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Big Creek, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Low-water Bridge # 3 to Old Iron Bridge
~ 15 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Big Creek is everything its name implies - it is a long creek, especially by creek standards, it is wider than most creeks and has great Class I to II rapids that make paddling fun, though not as dangerous as steep creek hairboating. Forming in Independence County, Big Creek is a stream of about 38 miles in length flowing generally north to south (with a LOT of zig-zags) between the small town of Banner at SH 87 and its confluence with the Little Red River near the town of Pangburn just below Greer's Ferry Lake and Heber Springs in Cleburne County. The popular run is the lower 15 miles, flowing as a remote, beautiful, unspoiled stream surrounded by equally scenic Arkansas wilderness where nature is at its prime. The Ozark Mountains forests are dense with stands of various hardwood trees including oaks, elms, pecans and others. Rock bluffs overlook the creek and provide homes for squirrels, rabbits, wild turkey (the bird, NOT the drink of some paddlers after a day on the Cossatot!), deer, raccoons, beavers, skunks and other wildlife, though not all of them actually live IN the trees. Birds and plants are abundant, depending upon season.

Big Creek is a pool-and-drop stream with long pools of deep, green water separated by shoals and rapids, as well as rocky chutes with fast water that can be very hard on boats if not negotiated properly. The stream is primarily a Class I waterway with occasional Class II rapids, but nothing that is particularly difficult for experienced paddlers. The lower 15 miles, where most boaters go to play, is between the Low-water bridge # 3 on some unnamed county road north of Pangburn and the old iron bridge just east of SH 110 near Hiram, though trips can continue down the Little Red River to any of the take-outs there. Finding the access points is usually more difficult (and sometimes more time consuming) than running the creek. Excellent camping facilities are available nearby at any of the US Army CoE campgrounds around Greer's Ferry Lake.


Independence and Cleburne Counties of northcentral Arkansas, east of Greer's Ferry Lake and north of Pangburn. Heber Springs is to the east just below the lake.

Distance from major cities

Little Rock 80 miles; Fayetteville 220 miles; Fort Smith 215 miles; Texarkana 224 miles; Oklahoma City 424 miles; Kansas City 536 miles; Dallas 405 miles; Austin 600 miles; San Antonio 680 miles; Houston 514 miles; Albuquerque 961 miles; Phoenix 1,405 miles; Denver 1,020 miles; Salt Lake City 1,518 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.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good to very good, but flowing at navigable levels only after recent local rainfall. There is no gauge, so visualy inspection is the only real measure of navigability. Look for a minimum of water filling 1/3 of the culverts below Low-water bridge # 3 at the put-in. Optimim conditions would be from 2/3 full to about 1 foot over the bridge. If the only sign of the bridge is irregular waves, then go somewhere else to paddle.

Best time to go

The best time to paddle Big Creek is right after a big rainstorm in the drainage basin. Heed the warning in the paragraph above regarding dangerous levels, and be sure to factor in the time since the rain stopped. It is possible to put in when conditions look right, only to discover that the creek is still rising after you are already in trouble. Generally, spring and late-fall months provide the best conditions for paddling Big Creek.

Hazards to navigation

Normally, there are no significant hazards to navigation on Big Creek. However, at high flows this stream can become dangerous, with fast currents that can send boats and paddlers into trees, low-water bridges, strainers and other entrapments. The remote nature of this waterway means that nobody is likely to see you unless they are on the creek with you, so never paddle this stream alone. About 12 miles below the put-in is the site of a collapsed dam, below which is a rapid that produces great waves at optimum flows and dangerous waves in flood stage conditions. Near Hiram, the creek enters a small canyon where Class II rapids can become dangerous at high flows, and these should always be scouted before running if the water is running over the bridge at the put-in.

River Access Points

Low-water bridge # 3 off a county road east of SH 110 and Wilburn at 0.0 miles; Low-water bridge # 2 at about 4.5 miles; Old iron bridge (low-water bridge # 1) north of Pangburn and east of SH 110 at about 15.0 miles. It is possible to continue down the creek to the Little Red River and any of the access points downriver from the confluence, though the next access point will add about 7 miles to your trip. There are no other access points for the lower 15 miles of Big Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along Big Creek, which adjoins private property and the Big Creek State Natural Area. The US Army Corps of Engineers (CoE) operates several excellent campgrounds around Greer's Ferry Lake, and all make great base camps for paddling the Little Red River and Big Creek.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along Big Creek. Bring your own boats and gear, and run your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

Big Creek is another of those wonderful Arkansas waterways that few will ever see and fewer will paddle. It is seldom runnable, but if you are fortunate enough to be there after a significant rainfall in the local area, then you will be treated to a spectacular creek run of immense natural and remote beauty. Other than in or near flood stage conditions, Big Creek is usually not dangerous. However, it is far removed from the beaten path, so boaters are advised to have adequate whitewater, swiftwater rescue and First Aid skills just in case they are needed. The creek is a tributary to the Little Red River below Greer's Ferry Lake, where excellent campsites can be found. Be sure to carry a camera, because you will see a lot of natural beauty, and probably a large number of wild animals of small to medium size. Novice or low-experience whitewater boaters should not visit Big Creek unless accompanied by others who have sufficient training and experience to handle whatever can happen. Check the current weather, as well as conditions for the previous couple of days in the area above the creek. If you want more than 15 miles, then there are the options of starting above low-water bridge # 3 and/or paddling past the old iron bridge access to the Little Red River and any of the access points downriver on it.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II w/ Class III consequences
Length 15 miles
Minimum Flow culverts 1/3 filled
Optimum Flow culverts 2/3 filled to 1 foot over the put-in bridge
Maximum Flow steady, small waves over the bridge
First Put-in Low-water bridge # 3
Last Take-out Old iron bridge near Pangburn
Elevation msl
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Depends upon recent local rainfall
Permits No

Little Red River map courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Floaters' Guide
Little Red River map courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Floaters' Guide

Arkansas Canoe Club

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