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The Kiamichi River in Southeastern Oklahoma.




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 sandals.
  • 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 The Spring River and The Buffalo River.

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Click to enlarge
Bald Eagle Spotted while paddling the Illinois River on April 30, 2006
Taken on the Illinois River near
Tahlequah, OK

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.

Guidelines for canoes, kayaks and rafts on the Illinois River neat Tahlequah, Oklahoma.Enjoy Birding & Eagle Watching on the Illinois River in Tahlequah, OK

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 the State. Illinois River Public Access Point List (PDF)



Illinois River Canoe & Kayak Rentals and Campgrounds List

All-American Floats 
Kayak & Canoe Rental
Waterslide, Camping. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.  (918)-456-6949 
(Tested and Approved)


Arrowhead Camp
Cabins, Camping, RV
(918) 456-1140
(800) 749-1140


Diamondhead Resort
Camping, Bunkhouse
Motel, RV, Kayaks
(918) 456-4545
(800) 722-2411
Eagle Bluff Resort
Cabins, Lodge, RV
(918) 456-3031
(Tested and Approved)
Elephant Rock Nature Park
Yurts, 17' Osage Canoes, Old Town Guide Kayaks, Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Shuttle Service & Wildlife Rescue
(Tested and Approved)

Falcon Floats
Bunkhouse, Camping
Canoes, Kayaks, Shuttle Service, Gifts. 1-800-OKFLOAT.
(918) 456-8058
(800) 653-5628
(Tested and Approved in 2008 and in 2010)

Peyton's Place
Lodge ,Cabins
Camping, Rafts
(918) 456-3847
(800) 359-0866

Sparrow Hawk Camp
Bunkhouse, Camping, Canoes, Kayaks & Shuttle Service.
(918) 456-8371
(800) 722-9635

War Eagle Float Resort
Float Trips, Camping
Bunkhouse, Motel
(918) 456-6272
(800) 722-3834
(Tested and Approved)

Cedar Valley Camp
Tent Camping, Supplies, 
Shuttle Service.
(918) 456-2484

(No answer when we tried to call in May 2008)

Hanging Rock Camp
RV, Motel, Camping
(918) 456-3088
(800) 375-3088


Green River Floats
Inner tube/raft rentals
showers, shuttle service

(Private boat shuttling $25 per canoe)

Riverside Camp
Camping, Lodge
Cabins, RV, Kayaks
(918) 456-4787
(800) 749-2267
(Tested and Approved) 

Thunderbird Resort
Camping, Lodge, House
(918) 456-4747
(800) 749-4700

Spencer Ridge Resort
Campgrounds, RVs 
Cabins, Supplies
Shuttle, Showers.

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 rentals.


   Bring your camera. Bald Eagles are frequently seen on Tahlequah Oklahoma's Illinois River.


Trip Report  - 9/11/10  The Illinois River

Kayakaing on the Illinois River 9-11-2010With 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 paddling.

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 the summer.

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 Tenkiller 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 year long.

The 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 River.


Float Trip Report  - 5/31/09  The Illinois River

Bald Eagle Spotted on the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Oklahoma.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 it.

I took my old Perception Swifty kayak, Dianne paddled her 12 foot 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 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 the water.

Float Trip Report  - 5/25/05  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 All American 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!

Illinois 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 Tandem Kayaks 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.

Shuttle Skuttlebutt

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.

(Warning: unqualified opinion ahead!)

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 strategy.

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 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 shuttle bus.

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.

The 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 Ozarks

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 and The Buffalo River in Arkansas are both popular destinations with Oklahoma kayakers. The 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 ditches like Salt Creek, 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.


...Complete Oklahoma Area Float Trip Outfitters List


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