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South Canadian River, Oklahoma
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 283 to US Highway 75
~ 267 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Canadian River is a very long, major U.S. waterway that flows from its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in far southern Colorado near Raton Pass, down through eastcentral New Mexico, then east across the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, where it drains a sizeable portion of that state before reaching its confluence with the Arkansas River just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The South Canadian River forms the main body of the Canadian River, draining a significant portion of Oklahoma on its way to Lake Eufaula and eventually the Arkansas River. Usually, the river is to low to paddle, having a slow trickle current sandwiched between red clay mud banks and quicksand, but after a significant rainfall the river can quickly swell to immense proportions due to the large drainage area it serves. It is called the South Canadian River to distinguish it from its northern sister stream inside Oklahoma. Of its 760 miles, nearly half flows through Oklahoma. While the river is not a major paddling destination it does possess potential for great trips, especially in its more remote reaches, shortly after a major rain event along its corridor.

The South Canadian is, for the most part, very remote. It features some things not often seen on rivers where people paddle - abandoned oil derricks and pumping stations in the streambed. Other than near population centers, it is unlikely you will see other people while paddling this stream. At higher flows the river provides a steady current that can facilitate getting downstream, but when the water drops, what remains tends to channelize on one side or the other, often without a wet passage between them forcing a portage. It is best to check the USGS gauges immediately before departing, or before putting in, if possible, to determine adequate flow for your trip. There are no obstacles that pose problems when paddling, though the quicksand can become a problem during portages, so test the bottom and the banks before stepping out of your boat. In practical terms, trips can start (in Oklahoma) as far west as US Highway 283 between Roll and Arnett, and end at US Highway 75 at Calvin. It is possible to start trips at Canadian, Texas, or even further west, and end on Lake Eufaula, but either of those options requires a lot of additional time and effort.


Central Oklahoma, almost border to border running west to east. The South Canadian River enters Oklahoma just north of Durham in Roger Mills County, then flows under US Highway 283, SH 34, US Highway 183, US Highway 270/281, IH 40, US Highway 81, IH 44 (also US Highway 62/277) south of Oklahoma City and west of Norman, IH 35 south of Norman, US Highway 177, US Highway 377 / SH 99 north of Ada, US Highway 75 at Calvin and Indian Nation Turnpike just before entering Lake Eufaula.

Distance from major cities

Oklahoma City 130 miles; Tulsa 235 miles; Dallas 245 miles; Austin 435 miles; San Antonio 515 miles; Houston 490 miles; Little Rock 474 miles; Kansas City 475 miles; Albuquerque 435 miles; Phoenix 890 miles; Denver 515 miles; Salt Lake City 1,050 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good, flowing clear to muddy depending upon recent rainfall conditions. The river is usually too low to paddle without numerous portages, but rises and falls quickly shortly after a significant local rainstorm within its drainage basin. Because it is rainfall dependent, the river may be navigabel in some sections when it is too low in others. Check the gauges carefully before starting a trip.

Best time to go

Being rainfall dependent for navigable flows, the best "seasons" are generally in late-winter through late-spring or mid-fall through late fall. In years with above average precipitation the river may be navigable in any month, but the most reliable months will probably be February through May and October through November.

Hazards to navigation

There are no waterfalls, ledge drops, boulder gardens or other "normal" hazards to navigation on the South Canadian River. The hazards one might encounter could include water mocassins, quicksand, red clay mud, heat (there is VERY little shade anywhere along the river), remoteness (especially west of US Highway 81) and low water levels which force portages, carrying or dragging boats and gear.

River Access Points

US Highway 283 bridge north of Roll, Oklahoma at 0.0 miles; SH 34 bridge south of Camargo at about 30.0 miles; US Highway 183 bridge near Taloga at about 63.0 miles; SH 33 bridge between Fay and Thomas at about 91.0 miles; County Road north from SH 37 east of Bridgeport at about 118.5 miles; US Highway 81 bridge near SH 152 between Minco and Union City at about 142.5 miles; SH 37 southeast of Oklahoma City north of Newcastle at about 162.5 miles; SH 9 bridge off IH 35 between Norman and Goldsby at about 172.5 miles; SH 39 bridge between Lexington and Purcell at about 186.5 miles; SH 102 bridge Between Byars and Wanette at about 206.5 miles; US Highway 177 bridge south of Asher at about 215.0 miles; US Highway 377 / SH 99 bridge north of Ada between Byng and Vamoosa at about 239.0 miles; SH 48 bridge between Holdenville and Atwood at about 261.0 miles; US Highway 75 bridge at Calvin at about 267.0 miles. There are no practial take-out points between US Highway 75 and Lake Eufaula about 40 miles downstream.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no known campgrounds or other accommodations located along the riverbanks. Depending upon the reach being paddled, conventional accommodations (motels) may be available in small towns near the river. Abundant natural campsites are available all along the banks, but many are on private land and should not be used without having first secured permission. Beware the quicksand and snakes if camping along the river - neither is usually a problem, but there is always a possibility that one or both could be present.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries, outfitters or shuttle services operating along the South Canadian River. Take whatever you need for your trip and arrange your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

The South Canadian River is not going to be the first chocie of most paddlers for places to go in Oklahoma, but for those interested in exploring seldom-traveled, remote wilderness waterways this river has everything you need, in spades. It is probably better east of IH 35 because of the potential for more water and a higher number of crossing roads with access to services you may need on a trip, as well as access to and from the river. Extended trips can start with great flow and end with too little for enjoyable paddling, or not enough to paddle at all. Remember and heed the Boy Scout motto, "BE PREPARED!" Personally, I would avoid the dead of summer because of the liklihood of finding many of the potential troubles that exist on this river all at the same time. A summer rainstorm of significant proportion can change that quickly. Be sure to wear Burnt Orange while on the river - they just LOVE that color in Oklahoma!

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 267 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 283 (SH 33/47)
Last Take-out US Highway 75
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 07228000 (Canadian, TX)
Web: 07228500 (Bridgeport, OK)
Web: 07229200 (Purcell)
Web: 07231500 (Calvin)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Local rainfall dependent
Permits No

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

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Canadian River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Canadian River Homepage ] [ North Canadian River ]
[ Upper Beaver River ] [ Lower Beaver River ] [ Deep Fork River ] [ Goff River ] [ Kiowa River ] [ Little River (North) ]

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