The North Fork of the Saline River, along with its sister forks the Alum, South and Middle Forks converge above Benton to form the quieter Saline River that flows southeast from just southwest of Little Rock to Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge at North Crossett just above the Louisiana State Line. The North Fork forms near Crystal Mountain amid the dense growth of Ouachita National Forest where an over abundance of dead-fallen trees make paddling the uppermost reaches a near-constant obstacle course of portages that make it too much work for most paddlers. However, starting at Saline County Road S, the North Fork offers about 6.5 miles of Class I to II pool-and-drop river that is not too technically challenging for competent boaters, and which does not require frequent stops to haul your boat around a log jam.
The area surrounding the North Fork is hardwood forests of oaks, elms, pecans and other species, while riverbanks are lined with thick stands of willow trees that can become strainers for those who fail to avoid them. The forests are teeming with wildlife, birds and plants in a remarkably remote place considering its close proximity to Benton and Little Rock. Most runs end at Benton City park, though paddlers have options for paddling to any of many take-outs between Benton and Felsenthal. While not as wild as the Saline River of Howard County that runs parallel to the fabled Cossatot River, the North Fork still offers some decent, small rapids separating long, quiet pools of clean, clear water with a steady flow that sustains canoeing and kayaking o short trips of 2-3 hours. Nearby camping is available in the Lake Sylvia Campground (USFS) in Ouachita National Forest a few miles north of Benton and the start of this reach, as well as several other USFS and State Park campgrounds not too far away.
Central Arkansas, in Saline County, between Hot Springs National Park and Benton. Little Rock is less than a half hour away to the northeast on IH 30.
Little Rock 35 miles; Texarkana 120 miles; Fort Smith 165 miles; Oklahoma City 320 miles; Kansas City 486 miles; Dallas 290 miles; Austin 500 miles; San Antonio 560 miles; Houston 420 miles; Albuquerque 861 miles; Phoenix 1,305 miles; Denver 920 miles; Grand Junction 1,166 miles; Salt Lake City 1,420 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually good to very good. With adequate rainfall and moderate climate it is a year-around river. Flow is usually best in winter months or spring following heavy rainfall above and around the drainage basin of the river.
The North Fork is dependent upon runoff from recent local rainfall within its drainage basin. Typically, it flows most of the time, though summers do not always provide adequate flow for paddling. The prime season is generally from October through June, weather and climate conditions permitting.
There are no significant hazards to navigation on the North Fork of the Saline River. This stream is a pool-and-drop, Class I to II reach that can be enjoyed by almost any able-bodied paddler in canoes, kayaks and rafts. However, paddlers need to be aware of, and take care to avoid, willow strainers along the banks and dead-fall debris piles at collection points along the river.
Put in at the low-water bridge on Saline County Road S at 0.0 miles (get there by following SH 5 about 2.1 miles north of Benton, turning right on an unnamed road, going east about 1 mile to Brazil Road, then turning left (north) to CR S. The put-in is 0.5 miles from Brazil Road and CR S.); Take out at Benton City Park at about 6.5 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Saline River.
Lake Sylvia Campground (USFS), in Ouachita National Forest north of Benton, offers 19 campsites with drinking water, centrally-located restrooms, showers and other amenities. Iron Springs Campground (USFS), near the Alum Fork, offers 13 campsites with drinking water and pit toilets Lake Catherine State Park, on the Ouachita River near Malvern, offer excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, hot showers, picnic facilities, day-use areas, sanitary dump station and many other amenities. Hotel and motel accommodations are available in Malvern and Hot Springs. Food, supplies and gasoline are available in Benton and most small towns nearby.
There is at least one known outfitter located in Benton who offers canoe and kayak rentals, as well as shuttles, on various reaches of the Saline River. If not contracting with that outfitter bring everything you need, and either run your own shuttles or hook up with other boaters in the area for shuttles.
The North Fork offers an easy paddle of 6.5 short miles on basically flatwater punctuated by occasional Class I to II rapids that almost anybody can enjoy. The river is conveniently located and has relatively easy access, though finding the put-in may be a little bewildering for the directionally challenged. It is in close proximity to the Alum and Middle Forks, both also offering moderately easy trips on gentle waters with small rapids, and paddlers wanting more river than these short runs offer can always paddle the Lower Saline River all the way to just above the Louisiana State Line, or even on down into the Bayou State, if so desired. Arkansas has provided many excellent access points all along the way for the convenience of those enjoying the natural grandeur of this beautiful state. The nearby Ouachita River also offers excellent paddle trips of various lengths on mostly flatwater, and all these runs are not too far from IH 30, which cuts a southwest to northeast diagonal across Arkansas. Bring a camera to capture memories of this beautiful North Fork and its sister tributaries.