Forming on Porter Mountain in the Caney Creek Wilderness Area is Baker Creek, short but very exciting Class II to V whitewater stream of immense natural beauty and equally technical difficulty. Baker Creek feeds Harris Creek, a tributary of the Cossatot River. This Howard County runis as difficult to find as it is to paddle - access is via Weyerhauser Industries logging roads through the pines woods of Ozark National Forest, where the roads can be nearly as treacherous as the creek, especially after a good rain, when the clay-based soil becomes slicker than owl s... (though I have no personal experience with owl s...!)
Appearances are very deceptive, and to look at the access points for Baker Creek could lead a paddler to believe that it is a benign stream of limited navigability and no real challenges. That perception would be wrong, and without sufficient creekboat whitewater skills it could be dead wrong, both literally and figuratively. The same skills required to run Cossatot Falls are necessary for Baker Creek. Paddlers should have at least strong advanced level whitewater skills in canoes or kayaks, and be trained in swiftwater rescue and First Aid.
Runs begin at about 1,600 feet msl, and the creek plunges about 400 feet in just 3.25 miles on an average agradient of about 123 fpm. A couple of 15-foot waterfalls, the first of which is about a quarter mile below the put-in, are the hair of this beast, though most of the run is easier class II to III rapids that are not too challenging for comcpeteent boaters. The creek is narrow, and big pine trees do not move when smacked by a paddler who misses the line in a swift current. If the 'Tot is right up your alley, and you are heading to Howard County, then you might want to find your way (if you can) through the forest to this awesome whitewater playground that remains relatively unknown to most of the paddling community.
Howard County, near the Saline, Cossatot and Little Rivers just north of Texarkana and west of Dierks Lake. The Oklahoma State Line is very near to the west.
Little Rock 160 miles; Texarkana 95 miles; Fort Smith 140 miles; Dallas 240 miles; Austin 435 miles; San Antonio 515 miles; Houston 330 miles; Oklahoma City 265 miles; Kansas City 461 miles; Albuquerque 807 miles; Phoenix 1,242 miles; Denver 890 miles; Salt Lake City 1,366 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to excellent, depending upon season and amount of recent rainfall. Flow is heavily dependent upon recent local rainfall, but navigable flows will have a very swift current due to the steep gradient.
The prime time to paddle Baker Creek is a day or two after a heavy rainfall, when the raods to access points are slick and very hazardous. As a rule, summers are not good, and best conditions will be found from late-February through late-May, or late-October through November. Air and water temperatures will be cold in winter months, and very cool in spring and fall.
The first hazard is the drive to the put-in. Forest logging roads are narrow and basically unimproved over clay-based soil that gets very slick when wet. Finding the access points from roads can be a harrowing experience unless you know the area very well, and hopefully have a GPS. After making it to the put-in, the first hazard on the creek is a 15-foot waterfall about one quarter mile downstream where the creek turns from south to east, then back to the south. The potential for pinning is greater in low water conditions, but will be present at all times. Following a series of Class III boulder garden rapids is a second 15-foot waterfall. Carefully scout both waterfalls for lines or portages, then exercise your best judgement as to which is the most logical under current flow conditions. The remainder of the run is garden-variety Class II to III rapids that pose no substantial risk to competent paddlers. Avoid the creek when flows are below about 2,000 cfs or higher than about 4,000 cfs.
Put in on Weyerhauser Road 52000 at 0.0 miles (follow Arkansas SH 4 to Weyerhauser Road 52600, then to the intersection of Weyerhauser Road 52200, turning north to the intersection of Weyerhauser Road 52000, then east to the small wood bridge across the creek at the put-in); Take out at the low-water bridge where Weyerhauser Road 52600 crosses the creek (this road will most likely be submerged if the 'Tot is at or over about 3,000 cfs.) There are no other access points for Baker Creek.
Primitive campsites can be found at the Weyerhauser Road 52600 take-out, Weyerhauser Road 52000 (Ed Banks Road), the SH 4 bridge and at the intersection of Weyerhauser Road 52500 and the Cossatot River. Nearby, Shady Lake Campground (USFS) in Ozark National Forest offers 97 campsites with drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. Gillham Lake offers primitive campsites near the Cossatot River; 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. Several other USFS campgrounds are available in the near vicinity north of Baker Creek, with most offering primitive camping.
There are no liveries or shuttle services operating on or in the immediate vicinity of the Baker Creek. Bring your own boats and gear, and arrange your own shuttles.
Baker Creek is a well hidden jewel in the crown of Arkansas whitewater streams, offering as much in the way of spectacular scenery as it does in paddling excitement. If getting there is half the fun, then you can expect one hell of a lot of fun on this creek, because it takes a GPS and NASA guidance to even find the place! Weyerhauser graciously allows visitors to the area to use their roads and camp anywhere along streams they access, but they ain't too good about putting up street signs! Nevertheless, if you are coming to Howard County to paddle the Cossatot, Saline, Little or other rivers and creeks in the area, and have the cajones as well as whitewater boating skills to meet the challenge, then Baker Creek will not disappoint you except for its brief life - the run is only about 3.25 miles, but it packs a wollop into that short distance. Almost immediately after putting in boaters approach the first of two 15-foot waterfalls that may be runnable for some paddlers in some flow conditions, but are mandatory portages for most others. There are no signs of development anywhere near the creek, though parts of the forest have been cut by Weyerhauser for use in their paper and wood milling operations. Still, the area retains a wild and natural character that lets you know civilization is not just around the next corner or over the next hill. Most of the short run is on Class II to III boulder garden rapids that are fun, but not too technical. Bring a camera and use it frequently, because this place is scenic to the Nth degree. If you have a waterproof, durable video camera, then strap it to your helmet if you run the waterfalls, and you might even want to put one on the bow looking back so we can see the look on your face as you ask yourself why you decided to make those two drops. Heed the warnings about flow levels - below about 2,000 cfs Baker Creek will be true bone zone paddling, and above 4,00 cfs ole St. Peter will be smiling and waiting to greet you!