The Lower Mountain Fork River is a short, but very exciting, whitewater/flatwater run that is probably the most consistently flowing and best whitewater stream in Oklahoma, a state not particularly noted for whitewater rivers. Its location in southeastern Oklahoma makes it accessible to paddlers from North Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, as well as Oklahoma. Actually, the Glover River offers more exciting and bigger rapids, but its flow is seldom adequate for paddling. Starting below Reregulation Dam, the river is more technical than "big", with several respectable Class I-II rapids within the first two miles of the put-in. The downside to this trip is that most the rapids are in that first two miles. The upside is that you can get your boat back to the top and run it again - several times in a day, if so desired. Or, you can run on down the flatwater stretch to the take-out at Ashalintubbi below the confluence of the Little River. From Re-regulation Dam at Mountain Fork Park the river flows about 12.5 miles to the Little River confluence along the northern boundary of Ouachita National Forest. While several outfitters have private access points below the US Highway 70 bridge the next public access point is Ashalintubbi on the Little River at about 18.8 miles, then the Arkansas State Highway 41 bridge near Horatio at about 29 miles, then the US 59/79 bridge below the Cossatot River confluence at about 55 miles.
Paddlers will find occasional small riffles along the river, and summers will bring out significant numbers of paddlers as well as fishermen looking for trout, walleye and other species of fish. Mountain Fork Park, located immediately below Reregulation Dam on river right, is a great campsite with reasonable fees that range from $8-15 per site per night, depending upon features and amenities. Water and electricity are available in some campsites. Both public and private access points are available between Reregulaton dam and Ashalintubbi though public access is limited to the US Highway 70 bridge between Broken Bow and Eagletown, and the Arkansas SH 47 bridge south of Horatio.
Many trees line the natural and undeveloped banks of the river along its entire reach, and bald cypress trees will be found growing on rock islands in the middle of the river, as well as along the banks. Just below the US Highway 70 bridge a railroad trestle bridge crosses the river and represents about the last sign of civilization paddlers will see going downriver until a few riverside houses start making their appearances above and below the Little River confluence. Visitors will enjoy canoeing, kayaking, tubing, camping, swimming and fishing this Ouachita National Forest stream which flows very near the Arkansas State Line. The Lower Mountain Fork is a very scenic river with verdant banks from spring through late fall.
McCurtain County in far southeastern Oklahoma near the Texas and Arkansas borders, Beaver Bend State Park, Hochatown State Park, Ouachita National Forest and the town of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. The Town of Idabel is about 15 miles to the south. The Glover and Kiamichi Rivers are a few miles to the west. The Texas State Line is about 25 miles to the south. The Arkansas State Line is about 10 miles to the east.
Dallas 225 miles; Austin 420 miles; San Antonio 500 miles; Houston 475 miles; Oklahoma City 250 miles; Texarkana 75 miles; Shreveport 140 miles; Fort Smith 125 miles; Little Rock 225 miles; Kansas City 446 miles; Albuquerque 792 miles; Phoenix 1,231 miles; Denver 875 miles; Salt Lake City 1,350 miles; (all distance are approximate depending upon starting point, destination at the river put-in and route taken.)
Water quality is generally very good to excellent, flowing clean and clear, with a moderate to fast current when water is being released from Broken Bow Lake through Reregulation Dam. Watch for the red beacon below the dam - if the light is on, electricity is being generated and the flow will be high and fast. If both generators are running, then the river will be dangerously high and fast. Ask local outfitters about river conditions before driving there or before putting in.
Weather is the only limiting factor, as the Lower Mountain Fork is generally navigable at an enjoyable level. 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. Ideal conditions occur when the generators are running and water is being released. The river is navigable at flows as low as 100 cfs, and perhaps a little lower, but flows greater than 500 cfs will prevent dragging and make the rapids more fun. The cool waters offer a respite from hot summertime temperatures.
Reregulation Dam is a definite hazard and cannot be safely run due to an 18-foot drop into a strong hydraulic current that is a keeper. As mentioned earlier, if both generators at the dam on Broken Bow Lake above Reregulation Dam are operating, then the flow should be considered too high for safe boating. Outfitters do not rent or shuttle when flows exceed 1,500 cfs on the Eagletown gauge. Rock outcroppings and boulder garden rapids are abundant, especially in the first two miles below Reregulation Dam, and can damage skin, bones and equipment if not negotiated carefully. In high water conditions rapids and waterfalls are continous from Reregulation Dam through Presbyterian Falls about 1.7 miles downriver from the put-in at Mountain Fork Park.
There are three possible ways to approach Presbyterian Falls. The left side chute just above Presbyterian Falls is a tricky, tight, boulder and cypress knee channel that mandates strong boat control skills, and places to pin or wrap a boat are numerous. The rocky river bottom is slick, and can easily cause you to lose your footing resulting in injuries or wet cameras. This is the most popular route to approach the falls.
If the water is high enough, then you can either go right down the middle over some smaller drops before encountering a drop of nearly 4 feet, but this route should not attempted unless you are properly outfitted and have adequate whitewater skills. There are numerous places where you can get injured and/or damage your boat. The far right side is much the same except there is only one drop called "Bubba" where you have to squeeze between two boulders about 4 feet apart for a drop of about 4 feet with another boulder in the channel right below the drop. This route should be avoided unless you are properly outfitted and possess adequate whitewater skills.
A right side tree overhanging the river as you make a left turn just above the US Highway 70 bridge causes a lot of problems for less experienced boaters, and is a potential strainer. Below US 70, there are two other places where the river flows through standing trees on bends where the current is swift and boats can easily be pinned by paddlers not controlling their line. Each of these offers a sneak route that turns to the right above the hazards so that they can be avoided. If you are not confident in boat control skills, then take the sneak routes - MANY boats have been pinned and wrapped at these two hazards over the years, though they are easily negotiated by competent paddlers. There are no other natural hazards on the Lower Mountain Fork other than the searing summertime temperatures and direct sunlight exposure.
On occasion, the river is visited by some unfriendly people from Arkansas in over-powered jon boats who carelessly disregard boater safety laws, create huge wakes and occasionally swamp or flip recreational paddlers. This happens primarily on holiday weekends, but they have been observed on other days when the river is higher than normal. If you encounter problems with these motor boaters, then please make a note of their boat registration numbers and call 9-1-1 to report them to law enforcement giving as much detail as possible about boat color and type, number of people on board, approximate location and anything else that will help law enforcement identify and mitgate the problem.
Reregulation Dam, at Mountain Fork Park about 3 miles off Highway 70, at 0.0 miles; US Highway 70 bridge on river left at about 3.2 miles; Ambush Adventures landing on river left immediately adjacent to the public landing at US 70 is a private access point for Ambush customers; WW Trading Post & Canoe access (private access for WW Trading Post customers) on river right at about 4.2 miles; Ambush Adventures access and campground (private access for Ambush customers) on river right at about 8.8 miles; WW Trading Post & Canoe Rental access (private access for WW Trading Post customers) on river right at about 10.2 miles; Public access on river left near Ashalintubbi 6.3 miles below the confluence of the Little River at about 18.8 miles; Arkansas State Highway 41 bridge south of Horatio at about 29.0 miles. No other access points are available on the Lower Mountain Fork and Little Rivers above the Cossatot River confluence.
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. At least three commercial campgrounds are on or near the Upper Mountain Fork River above Broken Bow Lake between Smithville and the Town of Broken Bow. 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 & Canoe Sales & Rentals (580-584-6856), located on Mountain Fork Park Road north of US Highway 70 and east of Broken Bow, offers canoe rentals, shuttles, canoe and kayak sales, a camp store and other amenities. 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. At least six other commercial outfitters serve the Lower Mountain Fork River.
The Lower Mountain Fork is a great trip for river runners, especially those from Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Tulsa or other areas nearby. The shortness of the drive getting there and the shortness of the river run make it possible to do a day trip if you are so inclined. However, when you start having fun on those runs you will probably want to stay for more than one day, or come back again soon. There are no really big drops unless you take the one over Reregulation Dam, in which case your friends are going to talk about your LAST canoe trip for a long time to come! The rapids are more technical, requiring good maneuvering skills. The nature of the area, and the fact that there are frequently many other experienced paddlers on this run makes the Lower Mountain Fork a good place to hone some whitewater paddling skills before venturing out to other rivers. The Lower Mountain Fork River is generally navigable due to releases for hydroelectric generation, though not always at high enough levels to paddle without some dragging or short portages. The first 2 miles or so are clogged with numerous boulders that test maneuverability and boat control. The banks are lined with a variety of bald cypress and other gorgeous trees. Give other boats plenty of room when encountering obstacles. Be sure to watch the red beacons on Reregulation Dam to see if the dam upstream on Broken Bow Lake is generating electricity, and take proper precautions if it is.