Airlines have their frequent flyer miles. River paddlers in the Ozarks redeem their frequent floater miles on some of the most beautiful streams in the nation.
That includes the War Eagle River, a crown jewel in the tiara of beautiful, clear, scenic streams in Northwest Arkansas and across the Ozarks.
Ask one of these frequent floaters what they love most about the War Eagle, and the answer may be slow to come. It’s a tough question. Becky Roark of Fayetteville took some time to ponder her thoughtful answer.
Tall bluffs and low bluffs cradle the flowing water, Roark noted. The landscape varies from pastoral beauty to rugged forest. It’s a family friendly river that’s easy to navigate. There’s so much to see and experience, either strolling along the stream or floating miles of the river.
“I’m particularly drawn to the War Eagle because of the smallmouth bass fishing. And if you don’t catch smallmouths, you’re going to catch something,” Roark said.
As program director of the Beaver Watershed Alliance, part of her work is on the War Eagle.
People who’ve never seen the War Eagle depend on it. The stream is a major tributary of Beaver Lake, the drinking water source for most of Northwest Arkansas and beyond.
Headwaters of the War Eagle begin in southeast Madison County near Red Star in the Boston Mountains. The stream twists and tumbles through Madison and Benton counties. It flows into Beaver Lake downstream from the War Eagle community.
War Eagle’s watershed takes in 215,779 acres of mostly rural land, including 468 miles of streams and 664 miles or roads, according to Beaver Watershed Alliance figures.
Some call it War Eagle creek. To others its War Eagle River. To Alan Bland of Rogers, it’s a river.
“I’ve seen creeks, and this ain’t no creek,” Bland chirped during a group float trip down the War Eagle on June 5. The War Eagle is similar in size to the Kings River, White River and Illinois River in Northwest Arkansas and the Elk River in southwest Missouri.
The four-boat flotilla, three canoes and Bland in his kayak, took in the bluffs, scenery, solitude and peace that are the joys of an Ozarks float trip.
Now and then Bland broke the quiet, whooping over another smallmouth bass he welcomed into his kayak before letting it go. Smallmouths and Ozark bass were all over his small Rebel Wee R crawdad crank bait, a top fish catcher on any stream. Every fish that swims bites it.
The War Eagle gets low in the summer, but there’s usually enough water to float, said Loy Lewis, owner of War Eagle Creek Outfitters. Lewis sets up float trips for paddlers on most floatable miles of the stream.
Good fishing, especially in summer, is a bonus of drifting through the river’s natural beauty.
“A lot of this river, it’s like the cover of a magazine,” Lewis said.
That could be a nature magazine showing War Eagle bluffs, or a glossy wildlife quarterly. Paddlers most always see herons and kingfishers on the wing, but sometimes deer and wild turkeys. In the winter, the War Eagle is home to squadrons of bald eagles.
“Right now, there are a lot of wood ducks. They keep flying down the river in front of you,” Lewis said.
The War Eagle is a Class I stream, suitable for beginner paddlers. It’s mostly easy to navigate, but river runners should watch out for occasional log jams and other obstacles. Figure out a route around these snags before you reach them, or portage around the blockage.
Roark noted it’s up to paddlers to keep the War Eagle clean. Events like War Eagle Appreciation Day involve river cleanups. The annual day of education and fun on the river was canceled this year, but Roark said any person or group can do a river cleanup.
It’s as easy as stashing litter in a bag while drifting down one of the Ozarks’ most treasured streams, one that finds its way into the hearts of river lovers.
Creek or river?
War Eagle River, also called War Eagle creek, gets its start in Madison County near Red Star. It meanders its way through Madison and Benton Counties before emptying into Beaver Lake near Nob Hill east of Springdale.
The river is a Class I stream suitable for beginners.
Source: Beaver Watershed Alliance