Illinois Bayou, a Class I to II whitewater river forming very near the headwaters of the Little Red, Middle Fork of the Little Red and Buffalo Rivers, Richland, Big Piney and Little Piney Creeks, is a stream that begins on the eastern slopes of Divide Mountain in Pope County near the small community of Tilly, then flows to the south toward Lake Dardanelle just west of Russellville. Arkansas SH 27 provides access, and SH 16 is not far from the first put-in at Bayou Bluff Campground. Surrounding the bayou is Ozark National Forest with its dense stands of oak, elm, pecan and willow trees that are found on most waterways in this part of the state, the latter finding their homes very near the river's edge, where paddlers can "enjoy" them up close and personal, especially if they fail to maintain good boat control. Adjacent farmland is usually well hidden behind hardwood forests that make trips seem more remote than they really are. Actually, SH 27 is never very far away, but you won't know that from the river.
Runs begin at Bayou Bluff Campground just off SH 27, with an optional put-in at the Hector bridge about 8 miles below Bayou Bluff State Recreation Area where paddlers can camp along the river. The last practical take-out above Lake Dardanelle is the SH 164 bridge at Scottsville. Between Bayou Bluff Campground and Scottsville are about 18 miles of Class I to II whitewater in a typical Arkansas pool-and-drop format, though some of the rapids can approach Class III difficulty at higher flows. Rocky shoals and a moderate gradient combine to form surfing waves near the campground, and a very testy Class II+ drop sits about one-half mile below Hector bridge. As with other waterways in the area, willow strainers are a constant threat and must be avoided. Runs end with some ledge hopping just above the SH 164 bridge, where hydraulic currents form at higher flows and pose potential hazards to boaters. Scenery all around Illinois Bayou is spectacular, so be sure to pack the camera for this trip.
Pope County of northcentral Arkansas very near the headwaters of the Buffalo Natonal and Little Red Rivers, Big Piney, Little Piney and Richland Creeks, and just a few miles north of Russellville.
Russellville 24 miles; Fayetteville 169 miles; Fort Smith 107 miles; Little Rock 100 miles; Texarkana 200 miles: Kansas City 428 miles; Oklahoma City 287 miles; Dallas 425 miles; Austin 620 miles; San Antonio 700 miles; Houston 534 miles; Albuquerque 829 miles; Phoenix 1,287 miles; Denver 912 miles; Salt Lake City 1,446 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to very good, flowing clean, clear and cold from the drainage basin around Divide Mountain. Navigable flows require recent local rainfall to provide sufficient water for paddling, most of which is found during late-fall through mid-spring months, though not for any consistent period.
The prime time to run Illinois Bayou is shortly after a significant rainstorm hits the Pope County area. October through November and late-February through mid-April are the most likely seasons, though the river can be boated almost any time after heavy local rainfall.
From the perspective of rapids and drops there is nothing particularly hazardous about Illinois Bayou. However, as flows increase standing waves, hydrualic currents around rocky shoals and the ever-present willow jungles along the banks all pose potential significant hazards to boats and paddlers. Maintaining good boat control is mandatory at all times. As the waters rise be sure to watch out for those low-water bridges!
Bayou Bluff Campground off SH 27 at 0.0 miles; Hector low-water bridge, on the upstream river right side, at about 8.0 miles; SH 164 low-water bridge at Scottsville on river left at about 18.0 miles.
Bayou Bluff Campground, on the east side of SH 27 at the put-in above Hector (between April 16 and November 15). There are no other campgrounds along Illinois Bayou, but numerous great campsites are available in close proximity: Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area (USFS) off SH 123 near Fort Douglas offers excellent campground facilities; Long Pool Campground (USFS) at the end of CR 15 at Big Piney Creek offers excellent campground facilities; Moore Outdoors (501-331-3606); Lake Dardanelle State Park on the Arkansas River near Russellville offers excellent campground facilities and other amenities. There are two other USFS campgrounds near Big Piney Creek: Rotary Ann Campground, on SH 7 south of SH 123 in Pope County, offers excellent campgrounds north of the creek, and Ozone Campground on SH 21 south of SH 123 in Johnson County near Little Piney Creek, offers excellent campgrounds north of the creek.
There are no known liveries or outfitters serving Illinois Bayou. Bring your own boats and gear, and run your own shuttles.
Like most Arkansas waterways, Illinois Bayou offers paddlers an immensely beautiful place to play. Also like other Arkansas streams, its season is fickle, and depends largely upon recent local rainfall to provide boatable flows. Runs are very remote, though SH 27 is never far away. Convenient access provides for trips of 8, 10 or 18 miles. Hazards are few, and most only come into play at higher flows, but willow strainers are a constant threat, so boaters should avoid their entrapments regardless of flow conditions. Illinois Bayou is conveniently located very near many other great Arkansas paddling destinations, not the least of which include the Buffalo National River, Richland and Falling Water Creeks, the Little Red, Middle Fork of the Little Red and Mulberry Rivers, and Big Piney and Little Piney Creeks. Usually, when one is flowing they all are flowing. Convenient camping is provided all over this area, and attests to the great effort made by the people of Arkansas to welcome visitors to their "Natural State" and its overwhelming scenic beauty.