Winding through the Cookson Hills of northeastern Oklahoma is a sparkling, 60-miles-plus scenic waterway. The Illinois River cuts through steep and rocky bluffs, creating a breathtaking landscape for visitors. Shortleaf pine, red and white oak, hickory, sycamore, dogwood and redbud trees surround the river, providing shade and wildlife habitats for deer, foxes and a myriad of bird species including bald eagles.
Recreational opportunities abound in this picturesque landscape, especially along the portion of the river that flows parallel to SH-10 northeast of Tahlequah. A float trip is the most popular way to experience the Illinois River; embark on a leisurely ride on the cool water and take in all the river has to offer.
A few of us scouted ahead this weekend for this float and had a really good time! The water was cool, clean, and moving, the scenery was beautiful and the distance was just enough to get your fill! We worked with the good folks at Sparrow Hawk camp to fill in some details, and they even gave us a deal for shuttle service and parking for NTO. We believe that this trip is suitable for paddlers of pretty much any skill level and we saw plenty of kids on the river having fun as well.
* It is your responsibility to call Sparrow Hawk Camp [masked]) and reserve a camping spot and a rental raft/canoe/kayak if you need one. When you call, tell them you are with NTO or North Texas Outdoors so they will keep all of your information with the group and show you were to go! They are super friendly and will take care of you as well as they can. They are allowing us to camp on their private property on Saturday night at no charge, so only reserve a site for Friday night ($15).
* The river levels and weather can change quickly. Because of this, our schedule is subject to change at any time. If you are not traveling with the main group for the entire itinerary, please note that we may or may not be able to relay schedule changes beyond those who are with us. We had cellular signal during the entire trip down the river, so if any changes do occur, I will do my best to get it posted on the site. I will also try to communicate any schedule changes to Sparrow Hawk Camp, so if you cant get ahold of us, try those guys too.
*Keep in mind that rafting/kayaking/canoeing involves inherent risk and no one can decide for you except YOU whether this is a trip you should be on. It appeared to be a fairly laid back paddle with a few faster areas, but nothing more than large ripples and a few sharp turns around trees. I believe even a beginner can have fun with this and figure out what’s going on in a short distance. Know your limits.
* Know how much will FIT onto your raft/canoe/kayak. Everything you need for camping on Saturday night needs to be able to come with you on YOUR boat. Load up at the house to make sure it all fits or call and talk to Sparrow Hawk about their rentals. Consider bringing a water filter so you don’t have to carry so much water. Contact other members in advance and try to share things like stoves, tents, coolers, etc. Please don’t arrive with 200lbs of gear and rely on other kind hearted, awesome NTOers to carry half of it for you. Added weight makes maneuvering harder and paddlers grumpier.
*Wear your life jacket. In some places, the water can be moving pretty fast past fallen trees. A sideways boat against these can quickly become dangerous. A life jacket is most effective when being worn.
*Know the rules/laws and regulations of this river. There are laws like no glass, Styrofoam or alcohol above 3.2 percent, among others. It is your responsibility to know these and law enforcement was present the weekend we went. The links below should help.
* WEAR SUNSCREEN!! We saw so many people that were lobster red on this trip. You will burn faster than normal on the water. I recommend bringing a light weight long sleeve shirt and something that covers your legs. All of us were glad to have these items on this trip.
*All information collected below was under the following conditions:
River level at Tahlequah according to http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=tsa&gage=talo2
On the day of our float was at 5’6” on the Tahlequah guage. Wind was at 0-10mph with scattered showers in the area; highs in the mid 80’s, overnight lows in the mid 60s. Total miles: 24.5, total travel time: 9 hours 40 minutes.
* Please read the itinerary carefully and let me know if you have any questions.
“Sparrow Hawk Camp” (21985 North Ben George Road Tahlequah, OK[masked])- Arrive during office hours and check in under the “NTO” group; arrive after hours and look for the banner in the primitive camping area (loops C or D) and settle up with them in the office the following morning.
8:00 AM SHARP- Park your loaded vehicle near the park office and we will all meet on the patio at the office door. There, we will determine who has their own vessels and who needs to rent. Those who have their own will caravan to Pea Vine Hollow Public Access (36°03'51.1"N 94°53'06.4"W). At Pea vine, everyone will unload their boats and camping gear onto the gravel bar. At least one person will stay behind to keep an eye on everything. They will all then drive back down to Sparrow Hawk Camp and park their cars in the secure lot for the night. While these folks are gone, the renters will stay at Sparrow Hawk and sign their wavers and settle up payment. After the folks arrive back from Pea Vine, everyone will join up again at the camp office. Everyone with their own vessels will need to purchase 2 days of float permits from the office, total cost is $2. From there, all NTOers will pile onto a shuttle and go back up to Pea vine Hollow together. The rented vessels will come with us on this shuttle. The shuttle will be $45, divided evenly depending on how many people go. This is where Sparrow Hawk really made us a good deal, it’s usually $45 for just one vehicle to shuttle. Consider bringing a few extra bucks to tip our driver!
10:00AM- Everyone will launch from Pea Vine Hollow Public Access. If you arrive after 10 for some reason, get in and catch up with us before camp. There are many sandbars along the way to stop for breaks and lunch, go at your own pace and enjoy the river; you’ll reach the camp around 5 hours down on river right between War Eagle and Diamondhead Resorts. There is a giant flat rock to pull out on. We saw tons of giant fish in the river, so if you fish, bring your gear, get an OK fishing license and slowly make your way down! We shoved off from Pea Vine at 10:20 AM and reached the camp, “Sutton’s”, at 2:40PM. This particular stretch of the river from Pea vine to Suttons will be very busy with drinking young adults on rafts. Maneuver around these folks and don’t be afraid to pluck a few of their beer cans out of the water to throw away. They were all generally friendly and too sunburned to cause any issues besides litter. Hammockers, we were not able to scout this particular camp for trees (we camped further down river), so consider bringing backup for your hammock.
“Sutton’s” (35°59'13.0"N 94°55'00.6"W) - Approx. 4.5-5 hours from put in (Peavine Hollow), camping spot for Saturday Night/Meeting point for those joining us on Sunday morning. There are not restrooms here, it is private property that we have permission to camp on. Owners say you can walk about .5 mile to the main road from here and there is a store if you found you forgot something, need to completely bail on the trip or get to the hospital because you forgot to apply sunscreen. If you are driving in on Saturday and joining us, check in first at Sparrow Hawk Camp to make sure they are available to shuttle you back to Sutton's this evening. If not, youll have to camp at Sparrow Hawk and join us on Sunday morning.
7 AM- At Sutton’s, we will put the NTO banner on the road (HWY10) to show you where to turn in. If you are joining us here on Sunday morning, you need to get here no later than around 7AM to drop off your boat and drive back down to Sparrow Hawk Camp. The folks at Sparrow Hawk will then shuttle you back up to Suttons to launch with us. You will float back down to your car with the rest of us.
9 AM- We will be shoving off at 9AM sharp from Sutton's. If the banner is no longer on the road, we have left and you’ll have to paddle faster! Even if you miss us, this is a great trip and you’ll still have fun. We will paddle for another 4.5-5 hours this day, and pull out at Sparrow Hawk Camp. Your vehicle is parked here. Run up from the river, fetch it, load up, grab a warm shower and head home! There was a good pizza place in Tahlequah called Sam and Ella’s Chicken Palace, worth a stop for a starving group of paddlers that just had a blast on the river! You should be home before 10 PM- ish on Sunday evening.
Here are a few links to get you started. It will be full of the best meetup group members around on the weekend we decide to go!
Sparrow Hawk Rental Fees:
13 mile = Canoe...$42.00 per person
23 mile = Raft.....$50.00 per person
28 mile = Kayak...$50.00 per person
$15 per night, per vehicle, 3 tent max
NTO Shared shuttle from Camp to Peavine Hollow Put in- $45 and optional tip.
Current River Flow and other important Information:
Sparrow Hawk Camp: