Little Missouri River
The Little Missouri River begins in western Arkansas southeast of Mena, flowing freely through the Ouachita Mountains and scenic areas of the Ouachita National Forest that include the Little Missouri Falls and Albert Pike recreation areas. The watershed of the Little Missouri River is quite small, which means that its upper reaches ordinarily contain little water during the dry summer months.
The river is also designated as an “Arkansas Natural and Scenic River” by the state.
April 22, 1992. From its origin to the west section line of section 22, T4S, R27W; from the southern property line between national forest lands and private lands to the north line of the NW 1/4 of the SW 1/4 of section 5, T5S, R27W.
The Caddo people were the original inhabitants of this area; several prehistoric sites can be observed in the river corridor. Traditionally, this river was used by them for a variety of purposes—many of the same reasons people use the river today. In earlier times, the Caddo people were a hunting and gathering society, and the evidence of their lives along the river is evidenced by tools and artifacts typical of such a culture. Also noted are small rock shelters, which are very rare on the Ouachita National Forest.
A diversity of crayfish species dwell in the Little Missouri. Of the 18 species found on the Ouachita National Forest, at least 5 are found in the Little Missouri, including the rare or uncommon saline burrowing crayfish (Fallicambarus strawni), Mena crayfish (Orconectes menae), and White River crayfish (Procambarus acutus).
It also provides important habitat for a variety of fish species, including a wonderful northern pike fishery.
Geologic features include exposures to numerous sandstone, shale, and novaculite formations which are considered unique for the Ouachita National Forest. Another attraction on the upper river is Little Missouri Falls, a staircasestep fall that attracts photographers and visitors.
Recreational opportunities abound, including hiking, swimming, fishing, and exceptional whitewater. A chief attraction is the Little Missouri Falls area which has been developed for day-use activities by the Ouachita National Forest. While there are no developed facilities between the falls and Albert Pike, the river corridor offers possibilities for all kinds of outdoor pursuits—swimming in deep pools, hiking along the streambank, and wildlife photography, just to name a few.
The boating run from Albert Pike Campground to Arkansas 84 is one of the best in the state. It begins on the National Forest near the junction of Forest Roads 73 and 106 and continues for about 8.5 rough-and-tumble miles. This stretch of the river heads downhill at a good clip of ~25 feet per mile. The rapids are exciting (up to Class IV in high water), with many featuring standing waves at their bases. Along the way, floaters will pass the mouth of Greasy Creek, near which Albert Pike—the famed pioneer lawyer, general, and poet—once lived in a well-appointed cabin. More noticeable will be Winding Stair Rapid, a series of drops that may well put water into one’s boat. The rapid, which is approximately three miles below the put-in, can, and should, be scouted from the left (east) bank; heavy flows can put it in the Class IV level. The remainder of the float features numerous rapids in the Class I/Class III categories, including a diagonally running ledge about a quarter mile below Winding Stair that can be tricky.
The scenic values are characterized by a free-flowing stream, steep rocky bluffs, small flat floodplains, and little evidence of man. Scenery includes unique exposures to numerous sandstone, shale and novaculite formations, natural forest communities, and pastoral lands. The upper reaches of the Little Missouri were considered so scenic that the area was once approved by Congress to become Ouachita National Park, until this action was vetoed by President Herbert Hoover.
This area is significant as habitat for many threatened or endangered species, such as the Caddo madtom. This diminutive fish specializes in river headwaters and has a small to tiny, fragmented range, mostly in the Caddo, Ouachita, and Little Missouri Rivers in southwestern Arkansas. This limited range makes this species vulnerable to habitat destruction/degradation from impoundment, pollution, and other factors.
Bald eagles winter in this area of the forest, as well.