For many first-time visitors, the most difficult thing
about the Ouachita River is learning to say it correctly. For some reason, the
pronunciation--"Wash-i-taw"--bears little resemblance to the spelling.
Regardless of how it's said, though, the Ouachita is a fine stream, ideally suited
for family outings.
From its beginnings where two small creeks converge at the
base of Rich Mountain in Polk County, the river winds its way through the scenic Ouachita
Mountains and beyond. It is in these higher elevations that the stream offers a good range
of recreation opportunities for floating and fishing enthusiasts alike (you'll find plenty of bass, catfish and green sunfish in the area).
A major draw is its location within the Ouachita National Forest area. The Forest Service provides campgrounds, picnic areas, and access points along the
river and several of its tributaries. In addition, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
maintains several access areas along the stream. These developments attract not only
experienced river travelers, but many people venturing out for their first trip in a
SECTION DESCRIBED: Headwaters to Lake Ouachita, a
distance of about 70 miles.
In its upper reaches, the Ouachita is a narrow,
fast-moving stream with class I (and occasionally class II) rapids. Further downstream,
the river still has some interesting shoals, but the pools are a little longer and deeper.
The uppermost float on the Ouachita begins at the McGuire
Access, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission development. It's located on the south side of
Arkansas Highway 88 about halfway between the communities of Ink and Cherry Hill. The
seven-mile trip down to the Cherry Hill Access--another Game and Fish
project--should be scheduled after periods of extended rainfall to avoid a good deal
of boat dragging. The float features narrow channels, tight turns, and quiet pools. Paddlers
should be on the lookout for logjams and overhanging limbs.
The second Ouachita River float is the 13-mile journey
from Cherry Hill to Pine Ridge. The take-out point is a county bridge about one mile east
of Pine Ridge, just to the southeast of Highway 88. Like the earlier float, this one
requires plenty of rain and cautious canoeists.
A 10-mile trip from Pine Ridge to Oden is next in the
series of Ouachita excursions. Noisy shoals, quick turns, and a tunnel of overhanging
trees characterize this section. The Arkansas Highway 379 bridge south of Oden is the
One of the most popular trips on the river is the journey
from Oden to the Rocky Shoals Campground at the U.S. 270 crossing. This 10-mile trip
features some of the best scenery on the Ouachita, including a towering bluff a few miles
above the take-out. Deep pools, stimulating rapids, and shady banks are also found along
this stretch. In the springtime, quiet canoeists may hear the calls of wild turkeys up on
the steep hillsides.
Canoeists putting in at Rocky Shoals have several options.
They can take out at the Sims Campground, located four miles downstream, or at the Fulton
Branch Campground, which is another three miles down the river. Each of these Ouachita camping/launching areas also is a good starting point for trips down to the last two public
take-outs--Dragover and River Bluff. Both offer toilets, boat ramps, and campsites.
The Fulton Branch to Dragover trip covers about two miles, while the float on to River
Bluff covers another three miles. Several other take-outs are possible on the backwaters
of Lake Ouachita around the Arkansas Highway 27 crossing.
Relatively new is a whitewater playground on the Ouachita River
northwest of Malvern that has been drawing a growing number of
Arkansans, with visitors also reported from surrounding states and from
as far away as Illinois coming to enjoy the park. At the Rockport Ledge,
a drop-off and collection of boulders that span the river a few hundred
yards above Interstate 30, kayaking enthusiasts gather to practice
skills such as rolls, ferries, eddies, surfing and freestyle tricks.
The water comes from upstream Lake Catherine in scheduled weekend
releases, generating electricity as it passes under Remmel Dam. In
addition, continuous but smaller releases have made the Ouachita between
the dam and I-30 a reliable but gentle float throughout the year.
Information on the Lake Catherine water releases is available by phone at (501) 620-5760 and on the Entergy Hydro Web site. Instructions for receiving periodic e-mail updates (usually issued weekly) on release plans are available on the site.
The Ouachita can be floated much of the year, particularly
if its visitors don't mind getting their feet wet and pulling their boats through the
shallows during drier months. The best period for good canoeing in the upper reaches is
late fall to late spring--generally November through June. The lower stretches (below
the 270 bridge) come closest to offering year-round floating conditions. This is also the best time for camping at the many sites along the river if you’re looking for a multi-day trip.
Major access points include the U.S. 270 crossing, the
Arkansas 379 bridge, several county road crossings off Arkansas State Highway 88, and a handful of
Forest Service Campgrounds.
The Ouachita River's scenic beauty is due in part to
the bluffs along the route. Though they are common sights in north Arkansas's Ozarks,
these occurrences are few and far between in the Ouachita Mountain range.
Other features of the Ouachita River are its clear water,
intriguing rock formations, and a canopy of overhanging trees. In its upper reaches, the
dogwoods and redbuds which bloom in the spring make for an unmatched setting of beauty.
With only sparse population along its banks, the river also offers a sense of solitude.
The Ouachita's long, lazy pools and sparkling shoals make the river especially
inviting for families wishing to pause for a swim and/or picnic along the way.
Wildlife viewing is another distinct possibility on this
river. Floaters report seeing beaver, deer, wild turkeys, an assortment of wading
birds and other wildlife.
The Ouachita has been a favorite fishing spot among
sportsmen for decades. Heavy stringers of smallmouth and spotted bass come from the stream
year-round, although the best angling for big bass (four-pounders are not uncommon) is
usually during the cooler months from October through March. In the lower reaches just
above Lake Ouachita, the spawning runs of white bass always attract large numbers of
spring fishermen, and, as might be expected, this cool stream supports large numbers of
green sunfish and longear sunfish. Anglers will also land an occasional walleye, largemouth bass, rock bass, catfish or bluegill.
Supplies can be obtained in Pencil Bluff, Mount Ida, or
more distant towns like Mena and Hot Springs. In addition to the Forest Service
campgrounds along the river, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed numerous camping sites
on Lake Ouachita, many with electric hookups, dump stations, group facilities and more. Rental canoes are available in Pencil Bluff.
The Ouachita is the longest and largest river in the
Ouachita Mountain region of Arkansas. The river is also "floatable" (and
"fishable") below Lake Hamilton to Arkadelphia and well beyond. Supplies,
including rental canoes, are available in Arkadelphia for this stretch.
The newest recreation developments on the stream are found
in extreme southern Arkansas where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps of
Engineers are constructing facilities within the Fesenthal National Wildlife Refuge.
Hunters and fishermen are giving the area rave reviews for the quality of wildlife, fishing and other recreation opportunities.