Editor's Note: Tom Uhlenbrock is a staff writer and outdoorsman with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks. He has spent many days canoeing Missouri’s rivers. Here, he outlines 10 streams you might consider for your Missouri float-trip experience.
Canoeing Exposes You to Nature and Fun
Canoe outfitters can be found on and nearby all of these streams. Many have camping and RV sites available. They will outfit you with all the gear and information needed for a float as short as two hours to floats lasting several days. They will shuttle you to and from the river. As this is a popular activity, reservations are advised for canoe, kayak and raft rentals, as well as camping.
The first two rivers mentioned (Current and Jacks Fork) make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways – America’s first federally designated national park for the protection of a wild river system.
Current River – The top stretches beginning at the river’s headwaters at Montauk State Park are the best. Sections from Baptist Camp to Cedargrove, Cedargrove to Akers, Akers to Pulltite and Pulltite to Round Spring are wonderful trips. Be sure to visit the ruins of the old sanitarium at Welch Spring, upstream form Akers Ferry Canoe Rental. They operate a ferry across the Current, rent canoes and other water craft have a campground and general store. The National Park Service has a nice campground at Pulltite. Lodging is available at the state park and at Round Spring Retreat, a ridge-top cabin overlooking the river. More than 134 miles of the Current and its tributaries are federally protected as part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Jacks Fork River – The bluff-lined top of the river is called The Prongs; it is one of the most wild and scenic river stretches in Missouri. This spring-fed river flows 46.4 miles; it is the major tributary of the Current River, ending at the confluence near Eminence. The Jacks Fork provides some of the most natural conditions in the region, with many caves and natural springs. The river from Alley Spring to Eminence is usually floatable year-round because of the flow from the spring. River's Edge Resort, right on the riverbank in Eminence, offers a variety of lodging choices.
The Meramec River – The Meramec River is one of the longest free-flowing waterways in Missouri, wandering some 229 miles. The upper section, from Short Bend to Cook Station, is beautiful wilderness, but floatable only in good water. The river down to Meramec State Park is great for family floats. Lodging, camping and float trips are available at the state park, and with local outfitters. Maramec Spring is the fifth-largest spring in Missouri. This is an outstanding fishing waterway.
Huzzah Creek – (Local pronunciation: "who-zall.") A lovely, gentle stream with plenty of gravel bars for picnicking. Anglers find the Huzzah to be a pleasant and profitable floating-wading stream; canoeist will find it quite sporty. The Huzzah river valley is relatively unspoiled and has a real Ozarks atmosphere.
Courtois Creek – (Local pronunciation: "court-away.") Flowing 38.6 miles, this tributary of the Huzzah is popular year-round for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. It is surrounded by dense stands of trees and native vegetation, has abundant fish, turtles and waterfowl, and is the best-protected stream in the area against erosion.
For a nice float on the Huzzah and/or Courtois, begin at Bass' River Resort or Huzzah Valley Resort. Both are full service operations with a general store, streamside campgrounds for tents and RVs, plus other activities.
Black River – Known for its clarity, the Black has several floatable areas in the vicinity of Lesterville. The East Fork of the Black (not floatable, but well worth a visit) goes through Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. The Wilderness Lodge Resort has rustic cabins beside the river; home-cooked meals are served in its vintage dining hall.
Niangua River – (Pronounced: "nigh-ang-wha.") Fed by Missouri’s third-largest spring at Bennett Spring State Park, 13 miles west of Lebanon, the Niangua is popular with floaters; it can be crowded on summer Saturdays. Lodging, camping, trout fishing, a general store and a dining lodge are available at the state park. Bennett Spring is one of Missouri’s outstanding rainbow trout streams.
North Fork of the White River – Locals call this, simply, the North Fork. Located near the Arkansas border in south-central Missouri, it is a fabulous float that is less crowded. A good day-float begins at the Hammond Camp access near Dora and ends at River of Life Farm, a resort with a restaurant and cabins at the river’s edge. The latest addition, the River Lighthouse Cabin, has two bedrooms, both with jetted tubs, a gas fireplace and a covered porch that looks down on the shimmering water.
Elk River & Big Sugar Creek – In extreme southwest Missouri, the Elk River is popular with floaters who enjoy the many gravel bars and the extremely clear water. Big Sugar is an unusually clear stream that provides good camping and fishing. Below Noel, the Elk has an isolated quality. In the Pineville and Noel areas, cottage rentals are numerous. Elk River Floats and Campground is a good spot to start your adventure.
Eleven Point River – A gorgeous float, especially from the Greer Spring access to Turner Mill. The spring adds 220 million gallons of clear, cold water to the river each day, making for good floating throughout the year. Take the mile-long hike to the spring and see one of Missouri’s most beautiful spots. This is one of the original eight rivers designated in the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as possessing "outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values." The Eleven Point is free of commercialization along the shoreline and is largely primitive and undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads. Canoe outfitters will get you to the river. The good folks at Eleven Point River Canoe Rental outside of Alton will send you on your way with all the gear needed.
This is just a sampling. There are more than 30 floatable rivers in the Show-Me State, all served be canoe outfitters (most offering kayaks and rafts as well). Check the Missouri Canoe Association website for a complete list of rivers, outfitters and schedules. No matter which you try, a day (or more) on a spring-fed stream in a canoe or kayak is a fun and relaxing way to "get away." Try it – you'll like it.