Floating the lower Saline River

floating the lower Saline River

Arkansas is known for its water. Finding a good place to take your kayak or canoe isn’t just limited to the Buffalo National River. One thing I really love about the Natural State is how diverse its waterways are. You can find class IV and V rapids in some places like the Cossatot River, or you can paddle lazily through a flooded forest. Floating the lower Saline River around Warren is a great way to experience the ecology of the waterways in the Gulf Coastal Plain.

Floating “LA”

The lower Saline River isn’t necessarily a lazy river float. It may not have large boulders and river rocks to throw obstacles at you, but it does collect downed trees from its sandy banks. These trees create rapids and chutes forcing you to maneuver your boat around and through them.

I made the mistake of chalking up the lower Saline River as a lazy swampy float before I floated it, but it is not. And I learned my lesson to always make sure everything is tied to the boat. I’ll just say, I failed to make it through one of the tree jams.

Floating the lower Saline near Warren is a fun float
A tricky log jam is shown. This is where I flipped.

As for the swampy part, floating the lower Saline River isn’t like other waterways in South Arkansas. It has a nice flow which keeps the water clear and clean. The soil in the Gulf Coastal Plain is sandy, which does make the bottom of the river a little murky. But it’s nice for swimming, even if you are used to rocky mountain streams.

And even though you are floating in “LA” (Lower Arkansas) as the locals call it, there are several gravel bars that make for excellent swimming spots.

Noah floats down the Saline River

The Saline River begins way up in the Ouachita Mountains north of Hot Springs. It’s fun to cross over it at the beginning of the Hunts Loop Trail and know that the water in the little stream will flow almost to Louisiana before joining another river.

Tim Ernst has a great guidebook for finding scenic areas in The Natural State

It flows south and begins to take shape north of Benton when the South, Middle, Alum, and North Forks converge into one river. Be care though. There are two Saline Rivers in Arkansas. The other is in the western part of the state around Shady Lake, although it’s not as long.

Where to float the lower Saline River around Warren

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has several public accesses to the lower Saline River. Around Warren, there are four. When I floated the river, we decided to float from Cowford Road to Highway 63, north of Warren. We chose this float because it is the shortest option to float the lower Saline River near Warren.

Floating the lower Saline River

The float from Cowford Road to Highway 63 is about 5.5 miles. We had some long swim breaks, but it took us right at one-mile-an-hour to float it.

You can also float from Highway 63 to Highway 278 (just east of Warren). Many locals refer to this float as Bridge-to-Bridge. However, it is a long float. This section of the river is about 11 miles. And depending on the rate of flow and how much you stop, it can take all day.

The takeout is shown on Highway 63 when floating the lower Saline River

If you want a little longer float, you can put in at Highway 278 and float down to Ozment Bluff Landing, south of Warren. I mapped this float at 12 miles, so it’s a little longer than the Bridge-to-Bridge float.

Floatable range

Like any other river, you don’t want to float the lower Saline River when it’s too high or too low. Even though there are not any rocks that make whitewater, the downed trees can be a safety issue if the river is too high.

Floating the lower Saline River

You can check the water levels on the United States Geological Survey’s website. For this part of the river, you want to check the levels at Rye and Warren. Because there is not a lot of information out there on floating the lower Saline River, I kind of had to guess at what a good level was.

Nephew Noah and my brother float the river

When we floated it I looked at the discharge-rate on the USGS website. This graph gives you the median daily statistic as well as the current reading. I also went to Facebook and asked locals who had experience floating the river.

The discharge in cubic feet per second was slightly higher than the median daily average. So for late summer, I knew that was good. I was also informed that the gauge was reading six feet at Warren, which was a good level.

Some of the log jams are shown

And honestly, at six feet, I felt the water levels were perfect. Well, maybe it could have been a little higher. We scraped on a gravel bar, but we were able to push on. However, if the water was higher and fast-flowing, I could see where it could be treacherous when floating through the downed trees.

My brother on the gravel bar we got stuck on
My brother wiggling his way off the gravel

Knowing the river levels is so important when floating any river. There are a number of Facebook groups out there for kayakers that are location specific. I use these groups because they are a great resource for determining the safety of the river levels.

Floating the lower Saline River

Floating the lower Saline River near Warren is a great way to explore the Gulf Coastal Plain, especially if you don’t get down that way often. It’s a great lazy float that can throw a little bit of challenge at you. It can also be floated farther into the summer when the mountain streams drop below a floatable range.

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Floating the lower Saline River near Warren is a great way to explore the waterways of the Gulf Coastal Plain of Arkansas.

2 thoughts on “Floating the lower Saline River”

  1. When did you float the Cowford Access on the Saline River? My wife and I tried to drive there the end of August 2020 after seeing Game and Fish sign on the hiway.There was a locked gate on the last stretch of road to the access point. I was using my GPS to locate Cowford, so I was in the right place. Either the sign or the gate needs to be taken down.

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