Spring waterfalls come alive along Mulberry River

Posted: April 18, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Karen Mowry takes in a view of the Mulberry River from the Mulberry River Road Scenic Byway on March 26. The route runs parallel to the river along Arkansas 215.

Visitors can pick their favorite option from the many ways available to enjoy the Mulberry River.

Paddlers can hop in a canoe or kayak and run the rapids and turquoise water on this lively stream. Hikers can ease along one of the trails that start at the river or tackle the nearby Ozark Highlands Trail.

Float the Mulberry

The Mulberry River flows 70 miles from its headwaters to the Arkansas River. Most kayaking and canoeing takes place downstream from Wolfpen access along the Mulberry River Road Scenic Byway. There are U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and access points along the river.

— Staff report

When it comes to wheels, the Mulberry River Scenic Byway is ideal for a springtime Sunday drive or bicycle ride.

Pedaling a bike along the paved and scenic byway has its advantages. Riders linger longer in the hills and meadows when meandering along at eight or 10 mph. There's no windshield or car interior to obstruct the view. Bike riders hear birds singing from the roadside bluffs and woods.

The byway is Arkansas 215, which runs along the river. It starts at Arkansas 23 on the west. The eastern end is at the little town of Oark, but the highway runs another three miles to Catalpa, an even smaller town along the Mulberry.

Everything fell into place for a perfect bicycle ride along the byway on March 26, a warm Sunday. A trio of bikers hit it just right. The weather was gorgeous. Dogwoods and redbuds were in their springtime glory. Rain earlier in the week had every rivulet and creek in the forest flowing. Waterfalls were everywhere, from little pour offs to a couple of 50-footers. The Mulberry River was boisterous and bank full.

Tom Mowry of Nob Hill stopped his bike to take it all in.

"This is the best I can ever remember doing this ride," he said. "You look to the left, and you've got the dogwoods. Look to the right, and you've got the river. I don't think I've ever seen the Mulberry this high."

The bike ride started at Redding campground along Arkansas 215 about three miles east of Arkansas 23. The trip from Redding to Catalpa and back is 34 miles. Other access areas at Indian Creek, High Bank, Little Mulberry and Wolfpen let riders pick a distance they like. Riding the whole route from Arkansas 23 to Catalpa and back covers 40 miles.

It's smooth asphalt most of the way and mostly level since it follows the river, There are a handful of challenging hills. Pull-offs are situated along the way for cyclists and motorists to stop and enjoy the view. Interpretive panels on the byway illustrate life long ago in the river valley. The area's wildlife and plant varieties are explained in words and photos on the panels.

Much of the byway is in the Ozark National Forest. It's simply one of the most beautiful drives in Arkansas and so many ways to enjoy. This Sunday saw paddlers on the river, motorcycles on the byway and hikers and backpackers at the trailheads. There's a swinging foot bridge over the river near Catalpa that visitors were crossing.

The quiet of biking let waterfalls be heard that would have otherwise been missed, including a 50-footer back in the woods near the Little Mulberry River.

"Whoa!," Tom hollered when he passed the cascade. The group decided to catch that waterfall on the return trip because they were hungry.

A big part of this Mulberry River ride is the great food at two country cafes along the route. At Oark, there's the historic Oark General Store, which serves up burgers, sandwiches and pie. Another three miles takes riders to the Catalpa Cafe, which serves equally delicious home-cooked cuisine.

Catalpa Cafe was the choice for lunch on this ride. The Oark store and cafe was the pick last visit.

Tom's burger was superb. His wife, Karen, ordered a chocolate malt that arrived at the table with whipped cream on top and a cherry. The chicken sandwich couldn't have been tastier. On a scale of 10, everything was a 12.

On a bike, the trip back to Redding is lickety-split fast. The heading is gradually uphill from Redding to Catalpa. It's downstream and downhill back to Redding -- a perfect ride on a perfect day, Karen mused.

"You go on some rides and you remember them," Karen said. "This is one of those days."

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip

Sports on 04/18/2017