The Illinois River in Tahlequah offers a gentle, moderate current and plenty of canoe, kayak and raft outfitters along its scenic banks, making it a favorite float trip destination.
Continue reading below
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. With so many outfitters and campsites nearby, you have everything you need already along the river. All you have to do is arrive.
There are different ways to float the Illinois River, but the three most popular options are via canoe, kayak or inflatable raft. Kayaks are generally more maneuverable and can accommodate one or two people, but canoes are also easy to control and are ideal for three people. Some rafts can accommodate up to nine passengers and are a good choice for families. The river is rated as Class II, and is a gently-flowing waterway with a moderate current and few hazards, so it’s accessible to experts and novices alike. Trips of various lengths are available, ranging from six- to 70-mile-long stretches.
As you might expect, the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day is the Illinois River’s busy season, when families and travelers flock to the river to cool off and escape the summer heat. Many of the Illinois River outfitters along SH-10 are open all year, but with advance notice, can accommodate guests even during the winter months so you can float the river in peaceful solitude.
When you’re ready to set off on your float trip, an outfitter can help you with all the equipment you need for your trip, including personal floatation devices. Many outfitters will transport riders to a drop-off point, then the riders will float back to the camp or to a pick-up point. Most outfitters along the river also offer lodging, including campsites, comfortable cabins and low-maintenance bunkhouses, as well as other amenities such as swimming pools.
Whether you’re headed to the river for a float trip or just a weekend getaway, Arrowhead Resort has you covered. Set off in a canoe or kayak on a challenging 58-mile adventure, or try a relaxing six- to 12-mile trip. Or, hop on a raft with friends or family for a six- or 12-mile float. After your river journey, rest up in the campgrounds, a cabin or the group lodge if you’re with a big group.
Lodging options at Diamondhead Resort include campgrounds, motel rooms and a bunkhouse. Stay at this full-service campground, where a nine-hole disc golf course, horseshoe pits, lighted basketball and volleyball courts add to the fun. To spend a day out on the river, choose from kayaks, canoes or rafts, and go on a six or 12-mile-long trip.
Camp along the river in a tent or RV, stay in an air-conditioned cabin or settle in at the group lodge at Eagle Bluff Resort. A snack shop, playground, sand volleyball and basketball court are some of the extras you’ll find here. When you’re ready to set off on the river, choose from a leisure trip in an inner tube or your choice of float trips in a canoe, kayak or raft. For thrill-seekers, arrangements can be made for an overnight float trip.
A unique lodging option is offered at Elephant Rock Nature Park – yurts. These tent-like, air-conditioned structures are nestled within the trees, offering the comforts of home in a peaceful setting. The serene environment at this park, private river frontage and hiking trails invite visitors to reconnect with nature. Private access to the river is available, and eight- or 14-mile float trips in a canoe, kayak or raft are offered.
One of the oldest canoe camps on the Illinois River, Peyton’s Place has been a go-to float trip outfitter for decades. Canoes, rafts and kayaks are available for your ride downstream, and on-site lodging units and campsites are offered. From the group lodge that sleeps up to 48 people to tent sites with electric hookups, you’ll find just the right fit for your stay.
Your river excursion begins at War Eagle Resort, where you can choose from a float trip in a raft, canoe or kayak. Set off on a relaxing six- or 12-mile trip, and when you return you can rest easy in one of the resort’s two-bedroom A-frame cabins or the War Eagle motel. Large groups can stay in one of the bunkhouses, and campgrounds are also offered. The huge water slide and swimming pool on-site ensure everyone stays cool while having a blast.
In addition to the Illinois River outfitters detailed above, Sparrow Hawk Camp, Riverside Resort, Hanging Rock Camp and Falcon Floats are also available to assist you in your quest for the ultimate Illinois River experience.
Remember to apply the sunscreen and wear a life jacket to keep your float trip safe and fun!