Float The Illinois
River in Oklahoma
Float the Scenic Illinois River in Tahlequah Oklahoma
- Like many Ozark Rivers, Oklahoma's Lower Illinois River offers scenic limestone bluffs, clear water and gravel bars.
I like it between 3.5 and 5.5 feet deep.
Choose river shoes that will keep out the gravel rather than
- The Illinois River offers camping, cabins, fly-fishing, tubing and float trips from two
hours to two days long. Many outfitters are only open during the
May - October season, but private boaters paddle the river all
year long. Leave the spray skirt at home and bring the camera on
this easy paddling river.
- A large number of canoe outfitters, campgrounds, cabins and
float trip operators on the Illinois River are listed below. Renting
a canoe, kayak or raft is easy from scenic Highway 10.
- Enjoy the easy highway access to many canoe outfitters and
lots of public accesses from Scenic Hwy 10 near Tahlequah, OK.
Tahlequah is a college town, so it offers many choices for food
& lodging. We enjoy the great pizza and fun atmosphere at
Sam & Ella's Chicken Palace. With a name like that,
you know they have a sense of humor!
- We like to take a 9-mile from Peavine Public Access to
No Head Hollow Public Access. We also take a 13-mile trip
from No Head Hollow to the Highway bridge. Both are perfect for
self-shuttled float trips.
- A short drive from more float trips in great Ozark Rivers like
The Elk River,
The Kings River,
The White River
Spring River and
The Buffalo River.
Check current Illinois River level.
Click to enlarge
Taken on the Illinois River near
Choose a stable, easy to paddle recreational kayak.
Outfitters on North Route vs South Route on Hwy 10
If you hit Highway 10 from the Tahlequah side, you are at
'the bottom' of the river. The first outfitter on that side
is All American Floats (you can't miss their giant
waterslide). They are located at the corner of Highway 51
and Highway 10.
If you hit Highway 10 from the Kansas, OK side off
Highway 412, you will
first see the paddling outfitters at 'the top' of the river
(upstream). The first outfitter is Riverside Camp.
I usually prefer outfitters at the top of any river since
they can often get me on the water sooner and I prefer to
launch early in the morning. However, many folks prefer
having their car waiting for them at the take-out and that
is the most common on the bottom half of the river.
Enjoy Birding & Eagle Watching on the Illinois River in
With more than 250 species of birds,
Tenkiller Lake is ranked as one of the best in Oklahoma for bird
watching. Bald Eagles winter in areas such as Carlisle Cove and the
nearby Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. Personally, I have spotted
at least one Bald Eagle on every recent float trip that I have taken
on the Illinois River. Launch early in the morning and keep
your eyes on the tree tops to see these beautiful and majestic
raptors on your Illinois River paddling trip.
The river is best paddled at levels between 3 feet to 6 feet deep.
At those levels, it offers very scenic and easy Class I kayaking or
canoeing. Rafting is very popular on the Illinois River, as
you can easily get out of the raft for a refreshing swim and you can
carry lots of cargo or passengers. Kayaks are the fastest boat
on this Ozark river and the only obstacles to watch out for are
fallen trees and willow sweeps. This is the main paddling river for
the State of Oklahoma, so you will find well appointed public &
private accesses at many points, as well as shuttle service
providers for private boaters. No special permit is required but
your canoe or kayak must be properly registered and stickers with
Illinois River Public Access Point List (PDF)
a spray skirt for your kayak
Illinois River Canoe & Kayak Rentals and
Kayak & Canoe Rental
Waterslide, Camping. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
(Tested and Approved)
Cabins, Camping, RV
Motel, RV, Kayaks
Cabins, Lodge, RV
(Tested and Approved)
Rock Nature Park
Yurts, 17' Osage Canoes, Old Town Guide
Kayaks, Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Shuttle Service & Wildlife
(Tested and Approved)
Canoes, Kayaks, Shuttle Service, Gifts. 1-800-OKFLOAT.
(Tested and Approved
in 2008 and in 2010)
Bunkhouse, Camping, Canoes, Kayaks & Shuttle Service.
Eagle Float Resort
Float Trips, Camping
(Tested and Approved)
Cedar Valley Camp
Tent Camping, Supplies,
(No answer when we tried to call in May 2008)
|Hanging Rock Camp
RV, Motel, Camping
|Green River Floats
Inner tube/raft rentals
showers, shuttle service
(Private boat shuttling $25 per canoe)
Cabins, RV, Kayaks
(Tested and Approved)
Camping, Lodge, House
|Spencer Ridge Resort
From Hwy-412/Cherokee Turnpike junction, go 1/4 mile then
turn South across from Flint Creek Grocery, then follow
sign. Open Apr - Sept.
Offering 15 full hookups, 17 water/electric hookups, 9
cabins, 50 primitive sites, showers/restrooms, snack bar,
picnic tables, outdoor grills, canoe/inner-tube/raft
Bring your camera. Bald Eagles are frequently seen on Tahlequah Oklahoma's
Trip Report -
The Illinois River
With a water level well over four feet, The Illinois River in
Tahlequah Oklahoma offered some great kayaking this weekend. It was
a bit windy when we left Okmulgee for Tulsa. Dianne and I had
recently spotted the Hmong Cafe around 31st & Garnet and we had been
curious about Hmong cuisine since we saw Gran Torino. I mentioned to
Dianne that since we were going all the way to Tulsa, we may as well
hit the Illinois River in Tahlequah afterwards. OK, it isn't exactly
right on the way but she reluctantly agreed anyway. I knew the river
was around five feet deep on Saturday, so I was eager get my
Perception Swifty into some moving water.
The Hmong Cafe is a small restaurant that offers a menu of foods
that are mostly unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of a combo of
Vietnamese and Thai food. Dianne had decided to try the Hmong
Sausage entree and I ordered the Fried Tilapia. I knew I was in
trouble when the waitress asked me if I had ever ordered it before.
Traditionally, I don't order food the servers warn customers about,
but Dianne just takes it as a challenge. When we were informed the
fish would arrive whole...head, eyes...the works...Dianne whispered
to me "go ahead and order it and we will switch".
When the food arrived, I got to see my first Tilapia that was not in
fillet form. The fish arrived in tact, as we had been told, and
covered in a thick red sauce that was heavy on the hot chili spice
and cilantro. After one taste I knew it was way too hot for me.
Dianne loved it, she expertly deboned the perfectly cooked fish and
didn't waste any of the very spicy but delicious sauce. The Hmong
sausage reminded me of polish sausage, it was served with steamed
vegetables. It was tasty, but didn't seem Asian in any way other
than being served with rice. The folks at the Hmong Cafe were very
nice and we enjoyed out meal. I still prefer Korean cuisine to
any other Asian food category that I have tried.
After we left the Hmong Cafe, we headed straight east down Highway
412 to link up with scenic Highway 10. Highway 10 is a crooked
little two lane that takes you past the myriad of float trip
outfitters for the Illinois River. While on the road, I called a few
outfitters to try to arrange a shuttle. Falcon Floats answered up
first, so we grabbed a short float trip from them. as well as
several of their t-shirts. Falcon Floats was prompt, polite and
economical. I was pleased that they had some t-shirts for sale and
their take-out spot is quite nice. I
posted this photo of the Falcon Floats take-out on Flickr.
Recent rains left the water more green than clear, but running fast.
We never scraped the bottom of the kayaks in the river channel on
this trip. The river has been very low this summer, so it was a
treat to ride down this easy Class I river with a bit of current.
The river sheltered us completely from the wind. I wish we had
gotten a longer trip, but we arrived late in the afternoon, so the
outfitter only wanted to put us on their shortest run. Outfitters
always seem to underestimate how fast we paddle our kayaks.
Despite the great weather and river level the Illinois River was not
crowded. We only saw a couple kayaks, one raft and two folks tubing
down the Illinois River. Dianne got to try out
her new inflatable PFD. She found it much cooler and more
comfortable than the fishing PFD she used to wear. I don't think I
could ever give up the pockets, but I am glad she has a
paddling PFD that she is willing to wear. With winter paddling
season right around the corner, it is time to start worry about
safety a bit more. Protect the precious cargo, just don't stop
Fly Fishing in Oklahoma
The Lower Illinois River is a designated trout
fishing stream. Anglers find rainbow and brown trout, stripers,
crappie, catfish and bass. Winter is a good time of year for fly
fishing on the Illinois River as the water is often quite warm in
Every person fishing MUST have a trout license from the Oklahoma
Department of Wildlife and a fishing license if 16 or older. The
river is stocked every other week in July through March and once a
week in April.
The Designated Trout Area on the Illinois River is from
Dam to Hwy. 64 bridge near Gore in Sequoyah County.
The folks at
MarVal Resort promote trout fishing in the area and are open all
Mountain Fork River in Southeastern, Oklahoma near Broken Bow is
a more common spot to see folks fly fishing.
For detailed maps and directions to Oklahoma's trout fishing
resources, you can't beat the
Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife's trout fishing page. The sign below
lists the dangerous river levels for the upper & lower Illinois
Float Trip Report -
The Illinois River
Dianne and I joined up with Yakker for a
self-shuttled, Friday kayaking trip down the scenic Illinois River .
At just over 4 feet, the river level was perfect for our entire
trip. We put-in at the public access at No Head Hollow and
paddled down to the public take-out at the Highway 62 Bridge. I
think it was about 13 miles, but I couldn't say for sure. The water
flow was so good that we only needed to paddle when we wanted to
pass a canoe or negotiate an obstacle. For a full list of public
access points on the Illinois River, download a copy of the Floater's Guide from the Oklahoma Scenic River Commission.
Just about 15 minutes into our trip, Dianne saw a Bald Eagle hunting
from a tree top. It even let us get close enough to take some
pictures before flying away. Since we launched around 9am on a
weekday, we saw only a few canoes and two kayaks paddling the river
with us. The weather, like the water level, was perfect at 70+
degrees and little wind.
We saw lots of large carp, several large blue herons and dozens of
turtles. I saw one canoe turnover, not due to an obstacle, but
rather a poor launch. Although there are no real rapids on the
Illinois River float trip we took, there are some downed trees to
avoid and barely submerged root balls from past flooding. Although
you watch out for these, you are bound to get the occasional
unexpected bump. Be prepared and don't paddle alone if you can help
I took my old Perception Swifty kayak, Dianne paddled her
Vapor Angler kayak and Yakker had his newly purchased Dagger Edisto
touring kayak. Despite paddling a somewhat tippy 15 foot boat,
Yakker admirably managed the few obstacles the river threw at us.
Dianne's Vapor performed well and my old Swifty just about has this
river memorized. We stopped on a random gravel bar for a brief snack
and again at Todd Public Access for a bathroom break.
After we made it to the take-out at the Highway 62 Bridge, we were
all eager to find some grub. However, my priority was to rummage
through the outfitters stores for some kayaking t-shirts. I grabbed
some decent canoeing shirts from the stores at Diamondhead and War
Eagle, but alas...no kayaking shirts. Thankfully, right next to War
Eagle's outfitter store we found Fatty's BBQ!
We enjoyed Pulled Pork sandwiches and Potato Salad Alfresco from
Fatty's BBQ. The pulled pork was delicious. It was a perfect day on
Float Trip Report -
The Illinois River
The Illinois River provides the introduction to paddling given to most every Oklahoma boys. We floated it twice on the same weekend as the Buffalo River Trip via Falcon Floats and
Floats. Both outfitters are right on the river, but the take out point for
Falcon Floats is a little tough to find due to some fallen timber. In fact, we paddled right past it!
River Float Trip Tip: Although Ziplock bags are better than
nothing, they are NOT waterproof! Smart
paddlers get Dry Bags - a smaller one to hold wallet, keys, camera, cell phone, etc., and a large one to hold a change of clothes in case you go in during the colder months.
The folks at the next take out (All American) were real nice and helpful and had such a well marked take out point, we took another short float via their Sit-On-Top Kayaks.
It was our first time on any kind of kayak and we found them to be great fun. They are supposed to be faster than canoes, but since Dianne and I tandem canoe, the one man kayaks didn't seem much faster. We were passing loads of canoes and rafts, but that isn't unusual. We are certainly eager to
try out some
one of these days.
-- Tom & Di
Trip Report - 5/15/06
The Illinois River
Take This Boat...and Shuttle It
With so much new rain in our part of the world, we had to
think hard to decide where to dip our paddles this weekend. I
wanted to rent a cabin. Since it was also Mother's Day, it
didn't seem right to make the long-suffering mother of my
cherished son sleep in a tent. Finally, we both decided that we
would like to take the opportunity to paddle the Illinois River
again before the Memorial Day rush.
More Illinois River outfitters were open this weekend than were
open on our last
journey down this river. However, this weekend we insisted
on bringing our own kayaks. We had a fun trip as usual. We saw
the Eagle again, but didn't manage to capture a
good picture like last time.
I spoke to several outfitters on the phone and time after time
they told me that they didn't want my business. I have heard
that there are insurance problems with hauling non-outfitter
owned boats, but that sounds like a lame excuse to me. I wonder
if there is any enterprising folks running a taxi service in the
area? Ultimately, I just needed a ride back to the put-in where
we left the family car and kayak trailer.
Paddling outfitters beware, the growing trend of not shuttling
private boats and passengers divides you from some of your most
avid supporters and proponents. Tourism is a business that only
thrives in the midst of strong support business networks. You
don't build a strong network by isolating the largest nodes. The
current strategy appears to be based on hoping I'm willing to
wait in line to rent their leaky boats. Better cell phone signal
quality, more campsites with Wifi access and
respecting the need for and value of services like shuttling
private boats would gather much more of my coin than the current
Green River Floats is an exception to the rule. We called them
on my cell phone from our take-out at War Eagle Landing. They
arrived quickly and were happy to take us AND our two kayaks to
our put-in at Riverside Resort. We gladly paid $20 for the
service. Riverside Resort provided us with a decent cabin, but
the lack of services for my boats means I may not choose their campground next time.
Can Your Hear Me Now...Good!
Although everywhere else I tried my cell phone on the Illinois
River was a deadspot, I had full signal at War Eagle / Green
River Landing. If I find out they have WIFI internet available
there, I may have to come back and camp near there.
Speaking of wireless internet camping, I got word from Tom,
at K-River Campground on the Kiamichi River, that you can
now get Wifi access to compliment the camping at his paddle
resort. Stop by KRiver.com for details.
One of the things I really love about the Buffalo River in
nearby Gilbert, Arkansas is that my cell phone worked well
everywhere I checked both on and off the river. IMHO, this now
represents and important safety and commerce infrastructure need
for Oklahoma's scenic rivers.
Float Trip Report - 4/30/06
The Illinois River
Memorial Day kicks off the official paddling season on the
Illinois River, but so much warm weather has the outfitters
opening up on weekends. With this weekend's rain The Illinois
River rose to a high, but safe, level with excellent current.
When Sunday's forecast called for plenty of sun, we dashed east
with little more than our camera and some sunscreen.
Of course, you don't need much more than that to have a great
time on Oklahoma's most popular paddling river. Outfitters line
the road on scenic Hwy 10 from just outside of Tahlequah to
Kansas, Oklahoma. You can rent canoes, kayaks or rafts and take
float trips in a wide variety of sizes. No water falls or
significant rapids are there to worry the novices, so most Okies
paddle this river at some point. In fact, during the heat of the
summer vacation the river can be downright crowded.
War Eagle Floats was the first float trip outfitter that we found open for
business. Two kayaks and shuttling cost us around $40. Since the
amount of paddlers was so small, the shuttle was immediately
ready to put us on the water. This was unexpected. We normally
sit around waiting for 20 to 30 minutes for an outfitters
In fact, their speed was such a surprise that I rushed through
gathering up my cargo and changing my clothes. When I started to
step into my kayak, now miles from our car, I realized that I
had forgotten to leave my dry shorts and wallet in the car. Even
worse, I had left with one river shoe on and one street shoe on.
My shoes didn't match and I am wearing both a swimsuit and
shorts! Oh well, I figured that if I kept my butt in the boat,
few people should notice.
The two Old Town Otter kayaks we rented were pretty beat up and
mine leaked a lot, but it was worth it to be able to get on and
off the water quickly with no planning. Since we arrived right
after the biggest rain shower of the year, the river was as
swift as the shuttle bus. You could literally float down the
river, paddling only to steer.
usual cranes, squirrels and turtles were abundant, but we didn't
see as much fish action as on our
last trip down the Spring
River. I assumed this was due to the high water, but my Dad said
that the Mayflies were hatching the day we paddled the Spring
River. The one day feast makes the fish go crazy. You can see
pictures from both trips on my Flickr Pics page.
This Sunday, we were blessed to have the Illinois River to
ourselves. Instead of seeing wild living, we enjoyed wildlife
like I have never seen on that river. Dianne and I spent about
20 minutes watching and taking pictures of a Bald Eagle! It was
the first one I had gotten to observe in person, and it seemed
proud to give us a long look. I think all raptors possess a
uniquely fierce beauty, but that Bald Eagle just left me
speechless. You could practically hear the National Anthem in
the background when he chose to fly away.
As usual, we paddled about 10 miles and got some good sunshine
and exercise. About halfway along the trip we had to stop and
dump the water out of my kayak and I was reminded why we decided
to buy our own boats.
The Illinois River originates near Hogeye, southwest of
Fayetteville, and flows west, crossing the Ozarks into Oklahoma five
miles south of Siloam Springs. Eventually, it flows into the Arkansas
River near Gore, Okla. You have not seen Oklahoma, until you
have paddled this clear and peaceful, gravel bottomed river
surrounded by colorful limestone bluffs.
Float Trips are the Best Way to Experience the
More float trips on great Ozark Rivers can be
found here on our site. The
thrilling & scenic Lower Mt. Fork River in Broken Bow, OK is
the 2nd most popular kayaking destination in Oklahoma. Our
neighbor states offer great paddling too: like the fast and easy fun of
The Elk River
and the scenic beauty of
The Kings River
both in Missouri.
The White River
The Buffalo River
in Arkansas are both popular destinations with Oklahoma
Spring River offers easy Class I paddling from Kansas to
Oklahoma. My wife and I also paddle some great flatwater
paddling spots in the region. We enjoy paddling backwater
Grave Creek and
Okmulgee Lake or kayak fishing hot spots such as the muddy
Deep Fork River, breathtakingly
beautiful Caddo Lake or the
massive Lake Eufaula.
Oklahoma Area Float Trip Outfitters List