The Upper Mountain Fork River forms near Hatfield, Arkansas southwest of Mena along US Highway 59 and Arkansas SH 246, then flows about 28.8 miles southwest to Broken Bow Lake in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, below which point it becomes the Lower Mountain Fork as it flows out of Reregulation Dam below the lake. This classic pool-and-drop river is a Class I to II+ run with Class III drops in high water conditions through the lower section just above the lake called "The Narrows". It flows on a shallow gradient of about 6.84 fpm (average - 8-10 fpm maximum) along a riverbed consisting of rock ledges that create small drops and occasional long pools of flatwater. The stream is very popular with canoeists and kayakers because of its remote location, excellent scenery and sometimes exciting whitewater. The most popular section is a short run of about 9 miles between US Highway 259 at Smithville, Oklahoma through "The Narrows" at the top of Broken Bow Lake, where the larger drops are situated.
The Upper Mountain Fork is a year-round stream that can usually be paddled anytime, weather permitting. Summers are hotter than hell on a record hot day, and winters may be cold and barren, though weather arm enough for paddling can often be found. The surrounding area is remote, rugged and undeveloped other than a few very small towns along the way that do not encroach upon the river. A few houses dot the riverbanks occasionally, but are not common sights. Spring and fall scenery is awesome as the seasons go through their color changes. Plantlife, wildlife and birdlife are abundant. Dallas and Oklahoma City are about equidistant, each taking about 4-5 hours to drive, making this the closest whitewater to either city.
In the near vicinity are the Glover River and Eagle Fork Creek (one of several major creeks that feed the Upper Mountain Fork), two other respectable whitewater runs, though neither is anywhere near as perpetual in their flow as the Upper Mountain Fork. Not too much further away is the Ouachita National Forest and two excellent Arkansas whitewater rivers, the fabled Cossatot and the Saline (the whitewater Saline, not that OTHER Saline near Malvern, Arkansas - I'm still having a hard time with a state that has two distinctly separate rivers with the same name!) Actually, part of the Upper Mountain Fork flows through the southwestern edge of Ouachita National Forest between Broken Bow and Smithville. Whodathunk that you could find decent whitewater in or near Oklahoma? Anybody who has been there and run these great streams, THAT'S who!
Polk County, Arkansas and McCurtain County, Oklahoma, straddling the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders. It starts in Ouachita National Forest below Mena, Arkansas, and flows across the Oklahoma border and down to Broken Bow Lake, ending at the confluence of the Little River in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, near Beaver Bend State Park and the town of Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
Dallas 245 miles; Fort Worth 275 miles; Austin 440 miles; San Antonio 520 miles; Houston 500 miles; Oklahoma City 250 miles; Texarkana 85 miles; Shreveport 150 miles; Little Rock 245 miles (all distance are approximate depending upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)
Generally good to excellent, except during prolonged droughts or other low water conditions. There is usually enough water to allow for good paddling on the Upper Mountain Fork, though it is best after a recent rain in the drainage basin of the river. Expect to do some walking, however limited it may be, during the hot summer months.
Weather is the only limiting factor, as the Upper Mountain Fork is generally navigable at an enjoyable level except during periods of prolonged drought, when the river will frequently be too low for paddling. Spring and Fall months offer the best foliage with the brighest colors to accentuate your trip, though you may not spend much time gazing at the scenery. It will be hot in the summer, and not as hot in the winter. The Upper Mountain Fork River is generally best after the crest following a big rainstorm in its drainage basin.
There are few major hazards on the Upper Mountain Fork, but there are numerous smaller rapids and falls in the Class II to II+ (Class III in high water conditions) that can cause problems unless negotiated properly and effectively. The first rapid of real concern will be encountered about 6.5 miles below the Highway 246 put-in just outside Hatfield, Arkansas, in Oklahoma. The second potentially dangerous rapid is at 20.0 miles, just below Smithville and the Highway 4 bridge. Some of the remaining rapids between Highway 4 and the take-out at "The Narrows" at 28.6 miles can be tests of skill and decision-making. There are rock ledges in, by and over the river, as well as waterfalls and small rapids that may require scouting to pick the best line. As with the dangerous rapids, take the time to decide the best place to run, then go for it, or portage safely around the hazard. Many of the ledge drops are through tight slots with a lot of sharp boulders below that can damage boats and injure paddlers.
West side of Highway 246 low-water bridge at 0.0 miles; E. Beachton Road low-water crossing at 8.3 miles; Riverfront Campground (Private) on river right at about 19.5 miles; Highway 4 crossing at 19.82 miles; FR 28000 low-water bridge (portage necessary except at VERY high flows) off US 259 at about 28.0 miles; The Narrows (washed out) low water bridge at 28.8 miles. Other access points MAY be available at public road crossings or on forest roads.
Ambush Adventures (580-584-2273), located at US Highway 70 and the river about 6.6 miles east of Broken Bow, offers cabin rentals on the Lower Mountain Fork River. Mountain Fork Park, adjacent to Reregulation Dam, has RV parking, tent camping, picnic tables, restrooms and other amenities. There are at least three commercial campgrounds located on or near the Upper Mountain Fork River. Primitive campsites are at the low water bridges on a first come, space available basis. There are abundant riverside camping spots, but most are on private property - ALWAYS obtain permission from landowners before camping on private property!
WW Trading Post and Canoe (580-584-6856), located at 939 Canoe Road (formerly Mountain Fork Park Road) just east of Broken Bow, offers canoe and kayak rentals, shuttle services and information about trips on the Upper and Lower Mountain Fork River.
Ambush Adventures (580-584-2273), located at US Highway 70 and the river about 6.6 miles east of Broken Bow, offers canoe, kayak and tube rentals on the Upper and Lower Mountain Fork River.
There are no other outfitters known to currently be offering trips on the Upper Mountain Fork River.
The Upper Mountain Fork is more fun than the lower section below Beaver Bend State Park because of its rapids and ledge drops, and it is every bit as scenic. It has more rapids spread out over a longer run than on the lower section. The water runs clean and clear most of the time and the surrounding topography is generally one of pine forests growing down to the gravel bar beaches that line the river. The river is well suited to single or multiple day runs and though the distance is not long at only 28.8 miles, there are plenty of things to see along the way that will slow you down. These include waterfalls, rapids, rock shoals, bluffs, cliffs, high canyon-like walls of rock, forests, and all the wildlife that inhabits the Ouachita National Forest area. While at least a little whitewater experience would be helpful it is not mandatory on the Upper Mountain Fork except at the two potentially dangerous rapids at 6.5 and 20.0 miles. Fishing is great, with smallmouth bass in the faster waters and largemouth bass in the slower waters. A minimum flow of at least 250 cfs will probably get you downriver without any dragging, though it would take a much higher flow (at least 600 cfs) to avoid all the rocks and boulders that issue from the river bed.