June 2012 - Vol 9, No 6
OZARK, Ark. - The Mulberry River runs a short course at only 55 miles long. But during the spring and early summer it’s one of the wildest rivers around. For those searching for Class II and III whitewater and excitement around every bend, look no further than the Mulberry River. The river responsible for the name of the famous festival grounds that’s home to Wakarusa and Harvest Festival keeps paddlers active throughout the seasons.
Spring to early summer is definitely the hottest time to catch this spring fed crystal clear river. When the rains are heavy and waters are rising, that’s when boats hit the roof racks in Northwest Arkansas. Rains bring the serious paddlers out of the woodwork, and these paddlers converge upon the Mulberry River with a fury. In 1992 the Mulberry River made National Wild River status, and any weekend a wild time you’re sure to find. The river is located between Highways 16 and Interstate 40, temporarily paralleling the Pig Trail - Highway 23. It flows primarily southwest, from its headwaters high in the Ozarks. After 55 miles it runs into the mighty Arkansas River, just a ways south of I-40.
Folks looking to tame the river should at least have some basic canoe skills first, especially if the water levels are high. Gentler river experience can be gained on the Elk River in Missouri, or the Illinois River in Oklahoma. Most of the outfitters and access points are found off Highway 16 and off Highway 23. The two major outfitters for the Mulberry are Byrd’s Adventure Center and Turner Bend. Both of these operations offer canoe, kayak and raft rentals, plus lodging, camping and shuttle services for folks with their own boats.
Paddling is not the only outdoors activities to be found, world class hiking can be achieved on this region’s longest trail. The 150-plus mile trail called the Ozarks Highland Trail crosses Highway 23 and meanders with the river area for quite a while. Also some of the finest 4x4 trails are located in the national forest around the Mulberry. Remember this area is loaded with black bear and many other species of animals. Bring a camera and enjoy some of the finest wilderness the Ozarks have to offer.