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Frog Bayou, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Mountainburg to Rudy
~ 21.5 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Frog Bayou forms in Crawford County of northwest Arkansas in the Ozark National Forest just west of the Mulberry River, and south of the White River and Fayetteville. It flows southwest from Lake Fort Smith through Mountainburg to Rudy and its confluence with the Arkansas River just a few miles northeast of Fort Smith and the Oklahoma State Line. Frog Bayou is a Class I to II stream, narrow in width, with a gradient of about 20 fpm. Though close to Fort Smith and running almost parallel to US Highway 71, this waterway has all the characteristics of a very remote stream. It is situated in a gorgeous part of a beautiful state amid dense stands of pines, oaks, elms, pecans and walnuts lining narrow mountain roads between Devil's Den and Lake Fort Smith State Parks. Its flow derives from dam-released water at the lake, augmented by local rainfall in its drainage basin.

Frog usually has a navigable flow from late-fall through mid-spring, when nights are very cold and days are cool to cold, though occasionally mild enough for enjoyable boating. It is a canoe and kayak stream with very similar characteristics to those of the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek, though not quite as technical or challenging. What it lacks in difficulty is more than offset by its natural scenic beauty. This Arkansas River tributary is one more reason to visit the area that also gives birth to the Buffalo National River. Getting to Frog Bayou is half the fun, and often more dangerous than running it. Roads leading to the stream are usually forested mountains on one side and forested valleys on the other side. These roads can be dangerous anytime, and treacherous in winter, when their steep grades, rolling hills tracks, narrow widths and sharp bends on often icy conditions make driving "exciting", almost like running the Cossatot River in a car. Driving time is long and driving speed is necessarily slow, so be sure to allow adequate time to arrive at your destination. Getting there a day early is always a good idea. Look for a reading of 3-7 feet on the USGS gauge at Rudy for navigable flows in Frog Bayou, where this 21.5 mile run ends.


Crawford County in northwestern Arkansas, near the Oklahoma State Line. Fort Smith is very near the take-out at Rudy, and Fayetteville is just a few miles north of the put-in at Mountainburg.

Distance from major cities

Little Rock 159 miles; Fort Smith 25 miles; Fayetteville 37 miles; Texarkana 211 miles; Memphis 285 miles; Dallas 300 miles; Austin 500 miles; San Antonio 580 miles; Houston 540 miles; Oklahoma City 211 miles; Kansas City 270 miles; Albuquerque 753 miles; Phoenix 1,230 miles; Denver 853 miles; Grand Junction 1,095 miles; Salt Lake City 1,360 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is usually very good to excellent in fall and winter months, declining to good in late-spring through early fall months. Flow is dependent upon dam releases at Lake Fort Smith and recent local rainfall within the drainage basin. Flows are usually too low to paddle from early May through October.

Best time to go

The optimum season for paddling Frog Bayou is between November and early-April, though daytime temperatures will be very cool to cold for most of that time, and nights will be very cool to cold with temperatures near or below freezing. Mornings often begin with dense fog and steam clouds rising from the bayou.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards on Frog Bayou for competent paddlers. However, the remoteness of the area, coupled with swift currents and a narrow channel can combine to create dangers for those not prepared and unattentive to the characteristics of the stream. Water and air temperatures are a significant concern, and wearing wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer is strongly recommended for late-fall through mid-spring paddling.

River Access Points

Mountainburg, off US Highway 71, at 0.0 miles; Lancaster Bridge at about 13.5 miles; Rudy off SH 162 near US Highway 71 and IH 40/US Highway 64 at about 21.5 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of Frog Bayou

Campgrounds and accommodations

Lake Fort Smith State Park on river left near the put-in, offers excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, hot showers and other amenities. There are no other campgrounds located along Frog Bayou. However, one other state park and four USFS campgrounds, as well as one commercial campground, are located nearby. Devils Den State Park, located off SH 71 northwest of Lake Fort Smith, offers excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, hot showers and other amenities. Shores Lake and Grays Spring Campgrounds (USFS) are located off SH 215 between Frog Bayou and the Mulberry River, offering campsites. Wolf Pen Recreation Area (USFS) is located on the Mulberry River along SH 215 just west of SH 103, offering campsites. Redding Campground is located off SH 215 east of the Mulberry River and SH 23, offering campsites.There are at least three commecial operators offering camping facilities along the nearby Mulberry River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters located on Frog Bayou. Rentals and shuttles may be available from any of at least three commercial outfitters located on the Mulberry River nearby.

Reviewer's comments

Frog Bayou is a great paddling destination for many reasons, not the least of which include its very close proximity to the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek. The Buffalo National River and White River headwaters are just a few miles to the north and Bayou Foursche LaFave is not too far to the south. If you have a week to spend paddling Arkansas streams and want to avoid doing the same run twice, then this area is perfect, as long as you can withstand the chilly conditions that may greet you upon your arrival. The Ozark Mountains offer clear, dark skies at night with billions of stars visible. From the Mulberry River I first viewed Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997, when it made its stellar appearance, and even with the naked eye the view was awesome. Daytime viewing of Mother Nature at work is equally, if not more, impressive. This area appreciates and caters to recreational boaters, offering many great places to paddle, camp and enjoy the best of what Arkansas has to attract visitors and keep them coming back. March and April are probably the ideal time of year for paddling Frog and the other great streams of this area, so pack your cold weather paddling gear and head for Arkansas for a trip you will always remember fondly. It will forever be one of my personal favorite places to paddle a canoe!

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 21.5 miles
Min. Stage 3 feet
Opt. Stage 4-6 feet
Max. Stage 7 feet
First Put-in Mountainburg
Lat. / Long. 35.6483345 / -94.163887
Last Take-out SH 162 at Rudy
Lat. / Long. 35.5275002 / -94.2788925
Elevation msl
Gradient 20 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 07250965 (Winfrey)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season November through April
Permits No

Arkansas Canoe Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Arkansas River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Arkansas River Homepage ] [ Arkansas River ] [ Bayou Metro ] [ Big Piney Creek ] [ Little Piney Creek ] [ Cadron Creek ]
[ Bayou Foursche LaFave ] [ Mulberry River ] [ Petit Jean River ] [ Shoal Creek ] [ Lee Creek ] [ Hurricane Creek ] [ Cub Creek ]
[ Fall Creek ][ Illinois Bayou ] [ Illinois Bayou North Fork ] [ Illinois Bayou Middle Fork ]

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