You may not think the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has a whole lot to do with canoeing, kayaking, or paddling. Surprisingly, it’s a big part of what they do. While AGFC does primarily deal with hunting and fishing, they also are all for preserving our beautiful waterways. Whether you’re canoeing, paddling, or kayaking, there are some great spots to float here in Arkansas and AGFC is ready to teach you the tips and tricks you need to become a kayaking connoisseur!
Trey Reid, AGFC spokesperson, told us that AGFC offers quite a bit of kayaking and paddling services that you can use to help you get up close and personal with the waterways around Arkansas. “We have Paddling 101 courses at our nature centers. We actually put a kayak out on dry ground and teach you how to get in and out of it safely without tipping the kayak over. We teach you how to steer, teach you the paddling strokes, and stuff like that.”
Sounds like a great weekend outing for a kayak-newbie. Don’t worry, though, they don’t always teach you how to kayak through your backyard. Some of the facilities, like the River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith, offer kayaking courses that actually put you out on Wells Lake, just outside the facility. “We can actually put you in a boat, push you off, give you a life jacket and a paddle and help you get started.”
Okay, okay, so you don’t need the classes. You think you’ve got the hang of paddling already. That’s fine! If you want to skip the classes and go straight to the water there is the Arkansas Water Trails Program, a program designed to guide Arkansans through some of the prettiest water trails in the state. “We have some signs giving folks directions, basically blue medallions that you’ll find on trees to make sure you stay on the right path. We also have maps that you can download and use on your phone to follow some of these trails.”
Worried you might not have good cell service out there in the wilderness? No worries, AGFC has got you covered. You can screenshot or save the maps directly to your photo album so when your itch for adventure creeps in and you just want to get out there and get going, you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
Canoeing and kayaking provides some of the best ways to actually see wildlife up close because canoes and kayaks are so quiet. Instead of the crunch, crunch, crunch of leaves under your feet when you hike, or the monotone hum of the engine when you’re out on a motorboat, with canoeing, you just slide along the water, barely making a sound.
Still not convinced?
Well, canoeing, kayaking, and paddling have some great health benefits as well, in case you want to know the facts. Reid tells us about some of these health benefits: “Just being outside is a benefit to health. Studies have shown that being out there and enjoying nature, hearing birds sing, and having that quiet solitude is really good for your mental and physical health.” As far as physical benefits go, paddling isn’t easy work. Paddling is a great upper body work out and is really good for your core, too. There’s a reason they have a rowing team at the Olympics and a rowing machine at your gym. It’s serious business.
Whether you’re paddling just to get out on the water, or paddling to see the wildlife, it’s important to stay safe and stay safe the right way. “I would definitely encourage folks to wear life jackets,” Reid adds. “You have to have one in the boat. It’s a law.” You’re not required to actually wear the life jacket if you’re over 12, but hey, a little extra safety won’t hurt, especially when you’re floating down some of the white-water sections of the waterways here in Arkansas. Some places can get pretty treacherous, so wear that life jacket. There are life jackets out there specifically designed for kayaking and canoeing that are thinner and more comfortable while also providing you with the safety you need in case of a total wipeout on the water.
Safety doesn’t just stop there though, Reid warns. “Paddle within your capabilities. Be aware of the conditions as well. If we've had a big rain event, it may not be the best time for a beginner to get out. And again, sign up for a class.” AGFC isn’t the only organization that offers canoeing and paddling classes. Do some quick research for local paddling classes near you, and you’re bound to find something.
If you’re not going to take a class, though, just don’t overdo it. “As canoeing and kayaking have grown immensely over the past decade, there have been a few incidents where people were kind of doing things outside of their ability or didn’t know enough about the body of water they were on. Know your abilities and learn what to do before you get out there.”
Whenever you’re ready to get going, here’s a few of the best places to paddle in Arkansas:
- Buffalo River (People come from all over the country to experience the Buffalo. They actually are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, so that’s even more incentive to get out there and experience history.)
- Washington River (Mount Ida)
- Caddo River (Near Ouachita Mountains)
- Kings River (Northern Arkansas)
- Maumelle River (toward the west end of Lake Maumelle)
- Two Rivers Park (Pinnacle Mountain State Park down to Two Rivers Park)
For more river trails near you, feel free to check out agfc.org. Click on the Arkansas Water Trails link.