Bear Creek (Big Piney trib) - Headwaters to Big Piney Creek (4.1 miles)

Bear Creek (Big Piney trib), Arkansas, US


Headwaters to Big Piney Creek (4.1 miles)

Usual Difficulty IV-V(V+) (for normal flows)
Length 4.1 Miles
Avg. Gradient 185 fpm
Max Gradient 300 fpm

Baby Bear Falls

Baby Bear Falls
Photo of Shelby Johnson by Lance Jones

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Richland Creek near Witts Spring, AR
usgs-07055875 6.00 - 12.00 ft IV-V(V+) 00h21m 2.48 ft (too low)

River Description

Note: The combination of Steep banks and lots of deadfalls tend to clog the creek with wood from time to time, so keep look out.

This is a very small creek. Tight slots, fast slides, waterfalls, undercuts. Highlights are three waterfalls and three long slides. Gradient in the 0.5 mile waterfall section is ~350 ft/mi.

Put-in: Go 4 miles West on Hwy 123 from Pelsor (Sand Gap) and take Forest Service Road 1802 (Pope County Road 14) South. This road is located midway between two small cemeteries along Hwy 123. The road runs the ridge on the West Side of Indian Creek. Drive about 1.3 miles and look for a primitive camp on the left at the West Side of Mc Minn Knob. Park at the camp and carry down the trail directly across the road. The trail immediately passes by a small pond. Follow the faint trail North to the end of the knob and then down the mountain. The trail continues North and crosses a small creek. Bushwhack to the left on the North side of the creek to the main creek. This is where the 3 upper forks come together at a long slide. (Elevation 1490)

Take-Out: Reach the take-out by continuing West on Hwy 123 toward the Big Piney at Fort Douglas. Upon reaching the Big Piney bridge, turn around and head back East for 1/4 mile. The Hwy crosses over Sugar Creek in a right hand turn then curves left up the hill. Look for the first road to the right (South). Another primitive hunter camp is located here. A 4WD trail leads 1/4 mile to the creek just above the confluence with the Big Piney. (Elevation 720)

This is a small creek with lots of action. Watch for wood and take 'Papa Bear Falls' very seriously.

Check out some video from this creek in the Ozark Update section of LVM issue #13.

More info and photos at:
Bear Creek
Ozark Whitewater Page

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-04-09 17:48:00


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-0.5Put-in ParkingN/A
-0.0Drainage: ~0.71 square mileN/A
0.0Put-in / FunnelIVPutin Waterfall Photo
0.2Rayzr BurnIV+Hazard
0.4Boulder FieldsIV+
0.6Bear PinIVHazard
1.0Bear Claw5.0Hazard
1.1Baby Bear FallsIII+Waterfall Photo
1.2Mama Bear FallsIV+Waterfall Photo
1.3Papa Bear Falls5.0Portage Hazard Waterfall
1.7Lower GorgeIV+
2.9Bear TrapIVHazard
4.1Take-Out TrailTakeout
4.3Take-out ParkingN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Put-in Parking (Class N/A, Mile -0.5)

Park at small primitive camp on East side of road. Follow remains of old road down to creek (due North).

Drainage: ~0.71 square mile (Class N/A, Mile -0.0)

At the listed put-in drainage area is ~0.94 square miles (as calculated by USGS StreamStats 4.2.0 software).

By the listed take-out it has increased to ~5.94 square miles.

Put-in / Funnel (Class IV)

Sliding toward the Funnel

Sliding toward the Funnel
Photo of Lance Jones by Cowper Chadbourn taken 12/12/99

The creek starts out as a fast and narrow 50-60 yard long stair stepping slide ending in a steep funnel dropping 10-12 feet into a small pool.

Rayzr Burn (Class IV+, Mile 0.2)

After a couple small drops the creek splits around a small island with a tree growing in the middle. This is Rayzr Burn. A narrow slot with a nasty undercut on the right channel and a steep rocky drop on the left land at the top of a several hundred yard long slide. After the slide the creekbed turns to boulder fields.

Boulder Fields (Class IV+, Mile 0.4)

Some nice boulder drops in this short section between the slides.

Bear Pin (Class IV, Mile 0.6)

The boulder fields end at "Bear Pin". Look for a small but steep cascade entering from river left. The Pin is just below this cascade. A cluttered approach makes the left side boof difficult. Potential vertical pin with a missed boof.


A few hundred yards downstream from Bear Pin, the creek turns 90 degrees to the left as a small tributary crashes in from the right. Get out on the river left and portage the inside of the corner around the multiple logjams. This is the end of the warm-up. The creek drops 200 feet in the next 2/3 mile! Maximum gradient tops out over 550 ft/mile in this section.  Another long slide leads to the top of 'Bear Claw'

Bear Claw (Class 5.0, Mile 1.0)

After a couple of nice drops below the logjam a long slide starts. At the bottom of the slide, the creek sweeps to the right and cuts back to the left around a steep right bank. Eddy out and scout the next boulder jumble, "Bear Claw". There are multiple routes through the jumble and pinning is very possible.

Baby Bear Falls (Class III+, Mile 1.1)

Baby Bear Falls

Baby Bear Falls
Photo of Shelby Johnson by Lance Jones

Only a couple smaller drops separate the end of "Bear Claw" and the entrance slide to "Baby Bear Falls". This is a very clean and very beautiful 15+ ft drop. A gentle slide transitions into a 45 degree slope then empties into a fantastic grotto pool over a 8-10 ft waterfall. Enjoy the view and be ready to scout the next big drop less than 100 yards downstream.

Mama Bear Falls (Class IV+, Mile 1.2)

Momma Bear Falls

Momma Bear Falls
Photo of Greg Churan by Lance Jones taken 12/12/99

"Mama Bear Falls" starts with a 20 yard gentle slide 20 feet wide then drops 15+ feet at a very steep angle as it funnels into a 4 foot wide notch. After leaving the notch the water fans out over bedrock as it pushes toward the left overhanging wall. Eddy out above the next horizon line just around the corner.

Papa Bear Falls (Class 5.0, Mile 1.3)

Scout and/or portage on the left for this big boy. The creek splits into two narrow slots around a large boulder in the middle of the 15-foot wide creek. The water drops 12+ feet from each slot into a 8-10 ft wide cauldron. The hole is worse than it appears. The first two attempts of this drop (at higher flows) resulted in long scary trashings in the hole followed by swims of the rest of the drop!
The exit from the cauldron is through a 3-5 ft wide 15 ft deep sluice that is 50-60 feet long and makes a jog to the left in the middle. The sluice forces the water to barrel roll back an forth a couple times on the way through, a flip or pin in here will be ugly. The water exits the sluice over a 10 foot drop, out into another picture perfect grotto pool. This is truly a unique, beautiful and scary rapid.  In May 2011, the first successful run of this drop occured at lower flows, followed by a upside down run resulting in a broken C7.

Lower Gorge (Class IV+, Mile 1.7)

The creek calms down a little for half-mile before entering a mini gorge recognized by the return of large boulders to the creek. Pick you way through the slots. The creek returns to calm fast class II, but don't get lulled just yet.

Bear Trap (Class IV, Mile 2.9)

A small tributary will enter on the left as the creek takes a hard right turn. Again boulders reappear in the creek. After a slot on the left cuts back to the right then left along a steep shale bank, look for a very large boulder on the left followed by another very large boulder on the right bank. Cut to the left immediately behind the first boulder and scrape down the boat-wide channel. The main channel stays to the right toward and UNDER the second Boulder. It is very difficult to recognize until you are right on it or know it is there.

Take-Out Trail
Look for an ATV trail to the right that leads back to Hwy 123. If you join the Big Piney, you've gone too far.

Take-out Parking (Class N/A, Mile 4.3)

Park on old road of Hwy 123

User Comments

Users can submit comments.

No Comments