The Little Maumelle: Local haunt offers glimpse of a lost world
August 6-12, 2018
By Jacob Kauffman
The Little Maumelle River offers a step into the wilderness from Little Rock’s shores. Its world encompasses prehistoric gar, bald cypress trees that date back to the time of first European contact with the New World, and the timeless scene of a breeze scattering wispy, cloud-like seeds of cottonwood trees across this little river from bank to bank.
Its course runs from Pinnacle Mountain State Park to its confluence with the Arkansas River eight miles downstream, just under the Two Rivers Park pedestrian bridge. It winds a path that offers paddlers and boaters some stunning natural scenery as well as some man-made points of novel intrigue.
Despite well-earned claims of remoteness, it is remarkably accessible for paddlers and boaters. There are public put-ins for canoers and kayakers at Pinnacle Mountain, Ranch North Woods Preserve, and Two Rivers Park.
Kirsten Bartlow, a watchable wildlife coordinator with Arkansas Game and Fish, has been finding solitude along its waters for years.
“It was my little hidey-hole out there, a place to get away and really feel isolated. I always enjoy listening to the barred owls and red-shouldered hawks, both can be pretty vocal,” she said.
The Little Maumelle is part of Game and Fish’s relatively new Water Trail system. It is one of 13 trails designated by the commission.
“We have all these fabulous places to paddle in Arkansas and a lot of people don’t know about them. It’s not just about the Buffalo River. Some are in flooded timber over in the Delta and the Big Woods,” said Bartlow. “We mark the water trails with trail markers just like you would a land-based trail. We’ve also developed geo-referenced maps you can put into smartphones to help guide you.”
Unlike some of the state’s other water trails, the Little Maumelle offers access to rentable canoes and kayaks via Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The put-in there is the uppermost portion of the river that is regularly floatable. Park Interpreter Matthew Friant notes this section of the river can be “wild and narrow” for about a mile before it opens up as you pass under a railroad bridge.
Along this wildest of sections, you’ll paddle through plots of cypress trees and knees as ancient as Hernando de Soto. The sounds of woodpeckers rattle through the air and birds of all kinds are abundant. “On any given day you could see bald eagles, American white egret, snowy egret, great blue herons, Canada geese, and wood ducks to name a few,” said Friant.
Bartlow says the summer can be a particularly bountiful time to spot the wildlife that calls the Little Maumelle home. There’s even a rentable floating campsite – the only of its kind in Arkansas – to take it in overnight.
“This time of year, you see wildlife coming to the river in the heat. There are white-tailed deer and their fawns, raccoons, lots of beaver activity and lodges, and of course all sorts of turtles and snakes basking on logs around the river,” said Bartlow.
This transitional area from Pinnacle and into a wetland environment supports lily pads and lotuses. It may be beautiful, but it isn’t exactly a spot for humans to cool off.
“It is more, kind of a swampy wetland,” says Bartlow. “It’s great for wildlife viewing, paddling, and fishing but so much for swimming.”
A couple of miles downstream the river begins to open up and widen. You’ll want to take a look behind you every so often to take in Pinnacle Mountain as it looms above the water.
A few miles before the Little Maumelle reaches the Arkansas River you’ll encounter a string of homes dotting the banks, houseboats, and the docks at River Valley Marina. Some of these are quite colorful in nature and offer glimpses of a river rat lifestyle not often associated with Little Rock.
Paddlers are likely to encounter some motor-powered boating traffic in this area. Fishing is a popular pursuit in these wider sections of the river, less crowded with cypress trees. The river begins to develop a current, near flat for nearly the entire trip, as paddlers have the option to make a near-U-turn into Two Rivers Park to avoid floating under the I-430 bridge and into the Arkansas River. The path to the take-out gives paddlers a great parting view of bridges spanning the Arkansas River and tall reeds lining the park’s coastline.
The Little Maumelle River offers a quick and easy day trip into some pretty remarkable nature that is sure to reset the mind without the stress of trekking across the state. If you venture out to central Arkansas’s best-kept paddling secret, leave it as you find it – a remote preserve, where quiet prevails tinged only with nature’s chatter.
Kayakers enjoying all the Little Maumelle has to offer. (Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism)