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Kayaking In Arkansas (Our Top 5 Location Picks!)

Mark Armstrong
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With thousands of miles of rivers and streams flowing through the state and lots of exciting lakes to explore, Arkansas can be an exhilarating place to paddle. That’s not to mention the almost 3 million acres of land covered by three National Forests.

Kayaking in Arkansas can be a great way to get out and experience nature, with stunning scenery, including giant bluffs, and a wealth of wildlife. To give you a little idea of what to expect we’ve put together a list of some of the spots we think you should check out.

5 Best Places To Kayak In Arkansas

1: Big Piney Creek

Big Piney Creek KayakingPin
Courtesy: VISUALIZED PERCEPTION on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Big Piney Creek is located within Ozark National Forest and is frequently considered to be one of the best float streams in Arkansas. This 67 mile long river flows into the Arkansas River and can be a great spot if you’re looking to tackle some rapids on your trip.

There are some sections of the river that are known for their fast flowing whitewater, such as the 8 mile section between Treat and Long Pool Campground. This may be best attempted if you’re an experienced whitewater paddler and generally not recommended for complete beginners.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed pace, you may prefer the stretch from Long Pool to Piney Bay and Lake Dardanelle. This is generally slow moving, with occasional Class I rapids. This can be a peaceful paddle through beautiful natural scenery and a great way to escape urban life.

2: Buffalo National River

Buffalo National River KayakingPin
Courtesy: OakleyOriginals on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Buffalo National River is 135 miles long and was the first river to be classified as a National River in the United States. If you’re looking for magnificent landscapes and opportunities to spot wildlife, the Buffalo National River can be the ideal paddling location.

Rainfall can affect whether the river is navigable but there are opportunities for both whitewater kayaking and relaxing floats. The upper river is more known for its whitewater, with the lower river being slower and usually navigable year round.

The lower section between North Maumee and Buffalo City can be ideal for shorter day trips as well as multi-day trips, with plenty of access points and campsites. You can also stop to explore the bluffs or fish.

The final section between Rush Landing and Buffalo City takes you through the Lower Buffalo Wilderness. This section is around 30 miles and will take a couple of days.

3: Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita KayakingPin
Courtesy: Antrell Williams on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in the state, with 40,000 acres of water to explore within Ouachita National Forest. As well as being great for kayaking and swimming, it can also be pretty good for fishing.

A good spot to launch is on the eastern shores at Lake Ouachita State Park, where there’s good access to the water, as well as kayak rentals, a marina and a campground.

The large lake is filled with coves and islands, with plenty of places around the lake to stop, including at Brady Mountain Recreation Area. There’s also the Ouachita Geo-Float Trail that runs between Brady Mountain Recreation Area and Spillway Recreation Area. This 16 mile trail is designed to highlight the geological features of Lake Ouachita and can add a little educational bonus to your paddling trip.

4: Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake KayakingPin
Courtesy: Alejandro Forero Cuervo on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Beaver Lake is a 28,000 acre lake in the Ozark Highlands that can be great for on-the-water adventures whether you’re paddling solo or with your family. There are lots of access points around the lake, as well as camping areas and lodgings if you’re looking to extend your trip.

The lake is filled with coves and creek arms that can be fun for exploring. With the scenic natural landscapes surrounding the lake, there is also the chance to view wildlife or fish all year round.

One spot on the lake that can be worth a paddle is Van Winkle Hollow on the southern shores. This scenic creek arm can be a relaxing paddle for all skill levels, with calm, flat water. However, there are motorized boats allowed on the lake, so you may not have the creek all to yourself.

For access to Van Winkle Hollow you can launch your kayak in Hobbs State Park Conservation Area.

5: Lake Dardanelle

Lake Dardanelle KayakingPin
Courtesy: Mike Goad on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Dardanelle is a reservoir on the Arkansas River, covering over 34,000 acres and offering fantastic opportunities for kayaking, wildlife watching, camping and fishing. It can also be a great place if you want to view bald eagles in their natural habitat.

There are a number of boat ramps around the lake where you can launch your kayak, including at the end of May Road, London and at Illinois Bayou Park. You’ll also find a launch point at Lake Dardanelle State Park, where there’s a fishing pier and a marina that offers kayak rentals.

Lake Dardanelle can be an ideal spot if you want to do a bit of kayak fishing on your trip. The lake frequently plays host to major kayak fishing tournaments where bass is the target species.

What Are The Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin
  • PFDs are required by law. There must be one US Coast Guard approved PFD for each person on board the kayak. It must be the correct size for the wearer and easily accessible.
  • Boating Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law. You will be breaking the law if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or above. If you’re under 21 the limit is 0.02%.
  • whistle or sufficient sound producing device is required on all kayaks.
  • white light or flashlight is required to be displayed on your kayak if on the water between sunset and sunrise. Visual Distress Signals (VDS) are not required.
  • Glass containers are not allowed on board a kayak in Arkansas waters.
  • Food and beverages must be stored in a sealed container while on board a kayak.
  • Secure trash containers must be attached and used on all kayaks if you are carrying food or beverages of any kind.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Arkansas

  • Buffalo Camping & Canoeing Gilbert General Store (Buffalo National River, AR – rentals)
  • Buffalo River Canoes (Buffalo National River, AR – rentals)

Final Words

Arkansas can be a perfect place for a kayaking trip, with enough rivers, streams and lakes to keep you entertained for days or even weeks. The Natural State also has an abundance of beautiful scenery and wildlife, making your paddling trip even more exciting, whether you’re on flatwater or whitewater.

Where’s your favorite paddling spot in Arkansas? Leave us a comment. If you want to help your buddies discover new kayaking locations, share this with them.

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