One of the best things about a stay in Fort Smith is that you are near so much that the Ozarks and the Boston Mountains have to offer. There are ample places that you can go within but an hour drive for hiking and camping, and then there are the really beautiful mountain streams. Of many choices , one of the best places to go is the free flowing Mulberry River, about a 25 minute drive from Fort Smith that has no dam impeding its flow down to the Arkansas River.
The Mulberry River flows through both Johnson and Franklin Counties in northwestern Arkansas in the Ozarks. The river flows northeast-to-southwest in the mountain areas to the north of the Arkansas River and west of Big Piney Creek through the spectacular scenery of the Ozark National Forest. The river is popular for Spring and early summer and Fall canoeing, kayaking and rafting and is very popular for swimming and fishing in the Summer. The water temperatures run cool to cold through the end of Spring.
The Mulberry is definitely one of the southern USA's most scenic rivers that looks today very much as it has for thousands of years. It is also unique in that it can be explored from both water and from the land. This area of the Ozarks was popular with French fur trappers and hunters long before the first American pioneers traversed the area in the early 1800s. With its thick woods and fresh water, it was a key area in northwest Arkansas from which both Confederate and Union guerillas bands and irregulars made camp and launched attacks on both the Union and Confederate Armies and their supply lines and the civilian population during the Civil War. The Confederates lost the Northwestern part of Arkansas after the battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove.
For Swimming, there are few greater places to go during the hot Arkansas summers than to the area of high rock bluffs at the Bluff Hole Park on the Mulberry. Located off the Mulberry exit on I-40, it offers a great place for the whole family to go swimming in the clear and cool waters along the bluffs of the river. The area around Bluff Hole is perfect for summertime inter-tube rides as well from points up river that are accessible by road. The summertime water flow of the river is usually pretty low – and that makes for the great swimming area.
Extremely popular for canoe float trips, the river can usually be traveled from around October until roughly mid-June with the better water levels and weather conditions running from mid-March to mid-June. The optimal float time is when the river is at 2.5 feet. You are better off not planning a float trip during July through September due to excessively low water, though a heavy local rainfall can change that in a minute and create a day or two of very good canoeing. (The harder to get too Buffalo River National Wilderness area has better summer time floating). Summertime is better for the swimming and some really great bass fishing.
Winter and spring rains, however, can make the river too dangerous to canoe or kayak, so conditions should always be checked when planning a trip. Do not try to do a float of the river when it is at flood stage – even if you are an expert in white water and self recovery. Check the site at Turner Bend for the latest conditions and for rentals. http://www.turnerbend.com/river_gauge.html