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Saline River, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Dierks Lake Dam to Millwood Lake Boat Ramp
~ 48.9 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Below Dierks Lake the Saline River continues to its confluence with the Little River at Millwood Lake along the Sevier - Howard County Line. This gorgeous run is about about 38 miles from the Dierks Dam to SH 27, 45.6 miles to CR 23/Bright star Road, or 48.9 miles to the Millwood Lake boat ramp off Gatehouse Road, though playboaters frequently limit their runs to the first 5.4 miles and two take outs between the dam and US Highway 70 where most of the Class II to II+ rapids are located. This reach has an average gradient of about 15.6 fpm above US Highway 70, with its steepest section at about 25 fpm, then flattens to about 4 fpm below there to Millwood Lake. It needs a stage level of at least about 6 feet for good boating, and becomes dangerous above about 9 feet. In addition to boulder garden rapids, willow strainers, dead-fall debris and small holes and ledges there are low-water bridges to avoid. About 2.5 miles below Dierks Dam is one such bridge with culverts through which water passes. These culverts trap tree debris and create serious entrapment threats to boaters and boats. At high flows the strong currents can act like a venturi effect to suck a boat into one of the culverts resulting in serious injury or death. Take out upstream of the bridge to avoid the possibility of becoming a casualty statistic.

While the Upper Saline is almost totally dependent upon recent local rainfall for navigable flows the Lower Saline is dam-release controlled, and may have water for paddling after other area streams have ceased flowing. However, releases are conditional upon the amount of water in Dierks Lake, and when it is below the conservation level do not count on releases. In the fall, after a long, hot summer, releases can produce a sulphur odor that is unpleasant, but such is the condition of deoxygenated water coming from a small lake where a collection of dead trees, animals and fish combine to decompose into a "natural fragrance" in the watery compost pile at the bottom of the lake. Many paddlers opt for the use of noseplugs in fall months. If not for the weight, bulkiness and possible entrapment on lines, a scuba tank and mask might be even better, but that is a novel idea that probably has not been tried. The Ouachita National Forest and Caddo Mountains scenery is just awesome, augmenting the beauty of this great river that is located close to Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana borders, and even closer to the fabled Cossatot River. Paddlers with limited whitewater experience can develop and hone their skills on this stream, but caution must be exercised whenever approaching any of the potential hazards that await. This river is very narrow and lined with willow trees, so there is not a lot of wiggle room in case a hazard sneaks up on you.

Access at US 70, River Road (CR409), US 371 and SH 27 is fairly decent, but access at CR 23 (Bright Star Road), the final take-out above Millwood Lake, is rough and very heavily vegetated with minimal room for parking vehicles during launch or recovery, and it would not be a good place to leave vehicles while on the river. The boat ramp off Gatehouse Road on Millwood Lake, just 3.25 miles below Bright Star Road, has a paved parking lot and easy access to and fromthe river. But, the entire channel on this run is a densely forested, remote area with no signs of civilization other than a few road crossings, which provide access for trips of varying lengths between the two lakes. It is also possible to continue down to Camping along this reach would definitely be quite primitive.


Sevier and Howard Counties in far southwestern Arkansas. The Upper Saline River flows from the Ouachita Mountains near Mena down to Dierks Lake, where the river then flows as the Lower Saline along the line between Sevier and Howard Counties to Millwood Lake and its confluence with the Little River. It is relatively close to Texarkana, Hot Springs National Park and Little Rock.

Distance from major cities

Little Rock 115 miles; Fayetteville 190 miles; Texarkana 70 miles; Fort Smith 128 miles; Oklahoma City 308 miles; Kansas City 450 miles; Dallas 245 miles; Austin 435 miles; San Antonio 515 miles; Houston 355 miles; Albuquerque 913 miles; Phoenix 1,248 miles; Durango 1,030 miles; Denver 903 miles; Grand Junction 1,097 miles; Salt Lake City 1,379 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 will be good to excellent if there has been heavy rainfall in the local area, or during periods of spring releases from Dierks Lake. Quality will be poor during periods of extended drought, when the water will become seriously deoxygenated. Flow is heavily dependent upon local rainfall, and fall flows are dependent upondam releases ar Dierks Lake for sufficient water to paddle. This section needs a stage of at least 6 feet, and a maximum of 9 feet, at the Dierks USGS gauge for good boating.

Best Times to Go

Avoid the hot summer months or anytime after an extended drought. Immediately after local heavy rainfall is generally best, and the river is historically at its prime from mid fall through late spring, though the Ozarks are cold in the winter.

Hazards to Navigation

Other than the low-water bridge about 2.66 miles below Dierks Lake Dam, there are no significant hazards on the Lower Saline River for competent boaters. However, any of the rapids, strainers, log jams, holes, ledges and cross currents can become hazards for lax boaters or those who fail to exercise control to avoid them. Like the upper river, this reach is expecially dangerous at high flows. The narrow, tree-lined channel offers numerous places to get into trouble. Vigilance is the key to safely running the Lower Saline River.

River Access Points

Put in off Horseshoe Bend Access Road (N 34° 08' 34.68" / W 094° 05' 42.77") below Dierks Lake Dam north of US Highway 70 and west of SH 4 on river right at 0.0 miles; CR 49 (N 34° 07' 41.12" / W 094° 05' 00.87") off 30000 Road on river left at about 2.6 miles; US Highway 70 Bridge (N 34° 05' 45.96" / W 094° 05' 04.75") on either side at about 5.7 miles; Railroad Bridge (N 34° 03' 05.21" / W 094° 05' 06.64") is a waypoint only - NO ACCESS - at about 11.4 miles; River Road / CR409 (N34° 02' 43.65" / W 094° 05' 06.79") on river rights at about 12.0 miles; US 371 Bridge (N 33° 57' 43.81" / W 094° 03' 41.52") on river right at about 22.6 miles; Unnamed county road (N 33° 54' 02.42" / W 094° 03' 13.36") is a possible access, primarily in emergencies, at about 31.0 miles; SH 27 Bridge (N 33° 51' 35.72" / W 094° 01' 18.42") on either side at about 38.0 miles; CR 23 / Bright Star Road (N 33° 49' 07.88" / W 094° 59' 07.75") on river right is a rough access just above Millwood Lake; Millwood Lake boat ramp (N 33° 47' 42.08" / W 093° 57' 51.43") off Gatehouse Road from Cottongin Road offers a paved boat ramp and large, paved parking area with easy access. There are no other access points for the Lower Saline River without paddling across the lake.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along the Saline River. Millwood Lake offers numerous camping areas including Millwood Lake State Park on the south side of the lake. Shady Lake and Bard Springs Campgrounds, both just north of the headwaters, offer excellent campsites. On or near the Cossatot River Gillham Lake offers primitive campsites; Cossatot River State Park (870-385-2201) offers 6 tent sites without water or electricity; Queen Wilhelmina State Park (479-394-2863) at Mena offers 41 campsites of three classes; Daisy State Park (870-398-4487) at Kirby, near the Little Missouri River, offers 117 campsites including 21 tent sites, picnic areas, a screened pavilion with restrooms, boat launch ramps, hiking trails, a playground, and a motorcycle/mountain bike/ATV trail; There are limited primitive campsites at the SH 246 crossing, Ed Banks Road crossing and SH 4 crossing.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or shuttle services operating on or in the immediate vicinity of the Lower Saline River. Bring your own boats and gear, and arrange your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

For paddlers not quite ready for Class III whitewater, or those wanting a longer trip than the short 13 miles of the Upper Saline, the river below Dierks Lake offers a slendid 48.9 mile run on Class I to II water that is interesting and fun, but not particularly challenging, even for boaters with modest experience. The flatter gradient, which is much shallower than that of the upper river, provides for a slower current and the rapids are smaller, though the river is still narrow and lined with trees along both banks most of the way downriver. The Saline is a fantastic place to paddle in Arkansas if you are not looking for big water excitement. It is remote and very natural, but this section offers several excellent access points so paddlers can choose the length of trip they want to take. For those living in Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fayetteville or Little Rock the driving distance is fairly short, and you can be here in just a few hours, which is often about all the time you will have to catch optimum flows. This is not a rafting river, and could be hazardous to other inflatable craft because of tree debris in the water. However, canoeists and kayakers can really enjoy themselves on the Lower Saline, and if a bigger adrenaline rush is needed, the the Upper Saline and Cossatot are very nearby. Come in the fall to see the gorgeous changing of seasons, and mid- to late-spring ain't bad, either!

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 48.9 miles
Min. Stage ~ 6 feet
Opt. Stage ~ 6.5-8 feet
Max. Stage ~ 9 feet
First Put-in Dierks Lake Dam
Lat. / Long. N 34° 08' 34.68" / W 094° 05' 42.77"
Last Take-out Millwood Lake boat ramp
Lat. / Long. N 33° 47' 42.08" / W 093° 59' 51.43"
Elevation 447 - 264 feet msl
Gradient 4 fpm av (15.6 fpm above US 70)
USGS Gauge Web: Dierks
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Dam-release dependent
Permits No

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

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

[ Little River Homepage ] [ SH 14 to Millwood Lake ] [ Millwood Dam to Red River confluence ]
[ Upper Cossatot River ] [ Lower Cossatot River ] [ Upper Saline River ] [ Baker Creek ]

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Last updated October 29, 2014

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