Upper Illinois River
Ever since legislation officially designated the upper seventy miles of Oklahoma's Illinois River as a scenic river, it has offered visitor's a splendid opportunity for fun, adventure, and breathtaking beauty. The cool, clear waters meander through the Oklahoma Ozark hills and provides spectators with dense forests of oak, elm, and the occasional hickory and cedar.
Providing the adrenaline lovers with several stretches of kind rapids, the majority of the river is easy going, allowing its floaters to relax, "go with the flow" and enjoy the scenery of remarkable high bluffs, rocky islands, and a medley of wildlife. There are many outfitters along the river that provide canoes, kayaks, or rafts, along with shuttle service up the river. Many of them offer group discounts and lodging facilities. You can also bring your own kayak, canoe, or raft and put it in at any of the public access points along the river. Shuttle service is available through most of the outfitters if you call ahead. It is required that you have a User Fee Decal on your floatation device that may be purchased at the Oklahoma Scenic River Commission. The cost is $1.00. Canoeing, kayaking, or floating the Illinois River is not dangerous, but be sure to observe all of the safety precautions, wear your lifejackets, and make yourself aware of the current flow and level of the river.
Fishermen enjoy the largemouth and small-mouth bass, channel and flathead catfish, walleye, and various sunfishes. There are more than 70 species of fish, with a few seasonal varieties. There are few classes available for fly-fishing, lure tying, and guided fishing trips.
An overnight or weeklong trip to the river will provide the perfect possibility for camping! Be sure that any of the camp gear that you bring is waterproof! Never camp on the gravel bars or against bluffs, as this could become an entrapment with rising waters. If outdoor living is not your style, there are several beautiful resorts, RV parks, and private campgrounds that provide cabins or huts alongside the river's banks. Some even with fireplaces to enjoy the winter nights.
Visiting the Upper Illinois River grants many picnicking, camping, fishing, and photographic opportunities. Be sure to bring along lots of water and an extra pair of dry clothing, contained in a sealed plastic bag or other air-tight container. Glass and styrofoam containers are prohibited by law. If you forget your own litter bag, any of the outfitters or park rangers will be happy to provide you with a few. Remember – Pack it in, pack it out! Leave your campsite clean so that the generations to come can enjoy a clean and safe environment: "Take nothing but photographs – leave nothing but footprints."
Contact the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Headquarters, located 2 miles north of Tahlequah on Scenic Highway 10, at 918-456-3251, for more information of safety regulations, laws, water levels, and any conservation groups involved with the Scenic Illinois River.
Lower Illinois River
- Lower Illinois River [27.7 KB jpg]
Below Lake Tenkiller Dam emerges the first Oklahoma year-round trout stream. Every weekend from the end of March through the Fourth of July weekend the Fisheries Division of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife stocks trout in 4 locations along the nearly 8 mile stretch of stream. Throughout the rest of the year, the trout are stocked every other week. As with any of the seven Oklahoma designated trout streams or lakes, trout stamps are required, and are valid from January 1 through December 31.
The lower Illinois River begins at the base of the Lake Tenkiller Dam, right off Highway 100 South, and runs between Vian and Gore at the Highway 64 bridge where it spills into the Arkansas River.
Fishermen have been coming to the lower Illinois since 1965. The trout are fun to fight, and the state record, 10 lbs. 6 oz. Trout was caught in these cold waters.
Fishermen are allowed to use any type of bait, but be sure to observe the laws. The limit is 6 per person, 12 in possession. As long as the fish are not harmed, you may catch and release endlessly. As trout remain a good game fish legal to be used as bait, many use them to lure the great stripers, also dwelling in these waters. Of the last six record stripers, four of them were caught in the cold waters of the lower Illinois River.
Check into overnight to week long fishing trips, or camp trips at the lovely resorts and campsites along the lower Illinois. The cabins are cozy year round and the fish are always biting! There are lots of family activities planned for those who want dad to fish alone!
For more pictures of Lake Tenkiller, click here.
Photos are by Ron Day.