Water trails offer camping

Posted: February 27, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Kirsten Bartlow with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission paddles the Bayou DeView Water Trail on an autumn morning.

Despite the passage of time, little has changed in the fundamentals of a long, skinny boat propelled by paddles.

A 21st century, Kevlar canoe probably would be recognized by a Native American of the 1700s. Packing a canoe for an expedition today usually is associated with recreation, possibly a few days on the Buffalo National River to get a taste of what early explorers and fur traders might have experienced.

Canoe-access campsites offer a more intimate experience with the outdoors than traditional campgrounds. Canoe travel enables paddlers to move silently through the water, which allows close encounters with wild creatures.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has developed more than a dozen water trails across the state. A handful of these offer overnight camping. For maps, including those geo-referenced for smartphones, and more details about each trail, visit agfc.com/watertrails.

• Little Maumelle River Water Trail: The Little Maumelle River rises in the Ouachita Mountains west of Little Rock, meanders south of Pinnacle Mountain and widens as it reaches the Arkansas River. The 8.2-mile trail offers solitude near the city, drawing paddlers with towering cypress trees, wildlife viewing and angling opportunities.

Tucked in among cypress trees, a camping platform near the banks of The Nature Conservancy’s William Kirsch Preserve at Ranch North Woods gives paddlers dry respite. It’s the first of its kind in Arkansas, although camping platforms are popular on waterways in the Southeast. Experience the sounds of nature while floating under the stars by requesting a reservation at www.arkansaswatertrails.com.

• Crooked Creek Water Trail: Crooked Creek near Yellville is known for feisty smallmouth bass. The trail covers 22 miles of the stream, although other stretches may be floated. The water level in the creek depends entirely on rainfall. Be sure to check the U.S. Geological Service gauge at Kelley’s Slab before paddling.

Although most property along Crooked Creek is privately owned, there are primitive camping options at Snow Access and The Nature Conservancy Brooksher Crooked Creek Preserve, which has no access by road. Paddlers also may camp at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek with permission from the center’s manager.

• Wattensaw Bayou Water Trail: Waterfowl, woodpeckers or warblers flit overhead, depending on the season, and river otters and beavers swim in the coffee-colored water. Three access points along Wattensaw Bayou offer options on this 7.8-mile water trail that leads to the White River.

A river-access-only campsite is perched along the bayou about the midway point of the trail. It’s first-come, first-served.

• Bayou DeView Water Trail: With more than 15 miles of trail oozing through towering cypress and tupelo trees, Bayou DeView exposes paddlers to the big woods. Only a small fraction of these wetlands remain today. Ancient cypress trees host barred owls, wintering bald eagles and nesting great blue herons. Fishing is good, too, especially for crappie, bream and catfish.

To enjoy an overnight in the swamp, access the Hick-son Lake campsite from a spur trail off Bayou DeView.

• Rabbit Tail Water Trail:

With more than 700 miles of undeveloped shoreline and more than 100 islands, Lake Ouachita can be a paddler’s dream. Rabbit Tail Water Trail is on the quieter, north shore of the lake and is tucked into relatively protected coves. Wind can be a deal-breaker on this lake’s wide-open water.

Paddlers on the 8.5-mile loop may camp on an island (check U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations) or along the shore in the Ouachita National Forest. Pack out trash. Reserve a guided trip at www.ouachitakayaktours.com.