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South Fork of the Spring River, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Saddle to the Spring River
~ 18.3 miles

General Description

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 Saddle to Hardy Beach the run is about 18.3 miles of generally flatwater flowing over gravel and rocky shoals. The South Fork is an incredibly beautiful 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. 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 Saddle, Arkansas, then flows northwest to southeast down to its confluence with the Spring River just north of Hardy Beach at the lower end of this run.

Distance from major cities

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.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The quality is excellent, but not drinkable without purification. The Flow is C3 - clear, 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.

Best times to go

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 to navigation

Hazards on the South Fork of the Spring River do not come in the form of rapids and waterfalls, but rather from cold air and water temperatures, twisting channels, overhanging trees and brush, rocky shoals, narrow chutes cut through rock and low-water bridges. The low-water bridge at Brown's Ford (3.4 miles) can be very dangerous and may require a portage. Slick Rock Ford (9.0 miles) may require a portage, and can be very dangerous, especially at high water levels. The low-water bridge at Cherokee Camp (14.0 miles) can be dangerous and may require a portage. The river ford at about 14.6 miles is dangerous, and offers a portage on river right. 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, and extreme caution should be exercised in boating the river.

River access points

SH 289 crossing southwest of Saddle at 0.0 miles; Cherokee Camp, off the road from SH 175, at about 14.0 miles; Hardy Beach, at SH 175 / US Highway 62, at about 18.3 miles. Other accesses may be available at Brown Ford (3.4 miles), Slick Rock Ford (9.0 miles), and the river ford at 16.4 miles. However, Brown Ford requires accesss from an unimproved dirt road, and will be VERY difficult when muddy.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are numerous natural campsites available all along the South Fork of the Spring River. Off the river, camping is available at Many Islands Campground on the mainstream of the Spring River between Mammoth Springs and Hardy, 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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There is at least one commercial outfitter offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information for teh 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.

Reviewer's comments

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.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 18.3 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 289 (Saddle)
Lat. / Long. 36.3511124 / -91.6355591
Last Take-out SH 175 (Hardy Beach)
Lat. / Long. 36.3172226 / -91.4986115
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season March through May
Permits No

Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club - a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Ozark streams

Missouri Whitewater Association - promoting whitewater paddling in the Ozarks

Kansas City Whitewater Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Spring River where you want to paddle.

[ Spring River Homepage ] [ Mammoth Springs to Hardy ] [ Hardy to Ravenden ] [ Ravenden to Old Davidsonville State Park ]

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Last updated December 23, 2007

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