The Alum Fork of the Saline River (the flatwater Saline of central Arkansas, NOT the whitewater sister of the Cossatot!) flows in Saline County from Lake Winona in the Blue Ouachita Mountains of Ouachita National Forest to SH 5 northwest of Benton in a southeasterly direction. It is joined by the Middle Fork just above its confluence with the North Fork, at which point the three forks combine to create the mainstream of the Saline River. Just below SH 5 and above IH 30 the river makes a big U-turn and heads north for a few miles, then makes another from which it then flows under IH 30 and into Benton. From Benton, it flows through central Arkansas down to Felsenthal National Wildlife Preserve west of Crossett and its confluence with the Ouachita River.
From SH 5 to Benton City Park below IH 30 the Saline River flows about 20.5 miles on Class I to II water that primarily sources from Lake Winona, where USGS gauge readings are taken, though it is occasionally supplemented by heavy local rainfall that sometimes raises the level considerably. This section of the river is very popular with recreational canoeists and kayakers, as well as some rafters, from Arkadelphia, Hot Springs and Little Rock, all within 30-60 minutes of the put-in. It is one of the least remote runs to be found in Arkansas, yet retains some of the unspoiled, natural becauty of this area. This Saline River is miles away, but a world apart, from the Howard County river bearing the same name. This one is boatable by just about anybody, and when your run is over there are plenty of accommodations, restaurants, entertainment venues, service stations and tourist destinations within a few miles west, north or east, as well as in Benton, itself. About all that is missing is campgrounds, but there is one near Lake Catherine just north of IH 30 and northeast of Malvern. This is the Saline River for laid back paddlers.
Central Arkansas, in Saline and Hot Spring Counties, between Hot Springs National Park and Benton. Little Rock is less than a half hour away to the northeast on IH 30.
Little Rock 35 miles; Texarkana 120 miles; Fort Smith 165 miles; Oklahoma City 320 miles; Kansas City 486 miles; Dallas 290 miles; Austin 500 miles; San Antonio 560 miles; Houston 420 miles; Albuquerque 861 miles; Phoenix 1,305 miles; Denver 920 miles; Grand Junction 1,166 miles; Salt Lake City 1,420 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually good to very good. With adequate rainfall and moderate climate it is a year-around river. Flow is controlled by dam releases at Lake Winona, and is usually best in winter months or spring when dam releases occur following heavy rainfall above and around the lake.
The season is dependent upon dam-released water from Lake Winona, and is occasionally augmented by heavy local rainfall that causes the river to rise. Traditionally, winter and spring months offer the best water conditions, but spring months off the best combination of water and weather conditions.
There are no significant hazards to navigation on the Alum Fork of the Saline River. This stream is a flatwater paddle that can be enjoyed by almost any able-bodied paddler in canoes, kayaks and rafts. However, willow strainers and dead-fal debris piles can pose potential threats to boater safety if not negotiated properly, especially at higher flows.
SH 5 bridge northwest of IH 30 from Benton at 0.0 miles; SH 5 bridge at the North Fork confluence at about 14.0 miles; Benton City Park, on river left, at about 20.5 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Saline River.
Lake Catherine State Park offer excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, hot showers, picnic facilities, day-use areas, sanitary dump station and many other amenities. Hotel and motel accommodations are available in Malvern and Hot Springs.
There is at least one known outfitter located in Benton who offers canoe and kayak rentals, as well as shuttles, on various reaches of the Saline River. If not contracting with that outfitter bring everything you need, and either run your own shuttles or hook up with other boaters in the area for shuttles.
The Alum Fork of the Saline River is "everyman's" place to paddle. Except for occasional willow strainers and debris piles left over from dead-fallen trees, this river is generally free of hazards to navigation requiring advanced skills. It flows very near the Town of Benton just a few miles southwest of Little Rock, and offers an enjoyable trip for most paddlers most of the time. It is conveniently located with easy access and short length, so those without the stamina for long trips will be right at home, and those wanting more time on the river can do multiple runs, or go to one of the other forks. There is always the option to paddle the Saline River below IH 30 down to Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, or to any of numerous access points between Benton and Felsenthal. Though very close to Benton, the Alum Fork retains much of the wilderness character that is native to most Arkansas streams, so bring your camera. The Ouachita River, of which the Saline River is a tributary, flows very nearby to the west and offers additional opportunities for enjoying some of Arkansas's wealth of great waterways.