The Kiamichi River begins on Pine Mountain in eastern Le Flore County near the Arkansas border and flows about 165 miles in a south-southwest direction to the Red River on the Texas border. Its name derives from the French word for "waterbird". Along its path the Kiamichi River flows through Hugo Lake, which was formed by a flood control dam built about 7 miles east of the Town of Hugo and just north of the confluence of the Red River.
The uppermost reach of the Kiamichi begins In southeastern Oklahoma between SH 88 and SH 63 just west of Mena, Arkansas along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, then flows under SH 63 down to Clayton, Oklahoma in the Ouachita National Forest. The river forms just a few miles north of the headwaters of the Mountain Fork River, and follows an almost parallel course as it winds its way through the Kiamichi Mountains of Le Flore County. Between the Kiamichi River and the Mountain Fork flows the Little River. The Kiamichi is rated Class II to III on a maximum gradient of about 30 fpm amid beautiful forested banks and boulder garden rapids, though most of it is flatwater on a gentle gradient of about 7.21 fpm. Though not perpetual, the Kiamichi River usually has an adequate flow for paddlers to enjoy other than in the dead of summer or during periods of extended drought conditions. It flows moderately swift, and paddlers should have at least intermediate level whitewater skills to safely run the stream because of its remote nature and the potential for pinning and/or wrapping. It is also extremely remote, with few opportunities for outside emergency assistance to reach you on the river, so be prepared for a true wilderness run anywhere on this river, but especially above Clayton.
The upper river channel is narrow and densely lined with several species of trees, widening occasionally before constricting again. In low water conditions paddlers should be prepared to walk carrying or dragging boats and gear between pools, which are generally separated by only short distances over rocks and small plants that clog the river channel. This is especially true in the uppermost 9 miles above Forest Road N4700. In high water conditions the river spreads out into the forest and can become dangerous if fast currents are allowed to carry a boat into trees or strainers. Extreme caution should definitely be exercised any time the flow is above about 500 cfs on the Big Cedar gauge.
If you are looking for a truly remote place to paddle away from the maddening crowd, then the Upper Kiamichi River is that place! The area is very scenic, so bring a camera. The next time you are heading to the Upper Mountain Fork you might want to take a little longer and drive to the Kiamichi River less than an hour west of the Upper Mountain Fork for a closer inspection. You might just discover a hidden gem in the Ouachitas that will make you return again.
Le Flore County in Southeastern Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border in the Kiamichi Mountains chain of the Ouachita Mountains. Fort Smith, Arkansas is about 90 minutes to the northeast, McAlester, Oklahoma is about an hour to the west northwest and Dallas, Texas is about 3 hours to the southwest.
Oklahoma City 220 miles; Dallas 280 miles; Austin 470 miles; San Antonio 550 miles; Houston 403 miles; Fort Smith 90 miles; Little Rock 180 miles; Kansas City 400 miles; Denver 845 miles; Grand Junction 1,039 miles; Albuquerque 762 miles; Phoenix 1,200 miles; Salt Lake City 1,321 miles (all distance are approximate depending upon starting point, destination at the river put-in and route taken).
Water quality will generally be good to very good because of a lack of commercial development. The water will become cloudy carrying a lot of sediment after major rains swell the river. Like all Oklahoma streams, the Kiamichi River is highly dependent upon local rainfall for adequate flow. Above Clayton, and the inflow from releases at Sardis Lake, the river will be much lower than below Clayton, where the next reach begins (see link below for the Clayton to Antlers reach.) However, it is usually navigable though some dragging or carrying may be required except in August and September, when the hot, summer season has lowered its flow substantially.
The optimum season for the Upper Kiamichi River is March through June or October through November. The river has a near perpetual season that can be paddled anytime adequate water conditions and weather allow, though some dragging or carrying may be required in low water conditions.
The Upper Kiamichi River has several Class II-III rapids on a maximum gradient of about 30 fpm. Boulder gardens and small ledge drops can produce small standing waves and haystacks with cross currents, eddies, pourovers, small holes and similar hazards to navigation that can bite a boater who is not careful, especially at higher flows. Generally, boaters should have intermediate or higher level whitewater skills to safely paddle canoes or kayaks on the Kiamichi River. Hazards are minimal for competent boaters.
Forest Road NF 6032 (N 34° 38' 50.64" / W 094° 32' 34.59") north from SH 63 on either side at 0.0 miles; Unnamed dirt road (N 34° 38' 40.11" / W 094° 33' 26.04") north from SH 63 on river left at about 0.9 miles; SH 63 bridge (N 34° 38' 20.35" W 094° 36' 44.78") on either side at about 4.6 miles; US Highway 259 bridge (N 34° 38' 14.44" / W 094° 39' 12.86") on either side at about 7.7 miles; Forest Road N 4700 (N 34° 38' 23.99" / W 094° 40' 31.22") on river right at about 9.0 miles; Private low water bridge (N 34° 39' 11.63" / W 094° 43' 33.18") o river right at about 13.1 miles (emergency access ONLY); Forest Road N 4645 (N 34° 39' 36.64" / W 094° 46' 16.04") on river right at about 16.6 miles; CR 247 (N 34° 40' 58.07" / W 094° 53' 07.46") on river left at about 27.5 miles; Indian Highway (N 34° 39' 28.29" / W 095° 02' 31.58") on river right at about 44.9 miles; CR 4485 (N 34° 39' 27.14" / W 095° 03' 03.73") on river right at about 45.5 miles; US Highway 271 (N 34° 37' 19.27" / W 095° 14' 13.05" on Dry Creek north of the river on river right at about 58.7 miles; Ninepine Road (N 34° 36' 42.55" / W 095° 16' 39.23") on river left at about 62.0 miles; Jackfork Creek Access (N 34° 36' 17.25" / W 095° 20' 02.20") off SH 2 / US 271 on river left at about 66.7 miles. There may be other access points, some of which may be on private land, that can be accessed in an emergency.
NOTE: The Upper Kiamichi River has many areas where multiple channels may flow depending upon water levels. Actual distances between access points will be determined by the lines you choose. Mileages stated are for the normal water level channel.
K River Campground (580-298-2442) in the reach below this one offers riverside camping and recreational activities, a warm-water bathhouse, swimming pool, RV sites, dump station and other amenities. There are no other known campgrounds operating on the Kiamichi River.
K River Campground (580-298-2442) in the reach below this one offers canoe rentals and shuttle services. There are no other known liveries or shuttle services operating on the Kiamichi River.
The Kiamichi River is one of those little-known and less often paddled rivers that deserves more recognition than it will ever get, and that is probably a good thing for boaters who want to enjoy this beautiful stream without contending for space with throngs of others. The Lower Kiamichi River is starting to gain some recognition from paddlers in Oklahoma and North Texas, but the upper river is still a virtually undiscovered gem in the Ouachita National Forest on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. It offers Class II to III boulder garden rapids on a gorgeous Kiamichi Mountains waterway lined with dense stands of forest and natural plantlife. Wildlife and birdlife are abundant, and the river has a near-perpetual flow, so canoeists and kayakers can paddle here almost anytime other than the dead of summer or the middle of winter. It is about 3.5 hours east of Oklahoma City and 4-5 hours from Dallas, in the general vicinity of the Upper Mountain Fork and Glover Rivers, two other southeastern Oklahoma whitewater streams.
Be certain of the water level before beginning a trip on this reach of the Kiamichi River. If the water level is too low (below about 200 cfs), then you may walk a lot. If the water level is too high (above about 600 cfs), then more obstacles such as trees and strainers will come into play, some of which will be hidden by bends in some channels through which a navigable flow occurs. If you are not certain about which channel to take, then stick to those with the highest flow going to the outsides of river bends, but watch for deadfallen trees and log jams that could trap your boat. This reach of the river is often too low to paddle.