The Little Red River is one of Arkansas' finest fishing streams, and occasionally it is a great place to paddle a canoe or kayak. It is formed by the South Fork, flowing out of the Ozarks National Forest above Scotland to Greers Ferry Lake in Van Buren County, and the Middle Fork, which begins in northwest Van Buren County just east of Tilly, flowing through Searcy and Stone Counties before reaching Greers Ferry Lake in northwest Cleburne County. Just below the lake the Little Red flows as a single stream from Heber Springs to the confluence of the White River near US Highway 67 in White County. The Little Red and the White meet near the Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area just east of Searcy.
The Little Red River is a year-round stream below Greers Ferry Lake, and is dependent upon dam releases for its flow. The river is usually higher during the week, when the hydroelectric generating station is operating. Weekend flows are generally lower than weekday flows, and can be too low to paddle. The forks above Greers Ferry Lake are dependent upon recent local rainfall and can run dry much of the time, so paddling them is not a common activity. When they do run the flow can be high and too dangerous for boaters with less than intermediate whitewater level skills. Below the dam the river can be dangerous during hydroelectric generation, particularly within the first few miles. Because of the seasonal nature of the forks above Greers Ferry Lake this report will describe the 29 mile section from the dam to Ramsey Public Access above Arkansas SH 305. The river actually continues for about 30 more miles to the confluence of the White River, but is not frequently paddled because of limited access and natural obstructions.
At Heber Springs, just below the dam, the first few miles are strewn with boulders that create Class I-II whitewater rapids, rising to Class III in high water conditions. The rapids are not particularly difficult for experienced whitewater paddlers, but may pose some problems for those with little or no skills and experience in fast moving water and rapids. Downstream, the river is characterized by long, quiet pools that are occasionally punctuated by islands, rocky shoals, deep holes and occasionally low water, particularly around the islands and over the shoals. Near Pangburn the river again becomes a moderately easy whitewater adventure above the low-water bridge just north of town, after which it widens and slows as it approaches another area of shoals.
The Little Red River is well-known as a premiere trout stream that is frequently re-stocked. The first put-in is next to the Federal Fish Hatchery. Rainbow and brown trout, spotted, rock and smallmouth bass, bluegill, longear and green sunfish and chain pickerel await the paddler-fisherman on this 29 mile stretch of gorgeous Ozarks foothills scenery. The river is well served by a wide range of campgrounds, resorts, restaurants, fishing guide services, bait and tackle shops and other services required by paddlers, sport fishermen and other recreational users of the Little Red River.
Cleburne and White Counties in north central Arkansas about 60 miles north of Little Rock and about 40 miles southwest of Batesville, where they make great caskets for those paddlers who have gone to the ever-flowing rivers of Valhalla.
Little Rock 60 miles; Fort Smith 220 miles; Texarkana 204 miles; Tulsa 336 miles; Oklahoma City 400 miles; Dallas 392 miles; Austin 587 miles; San Antonio 667 miles; Houston 647 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination put-in point on the river and route taken.)
Generally very good to excellent flowing from Greers Ferry Lake in a remote area without much pollution or contamination. The flow is almost always adequate for paddling below the dam, though it may run low, especially on weekends, when electricity is not being generated.
Almost anytime is good to paddle the Lower Little Red River. Dependent upon dam releases, the water tends to flow less in months when there is lower needs for electricity. The river is generally low on a day-to-day rather than seasonal basis.
There are no significant hazards on the Little Red River for boaters who are careful. However, some of the rapids and swift currents can pose problems for beginner and novice paddlers at any water level, and for somewhat skilled paddlers during moderate flows. Some of the rapids might be trouble at high flows, when they can reach Class III levels, and should not attempted by anybody without sufficient whitewater paddling skills.
US Army Corps of Engineers ramp on river left (north side) next to the Federal Fish Hatchery at 0.0 miles; Barnett (Winkley Bridge), Lobo (adjacent to Lobo Landing Trout Dock), Dripping Springs, and Ramsey Public Access off SH 124 and SH 305 at about 29.0 miles.
There are at least five commercial campgrounds, river resorts or other accommodations located along or near the Little Red River.
There are at least five commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttle and river information on and near the Little Red River.
The Little Red River is not really known for its paddle trips, but they can be great experiences of whitewater rapid running, flatwater paddling and superb fishing, especially for rainbow and brown trout, as well as many other species. The two forks above Greers Ferry Lake that form the Little Red can be super whitewater runs when they are flowing, but they are dependent upon local rainfall, whereas the main stream below the lake almost always has adequate water for paddle trips due to dam released flows. The trick is, the flow is higher when electricity is being generated, and sometimes that means lower flows on weekend and in cooler months. The scenery is spectacular, and a trip there just to see Mother Nature's wonders is well worth it. A few hours to the west lie the Mulberry River, Big Piney Creek, Frog Bayou, and the western part of the White River. A little northwest sits the Buffalo National River and Little Rock is just a little over an hour's drive away to the south.
The Little Red River can be dangerous, especially for boaters with insufficient experience when water is being released from Greers Ferry Lake, and care should be taken to avoid getting caught in fast moving currents, particularly near the dam. The rapids are Class I-II except in highwater, when they will elevate by one class rating. One of the really great features to the Little Red is that it will not be inundated with boaters. It is a fun river to run when the water is just right, but like so many rivers, timing is everything. Try to plan your trips in summer months when the demand for electricity is higher and you will have good water. Just be careful what you wish for, because you could get more flow that you really wanted!