The Spring River forms in Howell County of southcentral Missouri just a few miles south of the Eleven Point River and near the Mark Twain National Forest, then flows southward into Arkansas at Mammoth Springs in Fulton County. It then flows down through Fulton County, across the northeast tip of Sharp County and into Randolph County to its confluence with the Eleven Point River. The Eleven Point River then flows a few miles south to its confluence with the Current River, also flowing down from Missouri. Generally, the Spring River is a year-round paddling stream, assuming you are able to withstand the rigors of the Missouri Ozarks winter, which can be quite cold.
The South Fork of the Spring River forms just northwest of Saddle, Arkansas, then flows southeast through Saddle to its confluence with the mainstream of the Spring River just above the Town of Hardy and the Hardy Beach access off US Highway 62 / SH 175. From SH 198 just north of Heart and southeast of Salem to Hardy Beach the run is about 29.25 miles of generally flatwater flowing over gravel and rocky shoals, but there are numerous ledge drops of a few feet above and below Saddle making it a good whitewater run for those with minimal experience. The South Fork is an incredibly beautiful, mostly narrow and remote river winding through Ozark Mountains foothills, where few signs of civilization will be found. The constantly twisting riverbed is lined with spectacular bluffs and dense stands of hardwood trees indigenous to the Ozarks area. Its waters are cold, and optimum paddling is in the springtime, when northern Arkansas is still shuddering from winter temperatures.
Hazards, other than cold air and water temperatures, are few. They consist mainly of tight, twisting channels, low-water bridges and possibly log jams or floating tree debris, though some of the ledges could cause problems for inexperienced boaters. Campgrounds are available on the river, as well as a few miles away where three state parks are situated close to the Current River. Fishing is excellent, and anglers can find rainbow trout, walleye, spotted, rock and largemouth bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, several species of catfish and others. Be sure to have a valid Arkansas fishing license, and get a trout stamp if you intend to fish for rainbows.
This section of the Spring River is located in Fulton and Sharp Counties of northeastern Arkansas. It begins at Sh 198 near Heart a few miles west of Saddle, Arkansas, then flows northwest to southeast down to its confluence with the Spring River just north of Hardy Beach, which is the final take-out (on the Spring River) at the lower end of this run.
Little Rock 140 miles; Fort Smith 300 miles; Dallas 465 miles; Austin 655 miles; San Antonio 735 miles; Houston 711 miles; Oklahoma City 484 miles; Kansas City 563 miles; Memphis 150 miles; Denver 1,081 miles; Salt Lake City 1,245 miles; Phoenix 1,465 miles; Albuquerque 1,021 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, put-in destination at the river and route taken.)
The quality is excellent, but not drinkable without purification. The Flow is C3 - clean, clear and cold from runoff in the surrounding drainage basin. Prime flows are in spring months, though it may be navigable at other times, depending upon recent local heavy rainfall.
Springtime is the optimum season to paddle the Spring River. Its flow is dependent upon runoff from snowmelt and rainfall. A wetsuit or drysuit with a base layer might also be appropriate on this river due to the water and air temperatures in March through May.
Hazards on the South Fork of the Spring River do not come in the form of rapids and waterfalls as much as from cold air and water temperatures, twisting channels, overhanging trees and brush, rocky shoals, narrow chutes cut through rock and low-water bridges, but there are many ledge drops of a few feet that could potentially pose problems if capsizing in cold warter or wearther conditions. The low-water bridge at Brown's Ford (15.21 miles) can be very dangerous and may require a portage. Slick Rock Ford (19.0 miles) may require a portage, and can be very dangerous, especially at high water levels. The low-water bridges at the golf course (22.45 miles), Upper Cherokee Road (22.52 miles) and Cherokee Camp (23.9 miles) can be dangerous and may require a portage. The river fords at Flathead Drive (25.21 miles) and Griffin Road 26.3 miles) can be dangerous in high water conditions, and can be portaged on either side. Determining safe navigable levels requires a visual inspection of the bridge piers at Cherokee Camp. If the measurement between the top of the old bridge piers and the water is greater than one foot, then the river is probably too low to paddle enjoyably. If the measurement is less than 6 inches, then the river is probably dangerously high for inexperienced paddlers, and extreme caution should be exercised in boating the river.
SH 198 (Fernwood Road) southeast of Salem at 0.0 miles; SH 61 / SH 222 (Heart Road) just north of Heart at about 7.84 miles; SH 289 crossing southwest of Saddle at 10.0 miles; Brown's Ford low water bridge at about 15.2 miles; Slick Rock Ford (CR 1299) at about 19.0 miles; Upper Cherokee Road Bridge at about 22.5 miles; Cherokee Camp, off the road from SH 175, at about 23.9 miles; Flathead Road low water bridge at about 25.2 miles; Griffin Road low water bridge at about 26.3 miles; and Hardy Beach on river right below SH 175 / US Highway 62, at about 29.25 miles.
There are numerous natural campsites available all along the South Fork of the Spring River. Off the river, camping is available at numerous commercial campgrounds on the mainstream of the Spring River between Mammoth Springs and Hardy Beach, as well as the three state parks near the Spring River - Current River confluence about 30 miles (or more, depending upon park) below the Town of Hardy.
There is at least one commercial outfitter offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information for the South Fork of the Spring River. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles and providing your own boats and gear if not contracting with a local outfitter.
Although it is usually a cold run, the South Fork is an excellent river trip for those able to withstand the climate to paddle a gorgeous, flatwater river. Typical of Arkansas paddling is the excellent scenic beauty that is all around, from the foothills of the Ozarks to the tall trees and natural vegetation. What you will not see are many signs of civilization in this very remote section of northcentral Arkansas near the Missouri border. Birds, animals and fish will outnumber people, especially if you are paddling the South Fork during cold temperatures. For fishermen, you can expect generally the same variety, though smallmouth bass are the primary target of this stream. Just be sure to dress for cold air and water temperatures, and watch out for those low-water bridges at the river fords.
Many paddlers start South Fork trips at SH 289 and paddle down to any of several take-outs between there and Hardy Beach. Above SH 289 at Saddle the river tends to be narrower and shallower, so choosing to start above Saddle shoudl be dependent upon adequate water levels. The many ledge drops (probably 30 or more) will make trips on the South Fork very enjoyable, and it will not usually be as crowded as the Spring River itself. You also will not see and hear a train running along the river every 15-20 minutes like you will on the Spring River. The remoteness of the South Fork makes it a very nice paddle trip for those looking for more solitude and better scenery.