Forming in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas very close to the headwaters of the Hailstone (Upper Upper Buffalo), Kings and Mulberry Rivers, as well as Big Piney and Little Piney Creeks, is the Upper White River, a long river that flows northwest through Fayetteville and into Lake Sequoyah then north into Beaver Lake before crossing the Missouri State Line. In Missouri, the river flows into Table Rock Lake, then east to Bull Shoals Lake, from which it emerges as the White River of northeastern Arkansas that we all know and love. "Above" Fayetteville, and I use that term loosely since the river actually flows from south to north in this area, the Upper White River offers a Class I to II run of about 36.8 miles through Washington and Madison counties.
Forming south of Fayetteville, along US Highway 71 near Winslow, the West Fork of the Upper White River flows as a Class I stream with Class II potential at high water levels. The river flows south to north through Fayetteville to Beaver Lake, where it meets the flow from the Upper White River to the east. This stream is characterized by tree-lined, gently-sloping banks, very small rapids and willow jungles near its headwaters, giving way to rolling hills farmland and open fields as it nears Fayetteville. Road noise is a constant companion on this stream where rocky shoals can create small standing waves and surprising cross currents at above normal flows. The typical run is about 11 miles from a gravel road off US Highway 71 near Woolsey to a gravel road south of the SH 156 / US Highway 71 junction near Greenland (NOT the one made famous by Leif Erikkson!), though paddlers could navigate the river all the way to Beaver Lake if so inclined. Like the Upper White River, this is an easy paddle trip for canoeists and kayakers near the Oklahoma State Line and just over an hour northeast of the Illinois River near Tahlequah. This will never be a major paddling destination for most paddlers, but if you are in the Fayetteville area and need some R&R, then the West Fork offers a close stream where you can paddle without having to be too concerned about hazards or difficult access. While there are no campgrounds located along the river, there are plenty of places to pitch a tent in close proximity, and Fayetteville offers numerous motels, restaurants, gas stations and other services.
The Boston Mountains of Madison and Washington Counties of far northwestern Arkansas. Fayetteville is about a half hour to the north of the put-in and very near the take-out. Fort Smith is just over an hour to the southwest, and the Illinois River at Tahlequah, Oklahoma is about an hour away to the southwest.
Fayetteville 25 miles; Fort Smith 37 miles; Little Rock 180 miles; Texarkana 217 miles: Kansas City 261 miles; Oklahoma City 217 miles; Dallas 397 miles; Austin 593 miles; San Antonio 673 miles; Houston 506 miles; Albuquerque 759 miles; Phoenix 1,217 miles; Denver 842 miles; Salt Lake City 1,376 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to very good near the headwaters, diminishing slightly as the river approaches Fayetteville. Its flow is usually adequate for paddle trips year-round, weather permitting, though the river may run low during periods of prolonged drought or in hot, summer months.
Weather and climate permitting, the West Fork of the Upper White River can be paddled almost any time. The most favorable water and weather conditions usually occur from early-March through June and from late-September through November. It will be cold in winter months, but properly attired paddlers can usually find good flows between November and March.
There are no major rapids or similar hazards on the West Fork of the Upper White River at normal flows. Brush and debris piles from dead-fall, willow strainers and log jams occasionally create potential strainers and entrapments that must be avoided. Low-water bridges can be problems at high flows, but they are usually minor problems for competent boaters.
Put in off a gravel road west of US Highway 71 near Woolsey at 0.0 miles; Take out at an unmarked gravel road about 1.5 miles south of the Sh 156 / US Highway 71 junction at about 11.0 miles. There are no other access points for this short reach.
There are no campgrounds located immediately adjacent to the West Fork of the Upper White River. However, there are numerous excellent campgrounds within a few miles in any direction. They include: White Rock Mountain Campground (USFS) on the Upper White River between Pettigrew and Combs, offering 8 campsites, drinking water and pit toilets (Food, supplies and gasoline are available nearby in Combs) and many USFS and State Park campgrounds on either side of US Highway 71 south of Fayetteville, near the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek off SH 23 south of St. Paul and along both sides of US Highway 71/62 between Fayetteville and Bentonville.
There are no known liveries or outfitters serving the West Fork of the Upper White River. Bring your own boats and gear, and run your own shuttles.
THe West Fork is never going to be a place where paddlers conspire to gather because it is too close to traffic noise and lacks the awesome scenery that is so typical of other nearby Arkansas waterways. But, for those who are in the Fayetteville area and need to spend a little time on the water the West Fork offers a near-perpetual waterway with very modest rapids and a lot of flat pools that almost anybody can run regardless of experience. Just don't take a big ole raft, because you will hate yourself! Access is via gravel roads, and is not as easy as on the Upper White River mainstream, but still offers relatively easy places to put in and take out. When your trip is done you have the option of enjoying one of Fayetteville's fine dining establishments, sleeping in a motel room, taking in a movie or some other entertainment, resupplying for a trip to another river or finding a nearby place to set up your tent. Fort Smith is just about an hour to the south of Fayetteville, and nearby rivers include the Mulberry, Buffalo, Hailstone and Kings, as well as Big Piney, Little Piney and War Eagle Creeks.