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White River, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Cotter to Buffalo City
~ 15 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The reach of the White River between US Highway 62 at Cotter and SH 126 at Buffalo City is a run of about 15 miles on Class I water, and arguably is the best section of the river for boating and trout fishing. This section gets supplemental flow from Crooked Creek, which enters on river right about 6 miles below Cotter. The river is characterized by rock shoals, small rapids, long pools, beautiful, rolling hills covered with the trees of Ozark National Forest and a remote, undeveloped shoreline. However, solitude is NOT part of the program, as paddlers will usually be in the company of other paddlers in canoes, kayaks and rafts, as well as trout fishermen in jon boats and wading the river. If you are an angler, then be sure to carry a valid Arkansas fishing license with a trout stamp. This mostly flatwater run requires no advanced river skills, and can be enjoyed by almost any capable person most of the time. Its gentle gradient and moderate current pose no problems for most boaters, whose biggest worries are running out of film, Dr Pepper or other necessities (really, there are OTHER necessities?) A number of other great Arkansas paddling streams are located within a very short distance of the White River, so boaters can always find a great place to dip a paddle.


Baxter County of northcentral Arkansas, just south of the Missouri State Line and Bull Shoals Lake. Parts of Ozark National Forest surround this reach. Harrison is just a few miles to the west, and the Buffalo National River is a short distance to the south, flowing into the White River at Buffalo City in Baxter County.

Distance from major cities

Little Rock 173 miles; Fayetteville 130 miles; Fort Smith 183 miles; Texarkana 317 miles; Oklahoma City 363 miles; Kansas City 505 miles; Dallas 498 miles; Austin 693 miles; San Antonio 773 miles; Houston 607 miles; Albuquerque 729 miles; Phoenix 1,498 miles; Denver 988 miles; Salt Lake City 1,522 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken. Bear in mind that Arkansas does not have many straight-line roads because of mountains and valleys around which they must pass. Allow adequate time based on distance and the often slow driving conditions that prevail in this area.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent, flowing clean, crystal clear and cold from Bull Shoals Lake. Flows are usually adequate for paddling year-round, weather permitting.

Best time to go

Any time is a great time to paddle this reach of the White River, though winter paddling will be quite cold and will require appropriate clothing to prevent hypothermia. Summer days will be hot and muggy. The optimum seasons are March through June and October through November.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards to navigation on this reach of the White River. However, the cold water can make a guy sing high soprano if he falls in and is not properly attired! The biggest hazard could be getting caught in a fishing line or hooked by fly jigs.

River Access Points

US Highway 62 near Cotter at 0.0 miles; SH 126 at Buffalo City at about 15.0 miles. Other access points below this reach are: Norfork Public Access at about 26.0 miles; Calico Rock Public Access at about 44.0 miles; SH 9 access between Sylamore and Allison at about 61.0 miles; Guion Public access of SH 58 at about 72.0 miles. (Access points below Buffalo City are indicated for reaches below the Cotter to Buffalo City section.)

Campgrounds and accommodations

Bull Shoals Lake State Park offers excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, showers, and other amenities (this is the ONLY public camping area on this reach of the White River); Blanchard Springs Recreation Area (501-757-2213), off SH 14 northwest of Allison and north of Fifty-Six, offers 32 campsites, drinking water, restrooms, showers, picnic area and Blanchard Springs caverns for off-river exploration (this camping area is NOT adjacent to the river). Most adjacent property is privately owned, so be sure to obtain permission before camping there.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along this reach of the White River. Bring your own boats and gear, and run your own shuttles. It may be possible to contract with some of the fishing guide services located below Bull Shoals Lake for shuttles and access.

Reviewer's comments

The White River is a popular paddling and fishing stream located very close to the mouth of the Buffalo National River and numerous other great boating rivers and creeks in the northcentral Arkansas Ozarks. Starting just below Bull Shoals Lake, this reach is very scenic and remote, but fishing guides and recreational paddlers may be in abundance, depending upon the time of year you come here. Excellent public access points, at distances from 10 to 20 miles apart, are located all along the 90 miles immediately below the lake, so paddlers can choose between reaches where they want to paddle, or can make multiple day runs over several reaches. However, public camping is scarce, so it is necessary to obtain permission before camping on private lands adjacent to the river. Arkansas people are usually very friendly, and will try to accommodate visitors, especially those spending money, so this is a great paddling destination. Bring your camera, because the remote and largely undeveloped area offers immense photographic opportunities.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 15 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 62 at Cotter
Last Take-out SH 126 at Buffalo City
Elevation msl
USGS Gauge Web: Norfork
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

White River map courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Floaters' Guide
White River map courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Floaters' Guide

Arkansas Canoe Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the White River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

White River

[ White River Homepage ] [ Bull Shoals Dam to Cotter ] [ Buffalo City to Norfork ]
[ Norfork to Calico Rock ] [ Calico Rock to Sylamore ] [ Sylamore to Guion ]


[ Bayou Des Arc ] [ Big Creek ] [ Black River ] [ Cache River ] [ Bayou DeView ] [ Current River ] [ Eleven Point River ] [ Little Red River ]
[ Middle Fork Little Red River ] [ Archey's Fork Little Red River ] [ Strawberry River ] [ Wolf Bayou ]
[ Salado Creek ] [ North Sylamore Creek ] [ Crooked Creek ]

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