A Hidden Hot Spot of Outdoor Fun
Float VBC Initiative Works to Bring More Outdoor Tourism to Van Buren County
By Lacey Thacker & Photography by Novo Studio
The Buffalo River is arguably the most frequented river for float trips in Arkansas. But due to its popularity, it’s often crowded, and for those in Central or South Arkansas, it’s quite a drive. Enter the Little Red River. The Little Red, already well-known as a trout fishing destination, is a pristine, cold, dam-fed river flanked on either side by hardwoods populated by birds, deer and other wildlife. It is, as it turns out, a stunning float suitable for day trips or a short overnight trip.
Float VBC—Float Van Buren County—is a project developed in collaboration with the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Clinton, Van Buren County and We Love VBC. The primary goal of the project is to educate the public on the availability of and access to floating in Van Buren County. According to Jason Hayes of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, “We have found that there is more usage of the rivers for floating than was commonly known about,” and that this floating is being done with limited access to launch sites.
Proponents of the Float VBC project and other projects designed to enhance tourism in the area suggest that increasing tourism to the Little Red River area will offer a more convenient floating option for those in more southerly portions of the state, and it will also offer a stunning trip on the water. Excitingly, says Gale McRae, executive director of Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River, the initiative will also result in increased job opportunities in the area.
To create better access, the initiative, in working with other organizations, has identified two locations for initial launch sites, both on the middle fork of the Little Red River.
About an hour north of Conway.
GPS: 35.5915° N, 92.4604° W
Shirley City Park
According to Float VBC, this launch is perceived as the epicenter of floating on the middle section of the Little Red River. Launching from this site offers an easy float that takes around three hours of paddle time and four or more hours spent on the water. It is the last float before the river dumps into Greers Ferry Lake. The float ends at the Corps of Engineers parking lot at Sandiff.
This 9-mile float begins at The Nature Conservancy in Blufton and ends at Archey Fork Park in Clinton. This section’s ideal floating level is between 5 and 6.5 feet, with levels between 6.5 and 9 feet only suitable for experienced white water paddlers. River levels over 9 feet are not recommended for floating.
This nearly 100-acre tract offers access to the Little Red River, but it also offers a great opportunity to explore a pristine wildlife area. Hiking, camping, and fishing are all allowed activities. Visitors will be greeted with a gate, but it is unlocked—just shut it behind your vehicle after entering.
Van Buren County
Van Buren County is making its mark as a worthwhile destination. Visitors from across the state will appreciate the scenic beauty of the Little Red River, but they will also enjoy grabbing a bite to eat in Clinton and pit stopping at the Natural Bridge, among other outdoor activities.
Visit the Natural Bridge
Have you ever been driving along Highway 65 and seen the signs for the Natural Bridge? If you’re like me, you wondered whether this pit stop could possibly be worth the few extra miles. My answer? A resounding yes. This gorgeous sandstone formation over Little Johnny Creek was long ago actually used as a bridge. Today, it’s just one of the many natural attractions in Van Buren County.
Additional Floats Accessible by Shuttle
Alberg to Shirley: This nine-hour float offers an abundance of rapids, scenic beauty, swimming, fishing and a number of photo opportunities. This floats launch is also the western entry to Meadow Creek, an old architectural college from the 70s found in the backwoods of Stone County.
Lydalisk to Shirley: This float has a paddle time of 4.5 hours, but groups can expect to spend closer to six hours on this float. This float offers exciting rapids, scenic beauty, fishing and swimming.
River Road to Shirley: This float has a paddle time of 2.5 hours but floaters can expect to spend 4 hours on this float. This float offers a number of exciting rapids, scenic beauty, fishing and swimming.
While you’re there Eat and Drink
Before you hit the water, get your coffee fix at Rock-N-Java, an independent coffee shop that opens at 7 a.m.—just in time to make an early morning pit stop. They’ve got real (good) food, too.
Or if a leisurely sit-down meal is what you’ve got in mind, visit L’Attitude, Clinton’s own fine-dining restaurant in a home-cooked atmosphere. Dishes range from chicken salad to stuffed flounder.