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Kings River, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Arkansas SH 74 to Missouri SH 86
~ 82.5 miles

General Description

The Kings river rises in the Ozark National Forest north of Fallsville in Madison County, Arkansas, then flows north crossing Arkansas SH 74, US Highway 412, US Highway 62 between Eureka Springs and Berryville, and into Table Rock Lake at SH 86 in southwestern Missouri. It cuts through sandstone, limestone and shale formations to create a clear and cool-running stream. The river flows about 93.5 miles, beginning as a Class III+ whitewater stream for the first 11 miles between Dripping Springs and Arkansas SH 74 (the Upper Kings River), then becoming a more gentle Class I to I+ run for the remaining 82.5 miles into Missouri in the Mark Twain National Forest on the Barry-Stone County Line (the Lower Kings River.) The Kings River is a gorgeous stream that is surrounded by equally beautiful and scenic natural grandeur in a very remote part of the country where animals outnumber people by a substantial margin. War Eagle Creek is nearby to the west, flowing parallel to the Kings River.

The Lower Kings River, from Arkansas SH 74 to Missouri SH 86, is a run with very similar characteristics as those of the Upper Buffalo. It is a Class I to I+ stream that flows best in early to mid-spring, but at 82.5 miles it is significantly longer than the whitewater reach of the Buffalo. Rapids are smaller and less technical versions of the boulder gardens found on the Upper Kings River, partly because of a shallower gradient and slower currents. The surrounding area is pure eye candy - Ozarks mountains, rugged bluffs, tall hardwood trees, wildlife of every variety, birds galore, gravel bars and beaches, and very few roads or other signs of civilization. This area is inundated with wild azaleas, ferns, umbrella magnolias, and many other beautiful plants. Fishing for smallmouth bass, rock bass and channel catfish brings a lot of anglers to this area. Closer to the bottom of this reach, near Table Rock Lake, white bass and walleye can be found in the spring spawning months of March through early-May.

Runs end at the mouth of the river where it flows into Table Rock Lake near the Stone-Barry County Line in southwestern Missouri. You will not see large crowds of paddlers on this river, or many other people along the way for that matter. If you enjoy warm, cool or cold weather boating and camping on a gorgeous, remote river, then visit the Lower Kings River when it is flowing. You'll be glad to have discovered this one!

Location

Madison and Carroll Counties, in northwestern Arkansas, between SH 74 just west of Boxley and Ponca, near the headwaters of the Buffalo National River and Table Rock Lake near the line between Stone and Barry Counties in southwestern Missouri.

Distance from major cities

Fort Smith 115 miles; Little Rock 145 miles; Kansas City 435 miles; Memphis 282 miles; Oklahoma City 295 miles; Dallas 475 miles; Austin 671 miles; San Antonio 751 miles; Houston 584 miles; Albuquerque 837 miles; Phoenix 1,295 miles; Denver 920 miles; Grand Junction 1,216 miles; Salt Lake City 1,454 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, flowing clean, clear and cool to very cold, depending upon the season. A stage of about 3.0 feet is considered minimum for good boating, though it is possible to paddle at lower levels with a little walking.

Best Times to Go

The Lower Kings River usually flows best from about late-April through early-August. It is also possible to take enjoyable trips on the Lower Kings River anytime after significant local rainfall. If the Upper Buffalo is flowing, then the Kings River is probably flowing, also.

Hazards to Navigation

Other than cold air and water temperatures, there are no significant hazards on the Lower Kings River. Paddlers should wear wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer to avoid hypothermia during fall and winter months.

River Access Points

SH 74 off SH 21 south of Kingston and west of Ponca on river right at 0.0 miles; SH 21 bridge on river right at about 7.6 miles; Big Onion Creek at Marble on river right at about 13.4 miles; Marshall Ford Public Access on river right or river left at about 24.7 miles; Rockhouse Public Access on river left at about 40.4 miles (access is on Warm Fork Creek); Trigger Gap Landing at the SH 221 low-water bridge on river left at about 48.1 miles; US Highway 62 bridge between Eureka Springs and Berryville on river left at about 61.0 miles; Stoney Point/Summers Ford Public access on river left at about 73.6 miles; Romp Hole Public Access on river right at about 78.5 miles; and SH 86 in Missouri near Table Rock Lake at about 82.5 miles. There may be access points available along SH 21 in Arkansas, between SH 74 and US Highway 412.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are at least three commercial campgrounds located along the Kings River. Abundant natural campsites can be found along the entire length of the river, though most are on private property. Landowners along the river are gracious enough to allow use of their property for camping, so please do not abuse this priviledge, and always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. Withrow Springs State Park a few miles west off Arkansas SH 23 north of US Highway 412 offers excellent campsites with water, restrooms and other amenities. Other campgrounds are available along the Buffalo National River and at commercial campgrounds on nearby rivers including the Upper Buffalo at Ponca, the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least three commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and river information services on the Kings River. Private boat shuttles are available from area outfitters with rates dependent upon distance between put-in and take-out points. Convenient public access points allow private boaters to arrange their own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

The Lower Kings River offers much the same atmosphere and scenery as the upper reach, though the rapids are smaller and less demanding. Almost any competent boater can run the Lower Kings, but you need to be ready for long trips, usually lasting 2-6 days depending upon where ou put in and take out. The entire run is 82.5 miles from SH 74 in Arkansas to Table Rock Lake at Missouri SH 86. Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, and afford paddlers the opportunity to take their time and enjoy the immense natural beauty of the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks. There are limited services available along this river, so be sure to pack everything you need for the trip. During late-fall to mid-spring months expect cool to cold daytime and very cold nighttime temperatures. Summer paddling will have warm to hot daytime and warm nighttime temperatures. This region gets most of its seasonal rainfall in the winter and early spring months, though recent local heavy rainstorms can produce a navigable flow anytime of the year. When the river flows in October and November paddlers are treated to a spectacular display of changing colors in the trees and plantlife of the Ozarks. You will not likely see other paddlers, and maybe not anybody else except where roads cross the river, and those are very few. This is a remote trip in a gorgeous setting that is excellent for anybody who is able to withstand cold weather paddling.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to I+
Length 82.5 miles
Min. Stage 3.0 feet
Opt. Stage feet
Max. Stage feet
First Put-in Arkansas SH 74
Lat. / Long. 36.0222206 / -93.5441666
Last Take-out Missouri SH 86 at Table Rock Lake
Lat. / Long. 36.5002785 / -93.5774994
Elevation msl
Gradient 8 fpm max. / 4 fpm min.
USGS Gauge Web: Berryville
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through August
Permits No


Map of the Kings River courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Kings River map courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Floaters' Guide. Click the map to view a full sized display.

Arkansas Canoe Club - Promoting the sport of paddling

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

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Last updated January 9, 2010

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