The Kiamichi River begins on Pine Mountain in eastern Le Flore County near the Arkansas border and flows about 165 miles in a south-southwest direction to the Red River on the Texas border. Its name derives from the French word for "waterbird". Along its path the Kiamichi River flows through Hugo Lake, which was formed by a flood control dam built about 7 miles east of the Town of Hugo and just north of the confluence of the Red River.
This reach of the Kiamichi River is the most commonly paddled, especially between Stanley and US Highway 271 in Antlers. While there are no significant hazards paddlers will find several fun ledge drops of 1-2 feet that can be run at levels above about 500 cfs. This entire reach is every bit as remote and undeveloped at the upper reach and the scenery is equal to any you will find in Oklahoma. Elk may occasionally be seen grazing on river left below Clayton.
Pine Mountain and Rich Mountain, with a peak of about 2,600 feet, create a wilderness area that is home to many species of wildlife and fish. The Ouachita Mountains, of which Pine and Rich Mountains are a part, offers groves of Beech trees near the headwaters and dense forest stands of hardwood and Pine trees lining the steep banks leading down to flat, narrow valleys below. Many creeks drain into the Kiamichi River creating very scenic small waterfalls along the riverbanks. The ridges of the Ouachita Mountains are occasionally broken by glacier-like rock flows that have gouged out the ground to form larger drainage creeks leading down to the Kiamichi riverbed.
Access is very good, with a half dozen points located along the river between Clayton and K River Campground near Antlers. Commercial services such as campgrounds, liveries and shuttle services, and paddlers are few compared to other nearby Texas and Oklahoma rivers, but that is all part of the mystique and beauty to be found here. While generally a flat, somewhat slow river, the Kiamichi offers potential for a great Class I-II+ whitewater run at high water, when extra care must be taken because of the narrow channel and rocky banks. The section described begins at the SH 2 access at Stanley just southwest of Clayton and ends at the SH 3 access near Antlers, both in Pushmataha County.
Le Flore, Pushmataha and Choctaw Counties in Southeastern Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border in the Kiamichi Mountains chain of the Ouachita Mountains. Fort Smith, Arkansas is about 90 minutes to the northeast, McAlester, Oklahoma is about an hour to the west northwest and Dallas, Texas is about 3 hours to the southwest.
Oklahoma City 180 miles; Dallas 150 miles; Austin 340 miles; San Antonio 420 miles; Houston 395 miles; Fort Smith 220 miles; Little Rock 285 miles; Kansas City 475 miles; Denver 845 miles; Grand Junction 999 miles; Albuquerque 722 miles; Phoenix 1,161 miles; Salt Lake City 1,281 miles (all distance are approximate depending upon starting point, destination at the river put-in and route taken).
Like all Oklahoma streams, the Kiamichi River is highly dependent upon local rainfall for adequate flow. However, it usually is navigable, though some dragging or carrying may be required, except in August and September, when the hot, summer season has lowered its flow substantially. The water quality will generally be good to very good because of a lack of commercial development, though it can be somewhat muddy or murky because of local soil conditions. Minimum flows are between 100-250 cfs. Good flows are 250-1,000 cfs. Optimum flows are 1,000-2,000 cfs. At flows above about 5,000 cfs only highly experienced whitewater paddlers in properly-equipped canoes, kayaks and rafts should attempt to run the Kiamichi River.
Most people prefer Spring and Fall because of usually higher flows and milder temperatures. The river is dependent upon run-off from local rains within the drainage basin, so it may run high and fast, moderate and smooth, slow and meandering or not at all according to what Mother Nature decides to give us. Generally, the river is a year-round stream that flows best in late-February through May and again from October through early-December, depending upon the amount for local rainfall.
While the Upper Kiamichi River has several Class II-III rapids near its headwaters, where the gradient is about 30 fpm, this reach is a more moderate Class I to II, though it may rise to Class II+ in higher flows. As the river winds down toward the confluence of the Red River, on the Oklahoma-Texas border, it become flatter and a little more serene. However, at high water levels the river can become a place that challenges boater skills. While no significant hazards for competent boaters exist on this reach of the river there are potential pin and wrap points on the pilings at the two SH 2 bridges, as well as in possible strainers that can form on river bends following floods.
Jackfork Creek (N 34° 36' 17.25" / W 095° 20' 02.20") of SH 2 / US Highway 271 north of Clayton on the right at 0.0 miles; US Highway 271 (N 34° 34' 30.38" / W 095° 20' 25.76") SE of Clayton on river left at about 2.5 miles; Blevins Road (N 34° 33' 19.27" / W 095° 24' 33.77") east of SH 2 on river right at about 7.1 miles; CR 4250 (N 34° 32' 20.75" / W 095° 27' 44.37") east of SH 2 on either side at about 11.3 miles; Unnamed dirt road (N 34° 30' 19.47" / W 095" 35' 40.70") off SH 2 SW of Stanley on river right at about 16.3 miles; SH 2 Bridge (N 34° 26' 50.33" / W 095° 33' 48.73") near Stanley on river left at about 21.9 miles; SH 2 Bridge (N 34° 25' 35.01" / W 095° 34' 43.91") on river right at about 24.2 miles; Craig Road (N 34° 24' 48.44" / W 095° 34' 39.43") east off SH 2 on river right at about 25.4 miles; Pine Creek (N 34° 24' 19.86" / W 095° 35' 36.41") at SH 2 at on river right about 26.4 miles miles; Lost Mountain Road (N 34° 22' 56.55" / W 095° 35' 33.07") on river right at about 28.2 miles; K River Campground (N 34° 20' 26.48" / W 095° 38' 00.06") on river right at about 34.7 miles (private campground - fee required); US Highway 271 Bridge (N 34° 14' 55.73" / W 095° 36' 21.49") north of Antlers on river right at about 45.5 miles; Bug Tussel Road (N 34° 15' 09.05" / W 095° 30' 40.73") on river left at about 52.9 miles (emergency access only); SH 3 boat ramp (N 34° 11' 53.91" / W 095° 29' 04.23") near Antlers on river left at about 57.98 miles; Hugo Lake Twin Oaks Access Road boat ramp (N 34° 06' 25.65" / W 095° 35' 33.07") just below SH 93 on river right at about 71.0 miles. There may be other access points, some of which may be on private land, that can be accessed in an emergency.
K River Campground (580-298-2442), located off Patterson Lane at SH 2 and the Kiamichi River, (580-298-2442) offers riverside camping and recreational activities, a warm-water bathhouse, swimming pool, RV sites, dump station and other amenities. There are no other known campgrounds operating on the Kiamichi River. To find K River Campground from the south follow SH 2 north from Antlers through Kellond and Moyers, crossing Buck Creek about 1 mile north of Moyers. Patterson Lane is just north of the Buck Creek high bridge on the right (look for the sign hanging between two trees.) From the north follow SH 2 from Clayton to Patterson Lane on the left just before reaching the Buck Creek high bridge. An alternate route from the north, through McAlester, is via Indian Nation Turnpike to Antlers, then north on SH 2 as if coming from the south. Good primitive campsites can be found at some locations along the river in moderate to low water level conditions, but most will be washed out at flows over about 1,000 cfs.
K River Campground (580-298-2442) offers canoe rentals and shuttles. There are no other known liveries or shuttle services operating on the Kiamichi River.
The Kiamichi River is one of those seldom paddled streams that can be tame at lower water and a raging torrent at high water. Flowing through the Kiamichi Mountains of the Ouachita Mountain Range, its banks and, at places, the riverbed, are lined with large boulders that have the potential to create great whitewater fun under adequate flow conditions. The area is completely undeveloped and offers a glimpse into how this part of Oklahoma has looked for hundreds of years. It is an area steeped in Native American history. Access is very good, and commercial services are almost non-existent, so be sure to bring everything you need when you go to the Kiamichi River unless you are renting from K River Campground. The gorgeous and somewhat challenging Mountain Fork River, and the more technical Glover River, flow nearby to the east, offering additional paddling opportunities for visitors to this southeastern Oklahoma area.