Flowing out from Remmel Dam at Lake Catherine just northwest of Hot Springs National Park, the Ouachita river begins its long run through central Arkansas, across the Louisiana State Line, and to its eventual confluence with the Red River south of Monroe. Between Lake Catherine and Arkadelphia the river flows as a Class I flatwater stream with a short section of Class II playboating potential at the Rockport Ledge in Malvern, about 6 miles below the dam. Though this reach is fairly remote below Malvern it does flow through or near several small towns. Major highways and roads are nearby, though usually beyond sight and sound. Runs can be made at flows as low as 200 cfs, but anything less than about 500 cfs will be leaving paint on the rocks. A maximum safe flow is generally considered to be about 5,000 cfs, though experienced boaters can easily negotiate the river at much higher levels. Optimum conditions will be about 2,000-3,000 cfs. The current is usually moving, and summers will have the best flow conditions because of electric generation at Remmel Dam, where normal generation levels are about 3,500-4,000 cfs, and higher if local demand for electricity dictates.
This reach starts just below Remmel Dam at Lake Catherine and ends at New Ouachita River Park in Arkadelphia. Down to the Rockport Ledge the Ouachita River will be a casual flatwater float/paddle trip of about 5.3 miles that almost anybody can enjoy. This section is popular with local canoeists and kayakers. Rockport Ledge provides the bulk of excitement, but it is all packed into about 0.1 miles. However, easy access allows playboaters to spend a day running the Ledge over and over again, doing enders, cartwheels, spins and other playboating moves that us mere whitewater canoeists can only dream about. It offers a little something for everybody, but there are places where a canoe can swamp, pin and/or wrap if a boater is not capable of quick decision-making and affecting strong control maneuvers. This area needs at least 2,000 cfs to prevent dragging on the rocks. Below Rockport Ledge the river returns to its placid self for the remaining 30 miles down to Arkadelphia. Numerous access points make this a great place for those who enjoy easy trips of one to three days on a remote river with plenty of natural scenery.
On a side note, the Town of Malvern and the Ouachita River Parks Commission (ORPC) are working on improvements to access, parking, restrooms, changing facilities and other features that cater to a paddler crowd. Arkansas is a state that fully understands about utilizing its premiere natural resources for the enjoyment of its citizens and visitors. Hats off to the Town of Malvern and ORPC for their shining example of how government can and should work for the benefit of its citizens!
Central Arkansas, in Hot Spring and Dallas Counties, between Hot Springs National Park and Arkadelphia. Little Rock is less than an hour away to the northeast on IH 30.
Little Rock 55 miles; Texarkana 100 miles; Fort Smith 145 miles; Oklahoma City 300 miles; Kansas City 466 miles; Dallas 270 miles; Austin 480 miles; San Antonio 540 miles; Houston 400 miles; Albuquerque 841 miles; Phoenix 1,285 miles; Denver 900 miles; Grand Junction 1,146 miles; Salt Lake City 1,400 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is very good to excellent, flowing out of Lake Catherine at Hot Springs. Remmel Dam is a hydroelectric generator that releases a lot of water during summer months, so paddling this reach of the Ouachita is great during a season when many other Arkansas (and surrounding states) rivers run dry or too low to paddle. With adequate rainfall and moderate climate it is a year-around river.
Summer months offer the most consistent flows because of dam releases at Lake Catherine for hydroelectric generation. This reach of the river almost always has adequate flow for boating, and is primarily limited by weather conditions. Late-May through September will be the best times to catch really great water levels. The hotter the summer, the higher the release and the better the flow.
Other than Rockport Ledge in Malvern, there are no serious hazards to navigation on this reach of the Ouachita River. Depending upon flow, Rockport Ledge can scrape the paint off the bottom of a boat, wrap and pin it on rocks, tumble a paddler into rocks and holes or send you flying down the river hardly noticing that there are bumps below the surface. At normal full generation conditions the major playspots, looking from river right to left, are:
Tiger's Jaw (aka Lion's Den) on far river right to the right side of the rock island features a 2-foot drop into a small hole that is great for cartwheeling, spinning, surfing and looping. A hole on the far right side has a major rock, and another about 25 feet below the hole where a fast roll is advised; Spin Hole, just to the left of the rock island, has a small hole where kayakers can spin and side surf; Front Surf Wave is a small, fast wave where boaters can develop or hone on surfing skills; Suck Hole is a small but sticky pourover in the midstream; Main Eddy is the first large eddy out from the left bank, with excellent squirtboating along the eddyline; Cartwheel Hole is another small hole with potential for loops, spins and cartwheels; Surf Wave, left of Cartwheel Hole, is a small wave where spins are possible; Left Hole, a sticky ledge hole at flows of about 1,800-2,800 cfs, is really well suited for enders and blasts at high flow levels. Some of the chutes can flip, swamp, pin and/or wrap open canoes - strong intermediate level whitewater skills are necessary to negotiate those chutes because of the tight, technical nature of the lines required to get through them. Below Rockport Ledge there are no other major hazards on the remainder of this reach.
Remmel Dam Access (N 34° 25' 36.74" / W 092° 53' 26.62") off US Highway 270 at Jones Mill between IH 30 at Malvern and Hot Springs National Park on river left at 0.0 miles; Rockport Ledge Access (N 34° 23' 38.49" / W 092° 50' 31.13") on river left at about 5.3 miles; SH 84 / Tanner Street Access (N 34° 23' 07.63" / W 092° 50' 22.53") in river right at about 5.9 miles; Grigsby Ford Road / Highway 1586 (N 34° 20' 49.95" / W 092 52' 56.09") on either side at about 10.0 miles; Morrison Island (N 34° 15' 28.93" / W 092° 55' 51.04") on river right at about 18.5 miles; US Highway 67 Access (N 34° 14' 16.49" / W 092° 57' 30.19") on river left at about 21.4 miles; River Road (N 34° 12' 49.53" / W 092° 59' 55.55") south from Friendship on river left at about 25.2 miles; Caddo River confluence (N 34° 10' 51.09" / W 093° 02' 34.58") - NO ACCESS; Community Garden (N 34Ӽ 08' 16.83" / W 093° 03' 06.60") off Carter Road at Arkadelphia Feaster Trail on river right at about 33.9 miles; Speer Pavilion and Garden Park (N 34° 07' 33.65" / W 093° 02' 56.04") on river right at about 34.7 miles; New Ouachita River Park (N 34° 07' 14.92" / W 093° 02' 46.18") off SH 7 / SH 51 in Arkadelphia on river right at about 35.1 miles. There may be other access points available.
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. Abundant natural campsites can be found along the river including at Morrison Island, which is about the midway point of this reach. Hotel and motel accommodations are available in Malvern, Hot Springs and Arkadelphia.
There are no known liveries or outfitters located along this reach of the Ouachita River. Bring everything you need, and either run your own shuttles or hook up with other boaters in the area for shuttles.
This reach of the Ouachita starts as a town run between Remmel Dam and Arkadelphia on about 35.1 miles of flatwater paddling that is easy enough for almost any able-bodied boater, the only real exception being in the reach above Rockport Ledge where some minor rapids can be found. The Ouachita is a gorgeous river, and this reach benefits from getting a summer release for hydroelectric generation that produces reliable flows throughout most of the hot summer months when other Arkansas rivers are too low to paddle. Close proximity to major highways and roads, as well as Malvern, Hot Springs, Arkadelphia and several smaller towns means that necessities like food, beverages, gas, accommodations and ice are readily available. There will almost surely be many other boaters enjoying this river with you at least as far donwstream as Malvern, and possibly all the way to Arkadelphia. If you cannot find another place in "The Natural State" to paddle, then head toward Hot Springs and put in on the beautiful Ouachita River, and give a salute to Arkansas, the Town of Malvern and the Ouachita River Parks Commission for their exemplary work in making this a superb place to dip your paddle.