Kayak the Illinois River

Added by John Chau

This paddle is 16 miles downriver (approximately 7 hours) and gives you access to the clearest water in Oklahoma. Along the way there are tons of great fishing and swimming holes.

From Tulsa, head out east along US-412 until you reach US-82. Take Exit 6 and go right (south) along US-82 until you reach E Steely Hollow Rd. Turn left and follow E Steely Hollow Rd. until you reach the T-intersection with OK-10. Pull into a parking space at the Illinois River Store and buy a mandatory river permit for $1 per boat (canoe, raft, or kayak). The river permit goes on your wrist, and one is required for each vessel. If you plan on switching boats, then leave the wristband loose (don’t adhere it all the way), so you can easily hand it off to your pal when you switch boats. Before leaving the store, be sure to grab one of their free river maps.

After grabbing your permit (and gas if needed – although the gas price is quite steep at the store), head north on OK-10 for 11 miles until you reach the Round Hollow Public Access Area where you can launch your canoes, kayaks, and rafts from for free.

After getting out on the river, follow it downstream and fish in the many backwaters and sloughs that you come across. The Illinois River is rated as a Class II, so it’s a relaxing ride. Take pictures of the bald eagles that inhabit the riverway, and be on the lookout for cardinals, vultures, deer, snapping turtles, pickerel, and alligator gar.

Continue on down the river until you reach War Eagle Resort where you can pull your boats up and either send someone up to the road to hitchhike the 10.5 miles back along the road to where you parked or call a pre-arranged shuttle.

  • Always tie all of your gear down to your boat
  • Watch for sunken trees and logjams
  • Leave a float plan with someone before you go
  • You can either pay one of the many outfitters (e.g. Arrowhead Resort, Peyton’s Place, etc.) $30 to shuttle you back to your vehicle, or you can hitchhike back to Round Hollow Public Access (where you launched from)
  • If you don’t own a boat, you can rent one from the many resorts with the shuttle included in your fee!
  • There are numerous other launch points, but this one is great for a day trip. If you plan on going longer than a day, take into account that once you go past War Eagle Resort, there are very few places to be picked up from, with the nearest after War Eagle being the Echota Public Access (13+ miles downriver)
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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Picnic Area
Swimming Hole


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It was calming, but also a rush. I kayaked 14 miles, which took about 8 hours, but I enjoyed every bit of it. It was a beautiful scenery with cold water with the warm sun .

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