glenwood. One highlight is a swinging footbridge over
the river at the put-in (the low-water bridge west of the Caddo Gap community) which, for
safety's sake, should be appreciated from below. Rock gardens are common along this
stretch and can cause consternation when the water's low. The actual "gap"
for the Caddo occurs about a mile and a half into the float trip (just above the Arkansas 240
bridge). At this point the river passes through a narrow opening between the ridges, and
so do Arkansas 8 and the railroad--all three bunched closely together. The gap is also
the site of a geological oddity: some hot springs bubble up into the streambed here (for
those wishing to experience these thermal waters, here are some rough directions: go
upstream 200-300 yards from the old low-water bridge; springs will be on the west bank,
and are usually at or below the river's surface; barefoot waders will have no trouble
recognizing the spot!). Two-and-a-half miles later, the Caddo's South Fork enters
from the west. Small rapids, long gravel bars, and an occasional willow thicket
characterize the stream as it approaches Glenwood.
The Caddo River canoe trip from Glenwood to Amity is a slower version of
the upper sections. Pools are longer, and the rapids lose some of their intensity. Yet
it's a fine, float trip, perfectly suited for those wishing to gain encouraging experience
in a canoe.
Like most of Arkansas's canoeing streams, the Caddo
usually gets too low in the summer and early fall for good float trips. The best months for
successful Caddo River canoe trips are March through June.
The Caddo River is an easy stream to get to. Access points
are numerous, and the shuttle routes are almost always along paved roads. Traditional
put-in and take-out points include: the bridge immediately west of Norman; the low-water
bridge west of Caddo Gap; the old low-water bridge on Arkansas 182 north of Amity; and the
Arkansas 84 bridge northeast of Amity.
The Caddo may lack dramatic views, but it has plenty of
good scenery. The floater often travels next to forested hillsides and past rocky
outcrops. In several places the stream flows under a green canopy of overhanging
The Caddo is one of the most underrated and overlooked
cold-water fishing streams in Arkansas. That's unfortunate, for this small river
offers excellent fishing in a peaceful setting that's ideal for a weekend family
Smallmouth bass and spotted bass are the most notable sportfish
inhabiting the Caddo. The most productive bass angling begins near Caddo Gap and ends
below Amity. During low water periods, portions from Caddo Gap to Glenwood can be floated.
Longear and green sunfish are often caught in this stretch as well.
This is one of the few cold-water streams where white bass
are an important species. These scrappy fighters migrate upstream from DeGray Lake during
their spring spawning runs and are taken by boaters and bankfishermen alike using live
minnows, jigs, spinners and minnow-replica crank-baits. Hybrid bass and walleyes are also
occasionally taken during their spring spawning runs.
Most of the communities along the Caddo River include gas
stations and grocery stores. Glenwood, by far the largest town along the route, also
features several restaurants and at least four motels, one of them within sight of the
river, plus a "bed and breakfast" just a few miles upstream.
Because nearly every acre along the Caddo River is privately
owned, floaters need to be particularly careful not to aggravate local landowners. Camping
sites are available at the Crystal Recreation Area north of Norman off Forest Road 177.
Also, the Caddo can be floated below DeGray Lake to its
confluence with the Ouachita River. This short stretch is one of the most convenient in
the state, crossed by I-30, US 67, and Arkansas 7.