Cossatot River State Park - Natural Area
Mena-Wickes Arkansas

Ouachita Region

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Hiking Trails, Camp Sites, Clear Mountain WaterThis park-natural area stretches for 12 miles along the wild and scenic Cossatot River, Arkansas's premier whitewater experience renowned as the best whitewater float stream in mid-America. Located in southwest Arkansas south of Mena, the Cossatot forms Cossatot Falls, a rugged and rocky canyon that challenges the most experienced canoeists and kayakers with its Class IV and V rapids. When the water is high, the paddlers are here. This National Wild and Scenic River is a watershed basin with flow levels dependent on rainfall. After significant precipitation, the river level rises, allowing experienced paddlers the opportunity to test their skills in challenging Class IV and V whitewater. At the river's Cossatot Falls area, a rocky canyon with distinct ledges, the river drops 33 feet in elevation within 1/3 of a mile. Late winter to early spring is peak whitewater paddling season here. Class III-V whitewater is for experts only. Floatable river levels are usually limited to late-fall, winter and spring. For river stage information (in feet) from the Highway 246 access, call (870) 387-3141 or visit the U.S. Geological Survey website for Cossatot River real time data at: waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?07340300.

Two species of fish found only in the southern Ouachitas, the leopard darter and the Ouachita Mountain shiner, live in the river. Bald eagles winter in the area. Waterfall's sedge and Ouachita Mountain twistflower, found only in a few counties in the Ouachita Mountains, and a number of other sensitive plant species, thrive within the park's five natural plant communities.

The state park has a weather station at the visitor center. To access this station, click here.

To access National Weather Service NOAA radar for the area, go to: http://radar.weather.gov.

Since flow levels are dependent upon rainfall, no floater services are provided on the Cossatot River.

When the water level is normal, the river's rapids are usually considered Class II-III whitewater. Outdoor enthusiasts can swim, fish and float through riffles and small rapids, from pool to pool, as they relax and enjoy the Cossatot.

The park's Brushy Creek Recreation Area at the Highway 246 bridge offers day-use facilities including picnic sites, a nature trail, restrooms and river access. A walkway high above the river provides barrier-free access on the west side.

Tent sites (no hookups) at the Cossatot Falls Area are $12/day (winter rate: $6/day).

For hiking enthusiasts, the park features the 14-mile River Corridor Trail and the 3.5-mile Harris Creek Trail.

The park features a 15,000-square-foot visitor information/education center that is located on U.S. 278 east of Wickes where the highway crosses the Cossatot. The $2.7 million facility was funded by Amendment 75, Arkansas's Conservation Amendment. The center features a large exhibit gallery, two classroom/lab rooms, a wildlife viewing area, gift shop and park administrative offices. The theme of the Interpretive exhibits is “The Cossatot: A River for All Seasons" and the focus is on the river's ecology. Three information kiosks provide visitors with general information about the Cossatot River, park and other parks and museums that comprise Arkansas's state parks system.

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area's 5,484 acres emphasize outdoor recreation, river preservation and environmental education. Interpretive programs are available by request. The park is managed by Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is located south of Mena. The northern route to the park is via Ark. 246 between Vandervoort and Athens. The southern route is via U.S. 278 between Wickes and Umpire. Weyerhaeuser Company roads provide river access.

The U.S. Geological Survey offers river flow and level information at their Cossatot River site.

Floatable river levels are usually limited to late-fall, winter and spring.  For river stage information (in Feet) from Highway 246 access, call 870-387-3141.  Due to flow levels dependent upon rainfall, no floater services are provided.

Free stream maps and information are available by calling (501) 682-7777 or visiting www.Arkansas.com.

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Areas (CRSPNA) 5,302 acres emphasize outdoor recreation, river preservation and environmental education.  Interpretive programs are available by request.  The park is managed by Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Cossatot River State Park Protects Stream, Environs

Cossatot River State Park/Natural Area, Arkansas’s 48th state park, is jointly managed by the state Department of Parks and Tourism and state Natural Heritage Commission to preserve ? while allowing public use ? of, a scenic, pristine stream that irregularly offers skilled floaters challenging whitewater. The park is located in west-central Arkansas mostly between Ark. 246 and U.S. 278 near Wickes. It is the largest natural area in the state. For more information, phone (870) 385-2201 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

Wickes – The Ouachita Mountain shiner and the leopard darter have been found nowhere on earth except in streams of the Ouachita Mountains. The darter, in fact, has been found in only three of those. Like many minnow-like species, they are particularly susceptible to changes in their habitat and both require the kind of clean, moving water found in the upper stretch of Arkansas’s Cossatot River.

While they might not be extinct without it, the outlook for the rare fishes – as well as the rare Caddo Mountain salamander and a number of plants endemic to the Ouachitas – has been enhanced by the creation of the Cossatot River State Park/Natural Area, which includes the stream and a corridor of riparian forest up to a mile wide.

Preserved within the park are the Cossatot Falls, where the river snakes over and between upturned Ouachitas strata to create the most challenging stretch of whitewater in Arkansas. That area’s rocks, polished smooth by the river, are among the state’s most scenic geological creations.

Recognizing the pristine qualities of the Cossatot, the state Natural Heritage Commission (then named the Environmental Preservation Commission) began in 1974 an effort to acquire from the Weyerhaeuser Corporation (a wood products company) the river’s corridor below its beginning in the Ouachita National Forest southeast of Mena. The company, however, was concerned about the ability of the commission’s limited staff to manage such an intensively used and large recreation area.

After the state Parks and Tourism Department joined the effort, an agreement was approved in 1988 under which a private preservation organization, the Nature Conservancy, purchased more than 4,000 acres along the river for $2.9 million and held it in trust until state funding became available for the acquisition. Since the property had been appraised for $3.7 million, the reduced sale price, in effect, represented an $800,000 contribution to the state by Weyerhaeuser.

The subsequent state funding came from the Natural and Cultural Resources Council, which was created in 1987 to oversee the spending of revenues from the state’s real estate transfer tax.

Additional donations, leases and purchases have increased the park’s size to over 5,400 acres.

The park’s first facilities and 160 acres in the vicinity of the Ark. 246 bridge were donated by the Arkla Gas Company in exchange for a natural gas pipeline right of way across the park. Picnic sites, two restrooms, a hiking trail and parking areas were constructed, as was a pedestrian walkway atop the pipeline immediately south of the bridge.

Developed campsites (no hook-ups) and restrooms are available at Cossatot Falls, while primitive camping is available as well. In order to preserve the park environment, bags are provided for campers to transport their trash home and all restrooms are solar-composting. Access to the park’s interior is by way of gravel roads. A new campground is located at the Sandbar River Access with 15 sites.

A 16,000 sq. ft. park visitors and education center hosts an exhibit room focusing on the river, a wildlife viewing area, a gift shop, two classrooms and park offices. “A big part of our mission with this building is natural resource education,” said Stan Speight, the park’s superintendent since its creation.

The park’s 17-mile River Corridor Trail extends between the Ark. 246 and U.S. 278 areas. The Harris Creek Trail is a four-mile loop starting near U.S. 278. Waterleaf Trail begins at the east end of the visitor center parking lot. One quarter mile is ADA accessible with benches and wayside exhibits. The final quarter mile is not ADA accessible but leads hikers down the North Slope to the Highway 278 River Access. Brushy Creek Nature Trail, located at the Brushy Creek Recreational Area, has an ADA accessible portion that allows access to the pedestrian bridge over the river just south of the Highway 246 Bridge. The total trail is ¾ mile in length and connects the east side of the recreational area with the west.

In addition to its rare fauna and flora, the park hosts common Arkansas woodland species such as deer, turkey, squirrel and raccoon, and a breeding-bird count yielded 55 species, Speight said. “In the winter,” he added, “we have bald eagles on the river.”

Though renowned for its whitewater, Speight said, the Cossatot is not consistently at floatable levels. “Some people head down here expecting to see the kind of water they’ve seen in photographs and are disappointed when they arrive,” he said. “We advise everyone to check the water levels beforehand.” The stream’s upland watershed means that it “goes up and down really, really fast,” Speight said, and it is generally floatable for at most a few days after significant rainfall. “It’s a pretty short window of opportunity,” he said.

The Cossatot is only for very experienced floaters, sporting rapids rated up to Class V in difficulty.
 “It’s not ever a stream where Mom and Dad can get out there and float with the kids,” Speight said.

Education is a major role for the park and natural area.

“We want people to be able to see and realize things they generally don’t think about, like ecology and watershed concepts,” he said. “We want them to understand, for example, that the smallmouth bass in the Cossatot aren’t just out there cruising around in their own little world; they are dependent on the aquatic insects and other parts of the natural cycle, like clean water, in order to live. We want to get those kinds of concepts across to people so they can understand how the whole system works.”

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 Directions to Park

The park is south of Mena, Arkansas.

The northern route is via Arkansas 246
between Vandervoort and Athens.

The southern route is via U.S. 278
between Wickes and Umpire.
 Weyerhaeuser Company roads provide river access.

 Contact Information
1980 Highway 278 West, Wickes, AR  71973
E-mail:  CossatotRiver@Arkansas.com
Park/Campsite Reservations
1-870-385-2201
Stream maps and information
501-682-7777
River Stage Information in feet from Highway 246 access
(870) 387-3141

 

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