One of the most popular reasons everyone comes to Fayetteville is to experience the outdoors in the Ozarks, whether it’s hiking and mountain biking the trail system or birdwatching and picnicking in one of Fayetteville’s 3,000 acres of natural areas and parks.
Along with having ample outdoor opportunities within the city, another great aspect of Fayetteville is that the city is surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers that offer a variety of outdoor adventures. Guests can stay in the comforts of a hotel and soon be transported into the natural beauty of Northwest Arkansas with a quick drive — and come back the same day for dining, entertainment and nightlife.
The nearby scenic rivers of the Ozarks make for excellent day floats, also offering plenty of opportunities for fishing and hiking. Whether you and your crew are looking for a half-day or full-day float, on canoes or kayaks, there are plenty of options right outside of Fayetteville. Here are a few popular river floats to get you started.
Located to the east of Fayetteville, the Kings River is a tributary of the White River. It starts in Madison County, near Boston — in the Boston Mountains, the highest point of the Ozarks — and flows northward for more than 90 miles into Table Rock Lake in Missouri.
Best floated from April to June or during fall rains, the Kings River is rated from easy to medium. There are multiple access points near Kingston, Marble, Rockhouse, Berryville and Grandview, allowing floaters to customize their float duration.
The Kings River is undammed and bordered by rural and forested land, which is why it’s so popular for paddling and fishing, especially for smallmouth bass; other species include walleye, channel cats and white bass.
Located to the southeast of Fayetteville in the Ozark National Forest and designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the Mulberry is a tributary of the Arkansas River. It starts in southwest Newton County and flows a total of 70 miles, generally westward through Johnson and Franklin counties, eventually turning south toward the town of Mulberry and into the Arkansas River Valley.
The Mulberry river varies greatly in its flow, depending upon the season and recent precipitation, but the water level is usually adequate for paddling between October and June. The 45-mile stretch that is best for floating begins at the Wolf Pen Access and Recreation Area, between Oark and Cass. There are Class I to III rapids at many points in the river, so floating can be hazardous if the water level is high.
There are several access points along the river offering camping and supplies, like Turner Bend on Highway 23, just south of the famous Pig Trail Scenic Byway. In late spring and early summer, the river is an excellent choice when angling for smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass and green and longear sunfish.
Visitors to the Mulberry can expect prime Ozark Mountains scenery — narrow canyons, tree-lined bluffs, and dense woods. Be on the lookout for black bears!
Buffalo National River
Located east of Fayetteville is the state’s most famous float, the Buffalo National River, the first national river to be designated in the United States. The designation protects the Buffalo from industrial uses, impoundments and other obstructions that may change the natural character of the river or disrupt the natural habitat for the flora and fauna that live in or near the river.
The river is 150 miles long and flows west to east through Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter counties. However, it’s western stretch — known as the Upper Buffalo — starts in Boxley, which is only an hour drive from Fayetteville. With plenty of major access areas, staying in Fayetteville and floating part of the Buffalo is very doable. In fact, the most iconic overlook in Arkansas, Whitaker Point aka Hawksbill Crag, is located near Boxley.
The Buffalo is a clear waterway, which makes it a great place to fish for bass, perch and catfish. Like with the Kings and Mullberry, smallmouth bass rule the upper Buffalo River, but as you move downstream, you can find spotted bass (Kentuckies) and largemouth bass. Catfish can be found anywhere on the Buffalo.
Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism