Floaters who have been down the Mulberry
River tend to describe it as 50 miles of whitewater. That's not completely
accurate, but the Mulberry pours over ledges, shoots through willow tangles, and
whips around sharp turns. When you've floated it, you won't wonder why they
named one of those turns "Whoop and Holler". You'll wonder why they
didn't tack the name onto all of them. This Ozark river has earned its wild
reputation and deserves the class II/III rating it holds in the spring. In drier
times, it's a good place to swim, fish for smallmouth, or float on an air
mattress. It's a river for all seasons, as the Arkansas General Assembly
recognized when it officially declared the Mulberry a scenic river in 1985.
The Mulberry begins high in the Ozark
Mountains and flows in a west-southwesterly course down towards the Arkansas
River. It's in a rush to leave the Ozarks. Short by Arkansas standards, a total
of just 70 miles, it tumbles downhill at breakneck pace and is floatable after
wet weather from about Oark to I-40. The average drop over the length of the
river is about 12 feet per mile. Because of its ruggedness, floaters are urged
to have at least one other support canoe with them and always to use a life
It's narrow canyons, tree-lined bluffs,
and dense woods are typical Ozark Mountain scenes and its isolation makes it a
superb stream for wildlife sightings and bird watching. This area hosts the
state's largest concentration of black bears, a shy animal not often seen, but
you could round a bend to catch a glimpse of one heading for cover.
The fishing in early spring may be
hampered by the fast water, but later anglers take smallmouth, largemouth,
spotted bass and green and longear sunfish. The potholes can be fished
productively even during drier months, but you may have to do some hiking to
Access to the river is particularly good
on the upper stretches where it flows through National Forest. The Forest
Service operates two campgrounds on the river, Redding and Wolf Pen, and three
others nearby, Shores Lake, Ozone and White Rock Mountain. Commercial float
outfitters are available and some also have camping facilities.
There's an infinite variety of fast
water, slow water, roaring rapids, choppy chutes and twisting channels on this
challenging and changing river. From the top float access near Oark to its mouth
you can expect sudden plunges into holes, haystacks, and hazards from trees
fallen during spring floods. You may want to carry along an axe for help in
clearing the river.
Picturesque names like Rocking Horse
Rapids and Picture Book tell the Mulberry's story and these should be readily
negotiable by experienced canoeists, but the ones that have earned the
sobriquets like Little SOB may be another story. Rock strewn and challenging,
it's a built-in slalom course squeezed between huge boulders that takes some
expertise. Near Milton Ford, you'll catch one known as The Strainer for the
number of people that have been strained right out of their canoes in this
tangle of willows where the water spreads out on a right hand turn and runs
under dropping willow branches. Some of these rapids deserve enough respect to
pull up and scout before trying them and you may choose to walk around some.
One of the most scenic spots on the
Mulberry is Rotten Rock, which lies just below Hell Roaring Falls. The Falls
themselves are the most photographed spot on the river, mainly because they
offer such an excellent big shelf of rock where you can stop and get a good
view. Rotten Rock looks just like a huge dental cavity and you can paddle close
to examine this deteriorating bluff in the otherwise sound sandstone.
Even the final stretch of floating of
the river is dotted with huge boulders and narrow chutes, unlike many where the
area just above the mouth becomes wide and slow. The gorge of this last distance
features a twisty rapids known as Stem Winder and the boulder-filled Bow Dipper.
Reports on float conditions on the
Mulberry River are hard to come by. There is only one recognized gauge and it's
well down the river and is not easily read except from the river. Check river
conditions before you start a float. Look for large amounts of debris, rising
water, and adverse weather forecasts. The steepness of the drainage area can
cause the Mulberry to rise fast, so be cautious if rain is expected.
The mighty Mulberry is a river that
deserves respect, but it's also a river that also deserves its reputation as the
best float stream in the state.