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Arkansas is a great place for kayaking

by Keith Sutton | August 27, 2018 at 10:41 a.m.
Cane Creek State Park near Star City is an ideal place for beginners to get started kayaking. The park offers rental kayaks, kayaking classes and two calm bodies of water — Cane Creek Lake and Bayou Bartholomew — to paddle.

Have you been wondering if kayaking might be a good sport for you? Paddling a kayak certainly offers many benefits that make it worthy of consideration.

For example, kayaking is a superb way to exercise. While you enjoy the outdoors, all that paddling gives you a serious workout. One hour of kayaking can burn more than 350 calories while improving cardiovascular health and building muscle strength in your legs, back, shoulders and torso.

A kayak provides an economical way to fish or float, too. You can purchase a good kayak for just a few hundred dollars, and you won’t have to pay for expensive gas, storage fees, insurance and upkeep. You’ll certainly want to study the many options available before making a purchase. But regardless of which type you choose— a whitewater kayak, fishing kayak, touring kayak or racing kayak; sit-on-top or slide-inside style; a hard-body model, inflatable version, folding type or something else — owning it won’t empty your wallet or pocketbook. Kayaking is one of the least-expensive ways to enjoy a day on the water.

Most kayaks are lightweight, making them easy to transport and control, another benefit. In most cases, you can strap your ’yak to the top of your vehicle without assistance. And except for tandem models that allow paddling with a friend, kayaks are designed for easy maneuvering by one person.

Best of all, perhaps, a kayak allows a truly peaceful on-the-water experience. With no rumbling of a motor — no sound at all except that of your paddle slicing through the water — you can relax and enjoy seeing more of the nature you’re looking for. The compact size of your craft leaves you free to explore every cove, creek, island and backwater, and when you encounter deer, eagles, herons, foxes and other wild animals, you can stop paddling and drift for a closer view. If you fish from your kayak, the decreased noise and increased access to more remote areas will improve your catches.

All you need now are some places to explore. Here are a few Arkansas locations where kayaks provide the ideal means for fishing and exploration.

Siloam Springs Kayak Park

Completed in spring 2014, this park just south of the city of Siloam Springs (19253 Fisher Ford Road) has rapidly become a hot spot for whitewater paddlers throughout the region. The city of Siloam Springs was awarded a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to purchase riverfront property adjacent to Fisher Ford Road and construct this city park on the Illinois River. The flow of the river has been engineered to create a series of whitewater rapids and standing waves for kayakers. Life jackets, helmets and close-toed shoes are highly recommended. Other park amenities include a swimming area, a climbing boulder, accessible walking trails, picnic tables, a changing station and two rain gardens.

Unless the waters reach an unsafe level, the park is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. There is no admission fee. All the information you’ll need to plan a visit can be found at www.siloamspringskayakpark.com.

Cane Creek State Park Kayak Trail

If you’re just learning how to kayak, Cane Creek State Park near Star City is the perfect place to visit. The park rents solo or tandem kayaks to its guests for a very reasonable rate and offers guided kayak tours and kayaking lessons for the whole family. The tours are available during the afternoon, at sunset and even at night under a bright full moon.

The park encompasses two bodies of water — Cane Creek Lake and Bayou Bartholomew — where a kayak is the perfect vehicle for seeing and photographing local wildlife and plants. You’ll see beautiful cypress trees, gorgeous water lilies and animals that range from majestic eagles and white-tailed deer to waterfowl, woodpeckers, beavers and songbirds. Go solo and enjoy some quiet fishing time for bass, bream, crappie and catfish if you like, or join a guided adventure with park interpreters who will share their knowledge of the outdoors.

What makes the park really special is the 2.5-mile-long kayak trail on the lake. Marked with yellow blazes on the trees and yellow buoys in open-water areas, it takes visitors right through the heart of this aquatic wonderland, where they can see portions of both the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the Gulf Coastal Plain. For more detailed information, visit www.arkansasstateparks.com/canecreek.

Cossatot River State Park and Natural Area

If you love the outdoors, there are many fun things to do in 5,400-acre Cossatot River State Park and Natural Area south of Mena in western Arkansas. Enjoy a hike on the 14-mile River Corridor Trail or the 3.5-mile Harris Creek Trail. Join park interpreters for a special snorkeling tour, or walk with them to learn about the local flora, fauna and geology. Go bird watching, camp out or cast a lure for the river’s plentiful fish.

When the Cossatot gets high, though, many of the visitors who arrive are experienced kayakers and canoeists who have come with one thought in mind: to challenge the river’s Class II, IV and V rapids. This is not something beginners should even consider. It’s dangerous, to say the least. But for hardcore adventure-sports enthusiasts, testing the 12 miles of park waters that are part of this National Wild and Scenic River provides unforgettable thrills.

In the Cossatot Falls area, with its distinct ledges and rugged canyon, the river drops 33 feet in elevation within just a third of a mile. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that it “is the most difficult whitewater stream in the state of Arkansas.” Early Indians simply called it Cossatot, their word for “skull crusher.” Paddlers are encouraged to use helmets, life jackets and proper clothing to guard against hypothermia. For more information, visit www.arkansasstateparks.com/cossatotriver.

Lake Ouachita State Park

Surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, Lake Ouachita, the largest lake entirely within the boundaries of The Natural State, is well known for its scenic beauty and the clarity of its waters. It’s also a 40,000-acre paradise for kayakers, with 975 miles of rugged and undeveloped shoreline, wide-open waters, and hundreds of quiet coves and islands waiting to be explored. Use a kayak for fishing, birding, sightseeing or to take you to a quiet swimming area.

Lake Ouachita State Park lies at the lake’s eastern end near Mountain Pine, and here, park interpreters offer guided kayak tours of the nearby coves and inlets. Several times a year, overnight kayak trips are scheduled to explore more of the lake and camp on remote islands. These one-night outings are perfect for families and beginning kayakers. More advanced trips involve two nights in the Lake Ouachita wilderness. For more information, visit www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakeouachita.

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