The Cossatot forms just southeast of Mena, in Polk County, where it flows down out of the Ouachita Mountains in the southern Arkansas Ozarks. The 'Tot flows about 26 miles from its headwaters down to Gillham Lake in northern Howard County, through the Ouachita National Forest, then from below Gillham Lake about 50.6 miles on down to its confluence with the Little River in Little River County near the Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Because of a lack of good access and a required paddle down the Little River to a take-out on Millwood Lake that adds many miles to trips, this report is limited to the 15.5 miles from Gillham Dam to US Highway 70/71 near DeQueen. This is a Class I to II run with a lot of pool-and-drop flatwater occasionally punctuated by a minor rapid on a reach where any competent boater can paddle a canoe, kayak or raft. Runs depend upon releases from Gillham Lake except after substantial local rainstorms, so the normal season is from mid-fall to late spring, if there is sufficient precipitation in the drainage basin. Otherwise, this reach will be too low to paddle.
Like all of Arkansas, this area is very scenic. The river channel is heavily forested and vegetated with an abundance of various hardwood trees. Wildlife and birdlife is abundant and widely varied. Roads are narrow and often unimproved, so be sure to allow adequate time in getting to any destination. A number of small towns are nearby, but you will never know it looking from the river. The Lower 'Tot is usually boatable after the upper river (above Gillham Lake) has dropped too low to paddle, but the water may become deoxygenated and of poor quality during extended droughts. When fresh water is being released this run is a good fishing stream for those with a valid Arkansas fishing license. There are several access points allowing for shorter trips, but camping along the river can be difficult to almost impossible depending upon water levels. The river covers perhaps more mileage east to west than it does north to south, and there are numerous oxbow lakes and secondary channels that can add to the total trip distance if you choose one of them instead of the main channel, which is not always apparent. and while some people boat this reach of the Cossatot it will certainly not be anything like the Buffalo, or even the Mulberry in traffic. In fact, most of the time you will see nobody else unless you happen to encounter an occasional powerboat carrying fishermen.
This reach ends at the confluence of the Little River right at the US 59 / US 71 bridge at the headwaters to Millwood Lake. Exiting the Cossatot channel you will head straight across the Little River to Wilton Landing on the west side of the highway. If you are planning a trip to the Lower 'Tot, then do a little rain dance starting about a week or so before you intend to put in. Who knows? It might just help, and surely cannot hurt!
Howard and Sevier Counties in far southwestern Arkansas. The Cossatot flows from the Ouachita Mountains near Mena down past Vandervoot, Wickes and Athens, through Gillham Lake, then down to the confluence of the Little River. It is relatively close to Texarkana, Hot Springs National Park and Little Rock.
Little Rock 160 miles; Texarkana 95 miles; Dallas 240 miles; Austin 435 miles; San Antonio 515 miles; Houston 330 miles; Oklahoma City 265 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality will be good to excellent if there has been heavy rainfall in the local area and/or significant releases are coming from Gillham Dam. Quality will be poor during periods of extended drought, when the water will become seriously deoxygenated. Flow is heavily dependent upon local rainfall and dam releases for sufficient water to paddle. This section needs a stage of at least 4 feet, and a maximum of 8 feet, at the DeQueen USGS gauge for good boating.
Avoid the hot summer months or anytime after an extended drought. Immediately after local heavy rainfall is generally best, and the river is historically at its prime from mid fall through late spring, though the Ozarks are cold in the winter. Dam releases at Gillham Lake are citical for navigable flows.
There are no significant hazards on the section of the 'Tot below Gillham Lake Dam other than possible logjams that will pose challenges in high flow conditions. There are a few Class I-II rapids on the upper end of this reach that are normally fun, but which could turn dangerous in high water, but as you move downstream it becomes a flatwater river all the way to the take-out. Avoid paddling this stream whenever the stage level on the DeQueen gauge reads 8 feet or higher.
Below Gillham Dam (N 34° 12' 32.95" / W 094° 13' 43.85") on river right at 0.0 miles; Mize crossing / CR 263 (N 34° 11' 11.69" / W 094° 14' 28.65") on river right at about 2.0 miles; Clinton Crossing (N 34° 10' 02.10" / W 094° 14' 41.65) on river right at about 3.5 miles; Ladd Bridge Road / CR 2401 (N 34° 08' 41.42" / W 094° 14' 20.48") on river right at about 5.3 miles; Honey Island / CR 70 / Weyerhauser Road 80000 (N 34° 06' 38.62" / W 094° 12' 22.52") on either side at about 9.4 miles; US Highway 70/71 (N 34° 02' 47.46" / W 094° 12' 43.70") access east of DeQueen on river right at about 15.6 miles; SH 24 (N 33° 58' 17.31" / W 094° 13' 21.44") on river left at about 23.4 miles; Stringtown Rd / CR 6 (N 33° 55' 54.45" / W 094° 12' 39.53") on either side at about 27.3 miles; Central Rd. / CR 1551 (N 33° 53' 13.51" / W 094° 12' 05.47") on river right at about 32.1 miles; Bee Gum Rd. / CR 311 / River Rd. /CR 326 (N 33° 48' 18.89" / W 094䓉' 59.11") on either side at about 46.8 miles; Wilton Landing at US 59 / US 71 (N 33° 46' 54.4" . W 094° 08' 59.5") at the Little River confluence straight across the Little River parallel to the highway bridge at about 50.6 miles. Do NOT miss the US Highway 70/71 take-out unless (1) the river has sufficient water to paddle, (2) you have plenty of provisions for eating, drinking and camping, (3) you have the extra time necessary to finish the run, and (4) you have the stamina to paddle several miles of flatwater on a shallow gradient with a slow current.
Gillham Lake offers primitive campsites near the river; Cossatot River State Park (870-385-2201) offers 6 tent sites without water or electricity; Queen Wilhelmina State Park (479-394-2863) at Mena offers 41 campsites of three classes; Daisy State Park (870-398-4487) at Kirby, near the Little Missouri River, offers 117 campsites including 21 tent sites, picnic areas, a screened pavilion with restrooms, boat launch ramps, hiking trails, a playground, and a motorcycle/mountain bike/ATV trail; There are limited primitive campsites at the SH 246 crossing, Ed Banks Road crossing and SH 4 crossing.
There are no liveries or shuttle services operating on or in the immediate vicinity of the Cossatot River. Bring your own boats and gear, and arrange your own shuttles.
While parts of the Upper 'Tot are hairboat runs with Class IV to V drops, large standing waves and holes that can flip a raft or trash a kayaker, the Lower 'Tot between Gillham Lake and the Little River confluence is a very gentle flatwater run with a few minor Class I to II rapids near the top just to make it a little more interesting. When there is water and you have the desire to be able to say that you have "paddled the Cossatot", this is a good place to do it. This reach may have boatable water long after the upper reaches have stopped flowing, but the entire river depends heavily upon recent local rainfall in the drainage basin, and most navigable flow below Gillham Lake comes from dam releases. Scenery is awesome anytime of the year, and especially so in the fall months, when the trees are changing colors as winter in the Ozarks approaches. This reach is not among the favorites of most boaters, but it is an especially great place for those with limited experience, and can be used to develop or hone basic whitewater skills when the water is staging somewhere around 4 to 5 feet on the DeQueen USGS gauge. There are no river-related services available on this river, so be sure to bring everything you will need and run your own shuttles, which on this section are easier and faster than above Gillham Lake. As the Chinese like to say, "Enjoy!"