Kiamichi River in Oklahoma

by  guest-paddler

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

In the southeast corner of Oklahoma spreading over into Arkansas is a large area of rolling pine covered hills and long ridges known as the Ouachita Mountains. This range of hills give rise to the Little River, the Mountain Fork, and the Glover. On the western edge of the Ouachitas is a sub-range called the Kiamichi Mountains, named after the river that flows through them.

The Kiamichi starts out in the rough remote hills of Leflore county and flows west until reaching the area of Clayton, OK where it sometimes receives dam releases from Lake Sardis. The Kiamichi then turns south before emptying into the Red River. Shortly before reaching the Red it is dammed to form Lake Hugo.

The stretch of river between Clayton and Antlers is the most popular stretch for paddling. The river is cold and clear with long quiet pools ending in easy but interesting riffles and some rapids that might be considered class I I+ getting more difficult at higher levels.

K-River Campground is the only outfitter on that stretch of river. Tom owns the camp and Paul helps run it while Tom is tooling around the country in his RV telling jokes, some which are actually pretty funny. The camp is right on the river. They rent canoes and kayaks and will shuttle you just about any length of trip as far upstream as Clayton.

Paul shuttled me upriver 12 miles from the camp to the second Hwy 2 crossing. The put in here is interesting. It's a steep grass embankment down to a bottomland pasture. Paul held the stern of the canoe, bow pointing down hill, while I loaded my gear. When I finished, Paul let go of the canoe and it shot downhill then out into the pasture and glided to a stop, perfectly upright.

"Folks usually get into the canoe and ride with it," Paul told me. Maybe next time. From the pasture it was about 50 yards to the river through a makeshift gate that I made sure to close behind me.

The Kiamichi is a cold clear water stream with a mostly gravel bottom. It was 100cfs on this trip which is on the low side. This was plenty of water except in the riffles at the end of pools. Some of these I had to do a little walking. This area gets pretty decent rainfalls, and when it does, Lake Sardis upstream releases into the river. You can keep track of the river flows on K-River campgrounds website. This is also a popular river to pan for gold.

The river is bordered by steep hills, covered in mostly pines. Really nice scenery and very remote. There are even bears here. But I didn't see any this trip. Just past the put-in, 3 whitetail deer crossed the river in front of me.

Even at this low flow, there weren't a lot of good natural campsites such as sand and gravel bars. It was mostly banks averaging about 10 ft covered with vines and shrubs. But at about 3:00 in the afternoon I came across a nice sandbar on river right on an inside bend and grabbed it, not risking going around the bend and finding no other campsites.

After setting up camp I decided to retire to my tent to read myself into a nap. Things went according to plan and I was soon sleeping like a champ. I dreamed I heard kids yelling and banging paddles against canoes. Then I woke up and could still hear them. Sure enough, on a river where I had seen no one else all day, right after I fall asleep, here came a flotilla of youngsters in canoes. I stayed prone in my tent, hoping they would pass on by. But they made landfall and started to stream toward my resting place. There was a older fellow in a kayak who was riding herd on them, and as I came out of the tent to face the music, he sized up the situation and ordered the young heathens back into the canoes and they banged and yelled their way downstream until their noise gradually faded away and it was just me and the river once more.

That night after a supper of chili dogs, it begin to rain. This was not forecast. Not a heavy rain, it alternated between misting and light. No big deal, I had rain gear and a tent fly. I sat out in the rain till bedtime and it lulled me to sleep falling on my tent.

It rained all night. I woke up a couple of hours before daylight and sat in my chair and drank coffee, which is my routine while camping and at home. I love to watch the day break, especially alone on a remote river. My camp was right across the river from a steep tree covered hill.

After coffee I loaded up and was on the water by sunup, paddling into a light mist under a gray sky on top of a gray river. As I continued around the bend, I spotted a bald eagle eating a fish on a sandbar in the middle of the river. He quickly flew off, they never seem to stick around long. There was a nice little riffle leading into this stretch. On my right along the entire length before the next bend was a nice sandy beach backing into overhanging trees and plenty of firewood. If I had only paddled a little further I could have camped here. It is a long pool with a riffle at the top and a rapid just past where it makes it's bend at the bottom. This stretch is surrounded on three sides by mountains. The fourth side is the sand/gravel beach. Next trip this is where I'll camp if the water level is right.

The rapid at the end of this stretch is a class 1+ at this level. In the next 4 miles or so to the take out there were two more rapids that would probably classify as class 1's and maybe 2 at higher levels. One is actually some kind of rock dam that someone must have made at some point. Its just a bunch of huge rocks set side by side across the river. On river left is a chute with a couple of turns and a nice little drop that took a little prying and drawing to negotiate. Lots of fun.

The take out was a mile or two past this last rapid. It was about noon when I reached it, and was still raining. I stayed another night, this time at the campground. Tom and Paul let me use the small pavilion to camp on and didn't charge me extra. There was a gold panners convention at the camp that weekend that was breaking up to go home about the time I took out. There's a nice little hiking trail at the camp that I took advantage of.

This was one of my favorite river trips so far. It was very laid back and relaxing. I bit off a small chunk of river this trip and took my time paddling it. The campground is also laid back. The shuttle went off smooth, they have a Laundromat there, I was able to dry some of my wet clothing and blankets. Tom and Paul came by on their ATV's a couple of times to make sure I had everything I needed and stayed just long enough for some good conversation.

As I write this report, I was intending to return to the Kiamichi in just a couple of days. Unfortunately, they're calling for heavy rain on the days I plan to be there. This normally wouldn't stop me but this time I'm taking someone with me who might not appreciate me dragging them through the rain for 3 days so I'll be going to the sunny Brazos instead. Very disappointing, because the Kiamichi is a special river and the shuttle and campground arrangements are stress free and inexpensive. But it's only a couple of hours away, and next time it's up I'm liable to grab my gear, call in sick and head for Oklahoma. I'm gonna camp where I saw that bald eagle

A sad postscript to this report: Paul, the camp caretaker passed away since the trip. He will be missed.


K River Kampground has cabins, RV sites, Tent sites with water and electricity, river frontage, shade trees, friendly dogs


Old Town Guide 147


Shuttle $15 to $20. Tent sites $12.
Google: K River Kampground


From Dallas take I-30 east to Hwy 19, North to Hwy 271 in Paris, Tx. North on 271 to Hugo, Ok. North on Indian Turnpike to Antlers exit/Hwy 3. East on 3 to hwy 2. North 12 miles on Hwy to to K-River Kampground on your right.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location