Main Arkansas Rivers

Several rivers flow through Arkansas, including the Arkansas, White, Ouachita, and St. Francis rivers. There are also tributaries, such as the Bayou Bartholomew.

Arkansas is home to some rivers making it an ideal place for family vacations or weekend getaways. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism has preserved eleven rivers across the state. Each river varies in size, shape, and the experiences that they offer. Whether you are a kayaker, canoer, hiker looking for a short trail, or someone who wants to fish, you will find the perfect river.

Arkansas Rivers

Arkansas River

Located in the United States, Arkansas is called “The Natural State.” Its nickname comes from the fact that there are more than 90000 miles of rivers, streams, and ponds in the state. There are also four significant lakes in Arkansas: Beaver Lake, Lake Chicot, Norfork, and Lake Dardanelle.

In addition to its water-rich habitat, Arkansas is home to many natural and man-made attractions. Arkansas’s rivers offer scenic views, wildlife, and fun outdoor activities like boating and fishing.

Arkansas River Meanders (NASA, International Space Station, 02/21/14)
Arkansas River Meanders (NASA, International Space Station, 02/21/14)

The Arkansas river and the other main Arkansas rivers have been used for transportation for many centuries. The early settlers built settlements along the rivers, laying the foundations for the state we know today.

The Arkansas River is a major tributary to the Mississippi River. It flows through the state, dividing it into three distinct sections: North, Southeast, and East.

White River

During the mid-19th century, the White River was one of the leading transportation facilities for Arkansas farmers. It was used to transport crops to markets in Memphis and New Orleans. In addition, it was a transportation route for travelers between frontier settlements and river towns.

The White River has tributaries that flow from the north, including the Cache River. These tributaries flood the areas in Clay County and Lawrence County. The river was also used for transportation by keelboats. This early form of transportation required manpower to move upriver.

White River 519 D
White River 519 D

In the late 1700s, the Cherokee people built settlements along the White River. The Osage people also lived along the river in northern Arkansas and Missouri. They built homes and trade routes along the river.

In the 1940s, construction began on the White River dams. These dams hold back the river, creating manmade lakes. The four major dams in Arkansas were completed in the 1960s.

Ouachita River

Located in West-Central Arkansas, the Ouachita River is a mountain stream that begins in the Ouachita Mountains and flows south through Louisiana and Arkansas. It is a vital artery for the Mississippi Flyway and is also home to many wildlife species. The river is protected by five Locks & Dams.

The upper portion of the Ouachita River flows through Ouachita National Forest. The river also provides recreational opportunities for a large number of residents. The river is an excellent place to watch for migratory waterfowl and Neotropical migrants. The river also has extensive wetlands.

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Ouachita River Camping
Ouachita River Camping

The Ouachita River is also home to several species of native fish. These include black bass, bream, gar, and rainbow trout. There is also the Ouachita darter, a fish only found in the upper portion of the river. This fish is not found anywhere else in the world.

St. Francis River

The St. Francis River is a Class IV river located in southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas. The river stretches 207 miles from Iron County in Southeast Missouri to its confluence with the Mississippi River just north of Helena, Missouri. The river’s origins were probably in the time of French Jesuit missionary and explorer St. Francis of Assisi.

The upper section of the river flows quickly through the rugged upper portion of the Ozark Plateau. The river flows through the moderately sloped Salem Plateau in the lower section. The river’s upper section is a Class III river. Its tributaries include Big Creek, Mingo Ditch, and Saline Creek.

File:St Francis River Parkin AR 2012-05-27 009.jpg
St Francis River Parkin AR

The lower subbasin is composed of an alluvial plain topped with unconsolidated gravel. Wappapello Dam primarily controls the lower subbasin.

The upper subbasin is classified for whole-body contact recreation, except for a 3.2-mile stretch of river. This section of the river is classified for recreational fishing. Some of the best fish in this section include largemouth bass, spotted bass, and white bass.

Bayou Bartholomew

Located in Louisiana and Arkansas, Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou in the world. It is also considered a national treasure and a haven for waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife. It is home to over 100 fish species and a good fishing spot for crappie and bream.

The bayou is a tributary of the Ouachita River and begins near Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It meanders for 359 miles before forming a junction with the Ouachita River near Sterlington, Louisiana.

Bayou Bartholomew
Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew is one of the few streams in the southeast that are not impounded. However, it has suffered from logjams and sediment levels. The water level can fluctuate by as much as 30 feet between drought and flood events.

The bayou is home to more than 17 species of fish and is considered one of the state’s best places to view catfish. It also is a haven for waterfowl and basking turtles.

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