The Spring River forms in Howell County of south central Missouri just a few miles south of the Eleven Point River and near the Mark Twain National Forest, then flows southward as an underground river into Arkansas at Mammoth Springs in Fulton County where it forms on the surface just south of the Missouri State line. It then flows down through Fulton County, across the northeast tip of Sharp County and into Lawrence County to its confluence with the Eleven Point River just above SH 361. The river then flows a few miles south to its confluence with the Black River, also flowing down from Missouri, near Old Davidsonville State Historical Park. The total length of the river is only about 54 miles, but it packs a lot of excitement and scenery in a few miles. Generally, the Spring River is a year-round paddling stream, assuming you are able to withstand the rigors of the Missouri Ozarks winter, which can be quite cold.
If you like whitewater, but aren’t quite sure about running the ‘Tot, then the Spring River in far northeastern Arkansas may be just what the doctor ordered. There is plenty of excitement here! Best of all, there is always plenty of water coming fresh, clear and cold. A wetsuit would not be out of fashion on the Spring River anytime of the year. More than 9.78 million gallons per hour flow down from Missouri in an underground river at Mammoth Springs. There are numerous small rapids, about 20 ledge drop waterfalls of 1-2 feet, and High Falls, a drop of about 6 feet, in the first 14.3 miles starting about 3 miles below the Dam # 3 put-in. These are mostly Class I-I+ drops, with easy portages for those who choose not to run them. At a constant 58° F, the water looks inviting, but if you capsize, then you will need to get out of the water fast, especially in any month except the summer, to avoid hypothermia.
The surroundings are a feast for the eyes. Towering cliffs and beautiful trees surround an excellent trout stream that is also home to walleye, rock, spotted and smallmouth bass, flathead and channel catfish, longear and warmouths, as well as other species. Numerous creeks feed the river all the way down to the South Fork confluence at High Falls. The air is crisp and clean in a largely unpopulated and unpolluted part of Arkansas. This is a popular section of the Spring River, so expect to see many other boaters, primarily in canoes and kayaks, but also in rafts. Summer weekends will be the most crowded, so if solitude is what you crave, then take a mid-week trip to avoid the crowds.
This section of the Spring River is located in Fulton and Sharp Counties of northeastern Arkansas. It begins at Mammoth Spring, just across the Arkansas-Missouri border, and flows north to south down to Hardy at the lower end of the run. The popular run starts just below Dam 3 a few miles downriver from Mammoth Spring, and avoids portages around three dams, two of which are significant structures.
Distance From Major Cities
Dallas 485 miles; Fort Worth 520 miles; Austin 685 miles; San Antonio 775 miles; Houston 735 miles; Oklahoma City 500 miles; Little Rock 160 miles; Memphis 130 miles (all distance are approximate, and depend upon starting point, put-in destination at the river and route taken.
Water Quality and Flow
The quality is excellent, almost drinkable right from the spring. The Flow is C3 – clear, cold and continuous is how to best describe it. At nearly 10 million gallons per hour, the spring pumps plenty of water into the river to keep it continually flowing, so you can paddle here anytime you are outfitted for the weather and climate conditions.
Best Times To Go
Anytime is a great time to paddle the Spring River, with the possible exception of during a winter blizzard. The flow is always more than adequate and the rapids are always moderately challenging. A wetsuit might also be appropriate on this river due to the water temperature.
Hazards To Navigation
The Spring River is characterized by numerous Class I-II rapids that sharpen one’s whitewater skills. Starting about 3 miles below the Dam # 3 put-in are three unnamed rapids at 3.0 miles, 3.5 miles and 4.2 miles. Cottonwood Falls is at 5.0 miles, followed by Saddler Falls, a double drop fall with several narrow, swift channels at 5.5 miles. Choose your line carefully and go for it! The first fall is rather small and can be run on the left. Line up just left of center for the second drop over the larger of the two falls. Immediately after the the second fall is a small, very technical drop that can be run after careful planning, or portaged along the left bank.
At 5.8 miles sits Horseshoe Falls, a moderate drop of about 4-5 feet with a bypass channel on the left where you can avoid the drop altogether if you are so inclined. At about 8.0 miles is a section called “Many Islands” because of the presence of several small islands in mid-stream, below which are a number of small, somewhat technical rapids down past Myatt Creek on river right at 9.4 miles and Gut Creek on river right at about 9.9 miles. At about 11.7 miles sits a somewhat difficult fall where the river narrows, producing strong, swift currents and moderate to large standing waves that can easily swamp an open boat – choose your line carefully!
There is a mandatory portage around the 9 Mile Road low-water bridge at mile 12.1 – take out on river right, well above the bridge, and put in again just below the bridge. Be careful of fast currents here that could sweep you under the bridge. In high water, where flow goes over the top of the bridge, there will be a serious hole and hydraulic current immediately below the bridge, and it is possible that you could get swept under the bridge if you approach it too closely. At 14.6 miles, where the Spring River and the South Fork of the Spring River converge sits the largest fall on the river. Called High Falls, it is a drop of about 5-6 feet that can be run in the groove just left of the main fall. After that drop it is a short 1.55 miles to the Hardy take-out. If you have any doubts about any of these drops, then be sure to scout them first, and if you lack confidence in being able to successfully negotiate the runs, then portage safely around the drops.
Altogether, there are probably 20 or more ledge drops and small waterfalls along this reach of the Spring River. Most are generally not challenging for skilled boaters, but care must be taken not to capsize and hit your head on rocks. During late-spring through early-fall months the drops may be congested with swimmers and waders, so be careful of not injuring somebody by hitting them with a moving boat.
River Access Points
Follow Arkansas Highway 63 to Arkansas Highway (and I use the term “highway” VERY loosely!) 342, then turn west for less than a mile, where the “highway” ends at the river. Put in on river left (east side) and follow the left side channel into the main channel. Saddle Falls Canoe Rentals at 5.0 miles, Spring River Oaks at 6.0 miles and Many Island Camp at 7.5 miles (accessible via a dirt road) are access points available to paddlers on this 15 mile run. The Hardy take-out at 15.0 miles is the last place to take out on this section of the Spring River.
Campgrounds And Accommodations
At least six commercial campgrounds are available on the Spring River offering tent camping, cabins, screened shelters, motels and other accommodations. Other commercial facilities may be available. There are many natural campsites along the riverbanks for those who want to break this 15 mile trip into more than one day, or who want to stay overnight and run it again on a second day. Considering the remoteness of this river and the thrill of the ride, staying more than one day is a good idea for those prepared for the drops.
Outfitters & Shuttle Service
At least six commercial outfitters are available on the Spring River offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information. The Hardy Beach take-out is a public park where you can stage shuttle vehicles at the end of your run. Other liveries may be available on the Spring River in Arkansas.
The Spring River is more than enough whitewater fun for most paddlers. It offers about 20 rapids and falls in just under 16 miles that challenge your skills without being “skullcrushers”. The river is very scenic and offers a ride that is both quasi-wild and mild, wet and dry, fast and faster and which leaves time for photographs, so stop occasionally and take some. Just make sure your camera is stored in a safe, padded, dry container to protect it from the bumps and possibly submersion in case you take an unscheduled swim at one of the falls. If you are a fisherman who enjoys running whitewater, then the Spring River is right up your alley, with 2-3 pound rainbow and brown trout abundant. After mastering the Spring River you are ready to try other more challenging Arkansas rivers for an even greater thrill ride.
Reprinted with permission by Marc W. McCord from The Southwest Paddler
Visit website at http://southwestpaddler.com/