An all new adventure on a water trail near Little Rock, Arkansas.
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A water trail like no other.
What is a water trail anyway? Well, it’s essentially a GPS marked trail through a body of water that can be paddled (canoe, kayak, paddle board, etc.). These trails are often created by volunteers, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Nature Conservancy, the Game and Fish Commission, or possibly even State or National parks. They can be tracked using a GPS app on a smartphone or other device, and sometimes have maps available online to download for offline use, or you can also order hard copies. Arkansas is home to 14 water trails, including the very unique trail on the Little Maumelle River. What makes it so unique? It’s the only place in the state where you can pull up and camp for the night on a floating platform in the river!
Do your research.
It is very important that before every adventure that you do your own research. I first heard about the camping platform from an Instagram post by the Arkansas chapter of the Nature Conservancy. I spent the day studying maps, reviews, other trip reports, and emailing the contacts I could find. This process is part of what I call being responsibly brave, and you can read more about that HERE. It involves knowing the situation, the risks, possible complications, having a back up plan and an exit strategy. My skills in this area didn’t just happen, it’s taken years of practice and trial and error to discover what works for our family. This also wouldn’t be my children’s first paddle trip. We had done a few canoe day trips and one canoe and camp trip before.
NOTE – It is essential that you email the Arkansas Watertrails partnership to reserve your night at the campground! Please be patient and wait for a confirmation email to be sure that you have reserved your night. We had a bit of a confrontation with a group that had also thought they had the night reserved. Luckily, I had my emailed confirmation to prove that I had reserved that night. Please be courteous and do not camp on the platform without receiving your confirmation.
Boots and backpacks from Lone Cone
Loaded up and headed out.
The morning of our trip, my son helped me get our canoe loaded up onto the car. We filled the back with our gear, food, paddles, and life jackets. One of my favorite pieces of gear for water adventure is our Sealline Boundary waterproof bag. It’s huge and can hold the tent, hammock, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, pillows, and clothes. Plus, it’s worth the investment because the one we have is well over 15 years old and still going strong. It has backpack straps to make it easy to carry or portage to your next stop. On these adventures when it’s just me doing most of the maneuvering, this huge pack is worth it. In fact, we need to get a second one to hold the food and cooking utensils.
It’s generally much more comfortable if you wear the straps the right way and not twisted.
Thanks to my very helpful contact at the Arkansas Watertrails Partnership, I was able to park at a put in spot closer to the platform (a much shorter paddle) and my car would be safer behind a locked gate. If you park at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, it’s about a three mile paddle downstream. It’s generally an easy paddle unless there are flood conditions, which can caused swift water. Fast moving water through lots of trees is not a safe situation, so please check weather before your trip. The entire Little Maumelle River watertrail is eight miles long but for our trip we ended up paddling an easy mile to the campsite, then unloaded our gear to explore a bit more. The William Kirsch Preserve is a beautiful nature preserve within the Ranch North Woods, and very close to Little Rock.
I packed lunch for us to eat on the canoe and we all ate in silence. Not intentionally, it was just so beautiful on the river and we were mesmerized watching all of the Great Blue Herons as we glided along.
The big reveal.
Before the trip, I gave my kids a general idea what we were headed to do but didn’t give it all away. So, when we paddled up to the camping platform their excited screams were just the response I’d hoped for. The Little Maumelle river camping platform is tucked away on a side channel from the main river and surrounded with the most beautiful cypress trees and huge lily pads. The cooler fall weather made it even more stunning because the cypress trees had begun to turn orange and it was cold enough at night to kill off the hoards of mosquitos. The platform is large enough for two small to midsize tents, or three hammocks. I brought our hammock for my son and a backpacking tent for my daughter and I. There is also a walled portion and you can set your bucket up behind it. Yes, bucket. Pack it ALL out, my friends. I brought a five gallon bucket, a trash bag, some kitty litter, and extra trash bags to haul out all of our waste. Gross? Yes. Being a good steward of natural spaces? You bet.
The platform is floating on the river and secured with large poles into the riverbed. It even has a small dock space with a winch to pull up and secure your canoe or kayak.
Luckily, both of my children packed their bait nets, so they were more than happy to try to catch minnows from the platform while I unloaded some of our gear and secured the boat. We arrived just after lunch which left us plenty of time to explore the area. I wasn’t sure about leaving all of our gear on the platform, but also figured that it was pretty far out of the way and doubtful that anyone would try to steal it. So, after an hour or so we shoved off and paddled around among the tall cypress, watching turtles hop off logs, herons angrily squawk at us as we paddled by, and we even saw a garter snake eating a frog when we pulled up to shore on the preserve. It croaked at us while in the snakes jaws and my daughter started crying, it was a powerful lesson in the circle of life. As we paddled back to camp and beyond, Pinnacle Mountain rose up on the horizon, flanked in the most beautiful late day sun. It was really a magical experience. A perk of going midweek – we didn’t see anyone else while we were out exploring.
Back at the platform, my children got out their art supplies I didn’t know they had packed and I set up our hammock, tent, and sleeping gear. Then I unpacked the stove and cooking supplies, leaving us with plenty of room to still play charades, tic-tac-toe, and our own version of Pictionary. As the golden hour approached, a few more canoes and kayaks paddled by, including a kayaker who asked if we were the group he had seen back at Pinnacle. My heart sunk because I figured that meant someone else was coming to camp at the platform. I showed him my confirmation and he said he would paddle back up river to try and tell the group approaching that the platform was taken. Fingers crossed that the message would be delivered, I went about cooking our dinner. Our dinner for the night was my “go-to” camp dinner in a pinch. Field Roast Apple Sage “hot dogs” cooked with broccoli slaw and spices, then put over top Daiya vegan mac and “cheese.” It’s simple but fills everyone’s belly and tastes delicious. (PS – don’t skimp on the spices, I use this spice container from GSI Outdoors). You can find a list of all the gear we use HERE.
As it turns out, it was a really good thing they suck some art supplies into their backpacks. We had the best unplugged night of fun.
Check out this VIDEO of our vegan camp dinner.
After cleaning up dinner it was time for more charades, and just as my daughter was doing her best cat impersonation, another canoe, towing a paddleboard, paddled up. I was so nervous for a confrontation, especially since it was just my kids and I. (side note: I always carry a knife and mace while adventuring with my kids). The man immediately asked if I had reserved it, while sort of shouting at me from a long distance away. I said yes and he asked to see my confirmation email, which I had on my phone. As they paddled up their dog began to bark at my children, which made me a little worried and I gently motioned for them to move to the back of the platform. The woman was (understandably) upset about the situation. They had paddled quite a distance with a load. I showed them my email confirmation for that exact date and the chain of emails prior. The snafu came from an assumption on their part that they had reserved the platform, without having heard back from the Watertrails program. The lesson here: be kind. I did my best to be apologetic and understanding of their frustration, but also standing firm in my reservation of the platform. It is not large enough for two groups, especially for strangers during a pandemic. Luckily, there are plenty of other places to emergency pitch camp for the night and I’m fairly certain they did so just across the river from the platform. I recaptured the evening when I surprised my kiddos with twinkle lights for the tent and hammock, and some popcorn to pop on the stove, that we had grown from our garden. It was completely magical.
Cups and bowls are the X -Series from Sea to Summit.
A cold night into a gorgeous morning.
It got cold that night. Very, cold. I was worried that my son wouldn’t be warm enough in the hammock. However, we packed extra warm pajamas, extra socks, gloves and hats. Plus, my kids know to do jumping jacks before hopping in their bags. The extra heat will quickly be absorbed by their down sleeping bags and keep them warmer. That night we heard owls and pileated wood peckers, but also the noise from the not too far away interstate that passes to the west of Little Rock. It wasn’t enough noise to ruin the night, but enough to keep me awake for a while. My son woke me in the morning with the sweetest “Good Morning, Mom! It’s so pretty!” And sure enough, it was. There was slow rolling fog moving over the river and the first light of the sun streamed through the upper branches. It was almost a little spooky when the fog shifted directions and enveloped the whole platform. I heated up some oatmilk for my kids to drink to warm up, then got them their granola cereal. I made myself some tea and also enjoyed an Ample plant based meal drink. Ample is a complete, low carb, plant based meal that’s easy to take on adventures!
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.” – Richard Louv.
Packing up and headed out.
Right as I was packing up the last of our things, my daughter dropped her bait net into the murky water surrounding the platform. It slipped off her wrist and was an accident, but there were many tears. Her sweet brother offered to let her paddle the canoe back to solace her. Or maybe he just didn’t want to paddle. Either way, it worked. She was stoked about the chance. My kids were also quite amused to realize that they can both fit inside our waterproof bag.
My daughter held strong and paddled hard on our way out. It was supposed to be with the current but ended up being against a big headwind. I couldn’t let up or we would lose ground. She didn’t complain once and we eventually made it back to where we put in. The water trail through the lily pads was incredible, with more types of lily pads than I’ve seen before. As I loaded up the canoe, my kids worked together with their one remaining net to try and catch a massive crawfish they saw the previous day. No luck but they did see some large minnows just out of their reach. It was the most amazing twenty four hour excursion and I am so glad that I said yes to doing hard things. Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, I stopped at Bass Pro shops on the way home to get my girl a new net.
My cooler backpack from Rtic was the perfect size to hold some oatmilk, a bit of vegan butter, some veggies and an adult beverage.
Check out this highlight video of our trip!
Things to remember.
There are a lot of things to remember when adventuring with children. In the beginning, I would recommend making yourself a checklist for each different type of adventure and laminating it. Then you can check off as you go, and soon enough you will no longer need it. For this trip, here is what is important:
- Make your reservation several days in advance of your expected arrival date! It is imperative that you do this: 1) so that you can pay for your site and help support future programs, and 2) out of respect for anyone else who may want to use the platform.
- Bring a bucket to use as your toilet and carry out all of your waste.
- Fires are not allowed on the platform, however small charcoal grills and backpacking stoves are ok to use.
- Bring enough water to drink and cook with or bring a method to purify your water.
- Lantern or headlamps.
- Tent/hammock and sleeping pads/sleeping bags
- Twinkle or fairy lights to make it fun.
- Pack lunch, dinner, breakfast and a few snacks. Don’t forget a little treat for yourself and your kids.
- In the summer you will need strong bug protection.
- In fall/winter you will need hats/gloves/warm sleeping bags.
- Be aware for alligators and snakes.
- Be respectful of the wildlife and other people out exploring.
- Everyone in the boat needs to wear lifejackets, by law.
- Do not paddle during flash flooding or during high water.
- Download the free Avenza app HERE to use with the geo-referenced map found HERE.
My darling girl, I hope I am showing you that women can indeed, adventure and do hard things.
Thanks for reading, friends! If you’d like to read about our last canoe and camping trip, you can see that HERE.
To read my newest post for Run Wild My Child, all about interest-led learning tap HERE.
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