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White River, Arkansas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Norfork to Calico Rock
~ 18 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Between Norfork and Calico Rock the White River begins to widen and its current slows resulting in trips requiring a little more paddling and a decrease in the amount of trout being caught. The scenery is still excellent along this 18-mile reach of flatwater with occasional Class I rapids and shoals. Ledges, bluffs and rock outcroppings characterize much of the riverbanks. For winter paddlers frozen runoff produces beautiful icicle formations along the banks where the ledges overlook the river. Intermediate access is not available, so this reach will be a long one-day or multi-day trip for most paddlers (or a short 3-5 hours for marathon paddlers.) Most of the fishermen will be on reaches above this one, so the traffic you encounter will primarily be other paddlers out to enjoy a splendid river. Weather permitting, you can paddle this reach just about any time of the year, though you will need to be dressed for Ozark winter conditions between late November and late March.


Baxter and Stone Counties 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 northwest, flowing into the White River at Buffalo City in Baxter County.

Distance from major cities

Little Rock 165 miles; Fayetteville 122 miles; Fort Smith 175 miles; Texarkana 309 miles; Oklahoma City 355 miles; Kansas City 497 miles; Dallas 490 miles; Austin 685 miles; San Antonio 765 miles; Houston 600 miles; Albuquerque 721 miles; Phoenix 1,490 miles; Denver 980 miles; Salt Lake City 1,514 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. This reach of the river is more prone to flash flooding than other sections because of the added inflow from the Buffalo River, so watch for signs of changing flow rates when on the river.

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, paddlers need to be aware of weather and climate conditions around the river and surrounding areas because of flash flood potential. Inflow from the Buffalo National River can raise the flow on the White River quite substantially after a rainfall that may not even be seen on the White River itself.

River Access Points

Norfork Public Access at 0.0 miles; Calico Rock Public Access at about 18.0 miles; SH 9 access between Sylamore and Allison at about 35.0 miles; Guion Public access of SH 58 at about 46.0 miles. (Access points below Calico Rock are indicated for reaches below the Norfork to Calico Rock 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). Abundant sand and gravel bars, as well as riverbanks, offer excellent primitive campsites for overnighters, though most paddlers will not be camping if running this reach only. Avoid camping on private property without having first obtained permission.

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 is possible to contract with some of the fishing guide services 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 18 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Norfork River Road Boat Ramp
Lat/Long N 36° 12' 33.70" W 092° 17' 22.99"
Last Take-out Calico Rock Public Access
Lat/Long N 36° 06' 57.46" / W 092° 08' 35.75"
Elevation 354 - 303 feet msl
Gradient 2.83 fpm
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 ] [ Cotter to Buffalo City ]
[ Buffalo City to Norfork ] [ 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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