Well hidden in the middle of nowhere is a fantastic whitewater creek called Wolf Bayou, a Class II to IV stream with a steep gradient, ledge and waterfall drops, boulder garden rapids, undercut walls, swift currents, willow striners and enough excitement for all but the hairiest of whitewater boaters. This run is in Cleburne and Stone Counties near the Independence County Line, just southwest of Batesville. The Little Red River flows nearby to the south. The White River, into which Wolf Bayou flows, is to the east and southeast. The Buffalo National River sits to the west and the Strawberry River flows just north of Wolf Bayou. Flows derive primarily from snowmelt and rainfall runoff in the Ozarks of northcentral Arkansas.
Wolf Bayou features a 6.4 mile reach with most of its technical stuff within the first mile or so. Ledge drops of 4 and 8-10 feet are precursors to a 12-foot slot waterfall drop after which the river begins to settle down into a very enjoyable Class II to III+ run. This stream begins on a gradient of 110 fpm, but after the first third of a mile or so it suddenly plunges at a rate of about 165 fpm in a momentary freefall. The upper part of the run flows through a beautiful, narrow gorge that continues for over 5 miles, after which it opens up, its gradient becomes a little "flatter" and dense stands of willow trees lining the creekbanks become the primary hazards to avoid. Access is via a private road that belongs to hospitable owners, so please be courteous and appreciative of their allowing you to park your vehicle and put in on their land. People hunt these parts, and anybody you encounter is liable to be armed with a rifle, pistol and/or shotgun depending upon season and their prey. Take that for what it is worth when you meet somebody in this area. As they say at the poker table, "A Smith and Wesson beats a royal flush every time!"
Cleburne and Stone Counties of northcentral Arkansas near Batesville. US Highway 167 runs to the east and SH 5 is to the west. SH 14 is just north of Wolf Bayou, and SH 25 provides the south access that leads to Galen's Road. Little Rock is about 75 miles and 90 minutes to the southwest.
Little Rock 75 miles; Fayetteville 200 miles; Fort Smith 195 miles; Texarkana 220 miles; Memphis 140 miles; Oklahoma City 375 miles; Kansas City 520 miles; Dallas 400 miles; Austin 595 miles; San Antonio 675 miles; Houston 509 miles; Albuquerque 956 miles; Phoenix 1,400 miles; Denver 1,016 miles; Salt Lake City 1,513 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken. Bear in mind that Arkansas does not have many straight-line roads because of mountains and valleys around which they must pass. Allow adequate time based on distance and the often slow driving conditions that prevail in this area.)
Wolf Bayou is a runoff-fed creek that depends almost entirely upon recent local rainfall. Its water quality is generally good to very good, though it will be murky right after a significant storm. There are no USGS gauges for the stream (the gauge shown in the table at the right is for Possum Walk), so visual inspection is required to determine navigable flows. The rule of thumb is that the local area needs a rainfall of at least 1.5 inches to produce boatable levels.
Immediately after a significant rainstorm in the area around Batesville is the time to head for Wolf Bayou. If water is flowing across the entire width of the streambed at the put-in, then Wolf Bayou is probably ready to run.
The first mile is almost non-stop hazards in the form of small drops, tight turns, undercut boulders, ledges, holes, willow strainers and other obstacles that make running Wolf Bayou potentially hazardous. Boaters should have at least strong advanced level whitewater skills, and be ready to portage depending upon flow conditions. Just below the put-in, where the creek bends sharply to the right, a slot leads to a drop over a 4-foot broken ledge. Run the drop about a third of the way from the right bank for the best line. About 0.3 miles below the put-in is a bedrock shelf protruding from the left bank and an extended bluff on river right signaling the approach to a ledge drop of about 8-10 feet ending at an undercut boulder that is a magnet for the current and boats. Enter the drop on river right moving to the left through the slide, then eddy to either side to avoid the boulder. Just past the slide, and around a bend, is a boulder garden that precedes Road to Grandmother's House at 0.4 miles, where the main current starts left, then moves right about midway through the drop. Five Branch Creek flows into Wolf Bayou on river right and an undercut bluff on that side indicates the place for stopping along the left bank to scout Grandmother's House at about 0.7 miles, where things start to get very tricky.
The stream drops over two ledges at a river right bluff where it disppears, followed by a huge boulder in the creekbed that causes the current to flow to the right bank. The ledges indicate that you are at Wolf Whistle, at about 0.75 miles, and about to encounter a 12-foot slot waterfall where adequate speed entering the drop is necessary to clear the hole at the bottom. After Wolf Whistle the major technical drops and turns behind you. The last 5.5 miles is on easier Class II to III+ whitewater with boulder garden rapids and willow strainers. The gorge ends about a mile from the take-out, and in this section you need to guard against getting caught up in the strainers. This creek is extremely dangerous at high flows, and nearly as dangerous at any navigable flow. Scout anything you cannot clearly see, and most of the stuff you can see.
Put in off Galen's Road (private), off SH 25 about 2.3 miles northeast of SH 5, at 0.0 miles. To reach the put-in, go to the junction of SH 5 and SH 25 in northeast Cleburne County about 20 miles southeast of Batesville, then proceed northeast on SH 25 about 2.3 miles to the dirt road called Galen's Road. Turn left (north) and go about a mile to a fork where you will go through a gate on the right fork. Follow this 4-wheel drive road about a mile to the put-in at the creek; Take out at SH 14 bridge about 6.3 miles west of Locust Grove at about 6.4 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of Wolf Bayou.
There are no public campgrounds along Wolf Bayou. The nearest campground is Jacksonport State Park near Newport off SH 169 and SH 14 near US Highway 67 northeast of Little Rock.
There are no liveries or shuttle services available anywhere near Wolf Bayou. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles.
Wolf Bayou sounds a lot scarier than it really is. However, boaters do need at least advanced level whitewater kayaking skills to safely run this reach, and being half mountain goat would be an added asset. All the hair is packed into the first mile, and after that you can relax a little and enjoy the immense natural beauty of the scenery surrounding the creek. Runs start on a section of Class III to IV water that mellows to class II to III+ after "Grandmother's House" and the 12-foot waterfall. The real kicker is that the Batesville area needs at least 1.5 inches of rainfall to get the creek flowing at navigable levels, and then there is a short window when boating can be done. The put-in access is on private property, but the owners leave the gate open and boaters are permitted to use their private road (Galen's Road) to reach the top of the run. This is steep creek boating that rivals some of the great runs in Colorado, though not quite as tough as the hairiest of them. Please be respectful of private property and landowners whom you may encounter, and let them know how much you appreciate their allowing access for you.