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Cimarron River, Oklahoma
Report by Lyle Lockwood and Marc W. McCord

US Highway 77 to State Highway 51
~ 90 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Cimarron River flows about 698 miles from Colfax County, New Mexico, into Colorado, then into Oklahoma's northwest panhandle before entering Kansas then back down into and accross northwestern Oklahoma, and on down to Keystone Lake where it joins the Arkansas River just west of Tulsa. The section best suited for paddling flows some 90 miles west to east from US Highway 77 in Logan County to SH 51 above Keystone Lake. The river is wide and flat, with any obstacles easily avoided. The only place on this stretch of the river that could be dangerous is the double bridge at Interstate 35, and only at medium to high flow rates (low flows being 500 cfs, and high flows being 10,000 cfs.) At levels below 500 cfs at Guthrie hunting the channel becomes a challenge, easily increasing a 20 mile trip by 3 or 4 miles.

The water is slightly murky to blood red, depending on the flow rate. After heavy rains, the banks become muddy when the river drops, but even then clean sand can be found for pit stops or campsites. The best time to run the Cimarron is spring or fall, because the river is dependent on run off from recent local rains. The river has rock outcrops and scenic vistas, with wildlife abundant and people few and far between. The most scenic part of this section of the river is between SH 18 in Payne County and SH 48 in Creek County. In the spring the catfish bite on crawdads at night, and the sandbass and spoonbills make their runs. In late September, the pelicans move onto the river in the hundreds, with the bald eagles showing up in mid October. Camping on the river is rarely a problem because of the numerous sand banks and bars, even at 10,000 cfs. When camping on sand bars keeping an eye on the weather is a must.


Logan, Payne and Creek Counties in northcentral Oklahoma, starting just north of Guthrie in Logan County, flowing past Stillwater in Payne County and emptying into Keystone Lake just west of Tulsa in Creek County.

Distance from major cities

Dallas 245 miles; Austin 435 miles; San Antonio 520 miles; Houston 490 miles; Oklahoma City 40 miles; Tulsa 100 miles; Little Rock miles; Kansas City miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Denver miles; Salt Lake City miles (all distance are approximate depending upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally murky, turning blood red from mud after local rainfall. Flow is best between 500 cfs and 10,000 cfs in spring and fall months. The water in the Cimarron River is not potable, even with purification, due to an excessively high salt content. Be sure to bring your own water for drinking, cooking or other personal uses.

Best time to go

Most people prefer Spring and Fall because of usually higher flows and milder temperatures. The river is dependent upon run-off from local rains within the drainage basin, so it may run high and fast, moderate and smooth, slow and meandering or not at all according to what Mother Nature decides to give us.

Hazards to navigation

There are no major hazards, and no rapids, on the Cimarron River. Downed trees and debris can become obstacles, especially after floods, but the width of the river usually allows for safe passage around them.

River Access Points

US Highway 77 bridge at 0.0 miles; SH 33 bridge (at Coyle) at 18.5 miles; US Hwy 177 bridge (at Perkins) at 32.5 miles; SH 33 bridge (south of Ripley) at 40.5 miles; SH 108 bridge (north of Ripley) at 43.5 miles; SH 18 bridge (north of Cushing) at 59.5 miles; SH 99 bridge (at Oilton) at 83.0 miles; SH 51 bridge at 90.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no commercial or private campgrounds operating along the Cimarron River. However, there are abundant sandbars in and along the banks of the river that are suitable for primitive campsites or rest stops.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no commercial liveries or shuttle services operating on the Cimarron River. Plan on bringing your own boats and arranging your own shuttles. Access is adequate, though parking at public access rights-of-way will be limited, and frequently remote. Be sure to secure anything of value (it is best not to leave valuables in cars parked at remote locations on this, or any, river!)

Reviewer's comments

The Cimarron River is a little traveled, but very scenic river flowing through historic Oklahoma Native American lands. It is characterized by the typical red clay soil indigenous to Oklahoma, a source of the red color that is often seen in the waters of the Cimarron. With several access points for putting in or taking out, the Cimarron offers several trips of varying lengths as well as a multi-day trip covering the entire 103 miles. Avoid the dog days of summer, when flows will be low and dragging or carrying boats and gear may be necessary. Even though the final take-out at the SH 48 bridge is somewhat difficult, the scenery on the lower 43.5 miles between SH 18 in Payne County and SH 48 in Creek County is the most beautiful section to paddle because of natural vegetation, geological formations and remoteness.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 103 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 to 10,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 15,000 cfs
First Put-in US Highway 77 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 48 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 07159100 (Dover)
Web: 07160000 (Guthrie)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Spring and fall months are preferable
Permits No

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

Cimarron River map (C) Marc W. McCord, 2004. All rights reserved.

Dallas Down River Club - Promoting paddlesports, safety and environmental protection

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

[ Arkansas River Homepage ] [ Kaw Lake to SH 99 ] [ Keystone State Park to US Hwy. 69 ] [ Salt Fork of the Arkansas River ]
[ Bird River ] [ Caney River ] [ Salt Creek ] [ Spring River ] [ Stillwater Creek ] [ Verdigris River ] [ Neosho River ]

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