7 Best Places to Kayak in Arkansas

Arkansas is home to some of America’s best rivers and streams for kayaking. The natural beauty surrounding you on Arkansas’s waterways will make any trip worth it.

If you’re looking for a new adventure, check out some of Arkansas’s best places to kayak.

Arkansas has almost 10,000 miles of waterways to explore by kayak. So whether you are looking for whitewater or flat water, there is something for paddlers of all levels.

Please read on if you are interested in kayaking Arkansas rivers and lakes. If we missed your favorite kayak spot in Arkansas, let us know in the comments below.

Before heading out for a day on the water, check the conditions and have the appropriate gear.

Buffalo National River

Located in Northern Arkansas, paddling down the Buffalo is a great way to spend an afternoon enjoying nature and wildlife.

It’s relatively flat water, perfect for beginners trying kayaking for the first time or even families looking to enjoy a peaceful trip.

The upper part of the river is known for whitewater that will get your adrenaline pumping, while the lower section is more tranquil paddling.

As you paddle along the Buffalo River, you’ll run into deep gorges and dense undergrowth, home to all kinds of wildlife, including beavers, otters, waterfowl, eagles, and elk.

Fun fact, the Buffalo River was the first National River designated in the United States.

A great stretch is from Steel Creek to Kyle’s Landing, where you will encounter a few rapids but mostly just float.

Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in Arkansas and has easy access points. It’s also home to Lake Ouachita State Park, where you can camp or go fishing, so there are plenty of activities to do on top of kayaking.

The spectacular Ouachita National Forest surrounds the 40,000-acre clear, clean lake. The lake has a tidy reputation as one of the cleanest in the country.

As a testament to the water’s clarity, don’t be surprised if folks are snorkeling in the lake. However, you also won’t run out of places to paddle. There is a ton of shoreline to explore on the lake and islands to kayak to.

If you are new to kayaking, check out Ouachita Kayak Tours, they have great rates, and tours are available throughout the year. However, they close kayak tours when the water drops below 60 degrees.

But never fear. Another great part about Lake Ouachita, it is open year-round. It can get chilly in the winter, so make sure you dress accordingly.

Kayak rentals are available at the Lake Ouachita State Park Marina.

Bull Shoals Lake

Bull Shoals Lake is tucked away in the Ozarks, in north-central Arkansas, right on the border with Missouri. This man-made lake is part of the White River and is perfect for anglers, hikers, boaters, and anyone who wants to get out on the water in a kayak or canoe.

The large lake has hundreds of miles of coves and fingers to explore. You are in luck if you enjoy paddling, kayak fishing, or other watersports. You can enjoy serene paddling along Bull Shoals Lake’s calm waters.

The lake is also filled with various wildlife, so it’s great for nature lovers looking for an up-close view of majestic animals in their natural habitats. The water is clear, and you can often see 20+ feet down.

Bull Shoals is much less developed than other areas, which is why people love paddling here.

Outstanding bass fishing and friendly people, what more could you ask for?

Spring River

Spring River is known for having a variety of paddling conditions. There are long stretches of flatwater, combined with some other areas with Class I-II rapids.

This variety of flow on the river makes it an excellent spot for beginners or folks who have not been on whitewater. It’s a great way to break in. Also, it can be a bit more challenging, so experienced kayakers can have some fun too.

Also, if you’re new to this sport, plenty of companies offer kayak rentals along the river so that even beginners can try it out safely.

You can paddle the river in half a day if you take your time, but can also get it done much quicker. There are campsites along the river if you are up for kayak camping, but it gets busy in the summer, so reservations are advised.

Spring River is an excellent spot for families and paddlers at all levels.

Big Piney Creek

Don’t be fooled by the name. Big Piney Creek is no joke. The river has Class I to III whitewater, with many rapids that will challenge experienced whitewater paddlers.

You need intermediate to high level whitewater paddling skills to safely navigate, especially during high flows.

Big Piney Creek also features outstanding scenery, including small waterfalls and scenic bluffs that line the forested river banks. You can expect to see various wildlife, including deer, black bears, beavers, etc.

The adventure hearty will love Big Piney Creek, and you will need to dress accordingly. The air and water temps are cold. A wetsuit or drysuit is recommended.

If you want a slower pace, consider paddling from Long Pool to Piney Bay and Lake Dardanelle. This is generally a slower flow with some Class I rapids here and there. However, this can be a tranquil paddle through lovely natural scenery.

It’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Lake Dardanelle

There are a variety of waterways for you to choose from to have the perfect kayaking experience in Arkansas. Lake Dardanelle is one of the best places to go.

The Arkansas River was dammed, forming Lake Dardanelle. Given its large size, the geographical features you’ll encounter along its shores vary considerably.

Some are covered by hardwood and evergreen forests, while others border farmland or residential communities. Arkansas’s only nuclear power plant is located on a section of the reservoir.

Kayaks are available for rent at Lake Dardanelle State Park. You can access the river from the park or many launch sites around the lake, making portage super easy. The state park has boat ramps, and plenty of parking if you have a kayak trailer.

Camping, kayaking, and fishing are popular activities here. If you are looking for flatwater paddling, you will find plenty here.

The lake is excellent for beginners and families who love to kayak.

Mulberry River

The Mulberry River is located in northwestern Arkansas, kind of in the middle of nowhere. However, the Mulberry River is a popular paddling stream in Arkansas and offers a variety of opportunities to explore nature up close.

The river flows about 62 miles and has Class I-III rapids, perfect for certain inflatable kayaks. Easier rapids are an excellent place for beginner kayakers to learn how to attack whitewater. However, experts can enjoy the more challenging rapids found on this river too.

Plenty of wildlife along the way that you’ll often see while paddling down the stream, so keep your action camera handy.

If you’re looking for some flatwater paddling, there’s plenty here as well; beginners or families with children will love exploring this flatwater paddle.

The Mulberry River has some excellent campsites along the way, which can make for a nice weekend.

Mulberry River is a great place to kayak with its easy rapids that are great for beginner kayakers, and you can enjoy wildlife while paddling downstream.

The river also has more challenging rapids for those looking for more adventure.


There are a variety of waterways for you to choose from to have the best kayaking experience in Arkansas. So whether you’re looking for easy rapids or more challenging adventures, there is something here suited for your needs.

No matter what kind of waterway suits your fancy, slow-moving flatwater or fast whitewater, chances are it’s waiting for you in Arkansas.

For those who want an unforgettable adventure exploring natural beauty up close while enjoying beautiful scenery, Arkansas is an excellent place to kayak.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.