Hopping into a canoe and pushing off a gravel bar into the clear, cold water of a spring-fed river is one of the biggest joys of summer. And here in southern Missouri, we have a lot to brag about when it comes to spring-fed rivers. From deep swimming holes and roiling falls to icy springs and first-rate trout fishing, these pristine streams offer something for every type of outdoorsy personality. This summer, make it your goal to see our state from a canoe—oar in hand. And let this feature be your guide to all the best things to see and places to stay along the winding watery highways of Missouri.
With photos by
Aaron Clark • Val Cooley
Cassie Darst • Jessica Kennon
Kyle Kosovich • Brooke Leeka
Jennifer Linders • Brian Cormack
and Kevin O’Riley
The North Fork of the White River is one of the most spring-fed, rolling rivers around. It’s a fairly popular floating destination for travelers and can be crowded on weekends and holidays, but you’ll find it’s a little quieter than the Niangua or the Current.
Fishing on the North Fork is some of the best you’ll find anywhere in the country. A portion of the river is designated a Missouri Wild Trout Management Area, where regulations are stricter, and fishing for wild rainbow trout is stellar. Like most rivers, wildlife abounds here—don’t be surprised if you see eagles nesting or soaring overhead. There are numerous outfitters that service the North Fork, plus a few full-service river resorts that can accommodate all of your river needs.
DROP A LINE: The North Fork of the White River is a prime spot for trout fishing.
The North Fork’s Springs
Althea Spring is the most notable spring on the North Fork. It’s located at Patrick Bridge, just a short walk from the river on the left. To get there it’s best to float under the bridge first—it’s a low bridge, so watch your head. Park your canoe on the gravel bar on the left immediately after the bridge, and follow the path up to the spring. People like to jump in the icy blue water just so they can brag about it. After a swim in Althea you’ll find the cool North Fork actually feels much warmer. Just past the pool is a waterfall you won’t want to miss.
Rainbow Spring (also known as “Double Spring”) is on private property, but you can see its confluence with the North Fork on the right side, just upstream from River of Life Farm. Look for a rocky riffle there. From here to Patrick Bridge is a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, and the daily limit is one trout 18 inches or longer. From Patrick all the way to Lake Norfork is considered a Red Ribbon Trout Area. The daily limit is two fish 15 inches or longer.
Blue Spring is located just downstream from Hammond Mill Park on the left. You can paddle your canoe in and go for a swim. A trail at Blue Spring is maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.
Full-service River Resorts
Dawt Mill offers canoe, kayak, tube and raft rentals, plus lodging, dining and a fascinating history. Dawt is still a working grist mill, and demonstrations are given regularly throughout the summer season. The dam and waterfall at Dawt are a sight to see, and some folks like to brag about “shooting” the dam; however, this is strongly discouraged—especially in a rental canoe. One of the most popular floats for Dawt guests is Blair Bridge to Dawt Mill.
Lodging options range from romantic cabins overlooking the river to newly remodeled suites at the Cotton Gin Inn. Campsites are also available. Enjoy fine dining at the GristMill Restaurant and listen to live music at the Gravel Bar, where swimsuits are welcome on the deck. Grab a sandwich or an old-fashioned hand-dipped ice cream cone at Sawyer’s Deli.
The Mill Store carries souvenirs, gifts and some signature food items; river essentials can be found in the General Store. Visit dawtmill.com or call 417-284-3540.
River of Life Farm offers float trips and world class trout fishing guide services year-round. But it’s the lodging at River of Life that gains a lot of attention. Called Tree House Cabins, these houses are literally situated high off the ground among the trees, giving guests a spectacular view. One of the newest cabins here—the River Lighthouse—is so high, in fact, that it is not recommended for children younger than 12 (or anyone with a fear of heights, for that matter). Catch a glimpse of eagles as they soar up and down the stream each day.
If fishing the North Fork interests you, you’ve come to the right place. The guide service is stellar, and as a guest at River of Life, you’ll have exclusive access to a mile-long stretch of the river to wade out and fish in the Blue Ribbon Trout Area that begins just upstream at Rainbow Spring.
Ask about in-room therapeutic massages, horse-drawn wagon rides and catering. Visit riveroflifefarm.com or call 417-261-7777.
Sunburst Ranch boasts two miles of riverfront property that is great for fishing or swimming. Here you’ll find canoes, kayaks, tubes and rafts, plus an array of lodging options.
Some of the lodging options are on the property, and two more are downstream. The RiverHouse is the largest house on the property. It’s located on the upper end of Sunburst Ranch and sleeps 14 with room for tents out back. The Log Cabin sleeps eight and is tucked away up on the hillside—nice if you like a little more privacy.
The Lodge at Trout Island is Sunburst’s newest lodging. Located just a mile downstream from the ranch on the right, The Lodge is a 4,000-square-foot home overlooking the river. It’ll sleep up to 14 guests.
The Landing is located about seven miles downstream from Sunburst on the left just before Dawt Mill, and it sleeps nine. There is a private gravel bar here that also serves as a take-out point for folks staying at Sunburst. You can start your float at Sunburst Ranch and take out at the Landing, hitting Althea Spring along the way
Campsites and sleeper cabins are also available at the ranch. Two of the most popular floats for folks staying at Sunburst are Hammond Mill to Sunburst (12 miles) and Sunburst to The Landing (7 miles). Visit sunburstranchcanoe.com or call 417-284-3443.
Pettit Canoe Rental offers canoe, kayak, tube and raft rentals, as well as camping and sleeper cabins. It is located near Blair Bridge, south of Dora in Ozark County. Visit pettitscanoerental.com or call 417-284-3290.
Twin Bridges Canoe & Campground offers canoes, rafts and single and tandem kayaks, as well as camping, cabins, general store and catering services. They can accommodate short, half-day floats up to several-day floats. Twin Bridges is located near West Plains. Visit twinbridgescanoe.com or call 417-256-7507.
Riverside Canoe Rental, in Caulfield, offers canoe and kayak rentals on the North Fork River and also runs shuttles to Bryant Creek on Saturdays (see more about the Bryant, page 83). Also on-site is a campground and motel, Riverfront Store and some weekend food service. Visit riversidecanoe.com or call 417-284-3043.
The Falls (historically known as “Horseshoe Falls”) is a horseshoe-shaped series of rock ledges and boulders that drop off two to three feet at a time into the main channel. It’s best navigated by paddling to the right of the largest rock or staying to the far left. Many a canoe has flipped here, so be cautious. The Falls is located at River of Life Farm.
North Fork Spring is only accessible from the river and is located just upstream from Rainbow Spring on the right. If you don’t know it’s there you might actually miss the spring itself, as it bubbles up out of a gravel bar. The gravel bar is a particularly great spot to stop and swim or have a picnic. It’s also a good camping spot if you’re looking for a place to float in and spend the night.
Dawt Mill is a full-service river resort on the North Fork with lodging, dining and outfitter services. It’s a historic site with a working grist mill. You can tour the mill and see demonstrations daily. Visit dawtmill.com or call 417-284-3540.
Bryant Creek is the North Fork’s warm-water sister. It’s much wilder and narrower, and it can be more challenging, as there are more obstacles to maneuver. The land on both sides of the river is privately owned, and very little of it is developed. In fact, there is no lodging directly on the river and only a few outfitters service it. It’s a hidden gem that remains mostly undiscovered by the outside world. But the fishing is great. Because of the warmer water, there are fewer trout but plenty of bass, catfish and walleye. Hodgson Mill to Warren Bridge is one of the most scenic floats with many small springs, bluffs and great swimming holes. Highway 95 Bridge is also a popular swimming hole and access.
Bryant Creek Springs
Hodgson Mill Spring is by far the most notable spring on the Bryant. Hodgson Mill was built over the top of the spring to harness its energy in producing grains.
Sunburst Ranch is located on the North Fork, but they also run shuttles to the Bryant—something to keep in mind if you’d like to check out both rivers in one trip. Visit sunburstranchcanoe.com or call 417-284-3443.
Riverside Canoe Rental is also located on the North Fork, but they do run shuttles to the Bryant on Saturdays only. Visit riversidecanoe.com or call 417-284-3043.
Longboat Outfitters offers guided river trips on several Missouri streams, including the Bryant. (See sidebar page 87.) Head guide Kyle Kosovich grew up floating the Bryant, so his knowledge of this particular stream is extensive. Visit longboatoutfitters.com or call 417-293-3860.
There is no lodging right on the banks of Bryant Creek, but Rockbridge Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch is only a few minutes away. There are several lodging options here (cabins, houses, condos and motel suites). Plus there’s a restaurant open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Grist Mill Club serves food and drinks overlooking Spring Creek, where folks come from all over to fish for trout. A lot of folks staying here like to float from Bertha Bridge to 95 Bridge, and some even head over to the North Fork while they’re here. Visit rockbridgemo.com or call 417-679-3619.
Hodgson Mill is likely one of the most recognized mills in the country. It’s no longer a working mill, but Hodgson Mill brand grains can still be found on store shelves across the country, a picture of the mill on the packaging. Its beauty still draws in visitors and it has even been a backdrop for weddings. Hodgson Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places and sits atop Hodgson Mill Spring, which flows into the Bryant. Fun fact: The mill was built by Alva Hodgson in the late 1800s. Hodgson also built Dawt Mill on the North Fork River.
Glass containers are strictly prohibited on the rivers, gravel bars and trails, inside caves and within 50 feet of the water’s edge.
Missouri fishing regulations apply and vary at certain stretches within a river. Trout stamps are required when fishing for trout.
Rivers are patrolled by the Missouri State Water Patrol.
Be prepared. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen, and keep important items in a dry bag.
In case your canoes get separated, make sure everybody in your group knows all the stops, side trips and ending locations.
Invest in a pair of sturdy water shoes. Flip flops won’t cut it on these rocky riverbeds.
The Current River is fed by more springs than any other included in this guide. Several large springs—including the largest spring in Missouri—and countless smaller springs flow into the Current, making it floatable year-round. The river is a popular recreational floating destination and can be quite crowded on hot summer weekends. Together with the Jacks Fork, the Current River is a National Scenic Riverway. The upper Current from Montauk State Park to Cedar Grove Campground is a trophy trout fishing section. Most summer floats start below Welch Spring and end before Big Spring.
Current River Springs
Big Spring is the largest spring in Missouri and one of the three largest springs in the United States. It has an average daily flow of 286 million gallons of water. Located in Big Spring National Park on the lower Current River, the spring itself is visible from the river about 4 miles downstream from the bridge at Van Buren. A trail leads up to the park, where you’ll find a campground, picnic tables and barbecue grills, an outdoor pavilion and Big Spring Lodge and cabins. Swimming and fishing are prohibited in Big Spring.
At 300 feet deep, Blue Spring is the deepest spring in Missouri and one of the deepest in the United States. The depth is what gives the water its brilliant blue color for which it is named. Blue Spring is located about a mile and a half below Powder Mill campground and can be reached by walking a quarter-mile up the spring branch on the left. Swimming and fishing are not allowed in Blue Spring.
Cave Spring is located about 5 miles below Akers Ferry on the left. The spring is located inside a cave and is only accessible by canoe. In fact, visitors can paddle about 100 feet into the cave and view the spring at the back. During the summer months a steady stream of canoes can be seen paddling in and out of the cave. The water drops to about 120 feet deep at the back of the cave. It is very cold and dark, so swimming is not recommended. A great little side jaunt from here is Devil’s Well—a 200-foot sink hole that is partially filled with water. Devil’s Well is about a mile and a half from the river.
Round Spring is located at the Round Spring river access and campground on the right. The spring rises into a pool of water more than 50 feet deep and then flows under a natural bridge into the river. Swimming is not allowed in the spring pool. The most notable aspect here is Round Spring Cave, one of the only caves on the river that is open to the public. Tours are given by the National Park Service at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily during the summer and are limited to 15 people at a time. Cost is $5 for adults; $2 for children under 12. Call 573-323-4236 for more information about the cave tour.
Welch Spring is located on the upper Current River about 3 miles upstream from Akers Ferry on the left. Welch is the sixth largest spring in Missouri and nearly doubles the size of the Current where it enters the river. The Current is almost always floatable below Welch. The remains of a hundred-year-old hospital still stand nearby. The hospital, some cabins and a campground were built by a doctor from Illinois who believed the spring water and cave air had healing powers. But rough terrain made it difficult for anyone to reach the hospital, and the idea did not thrive. The doctor died in 1940, and the hospital and resort were abandoned.
The Rosecliff Lodge and Moonshadow Lodge at The Landing offer 56 units, all overlooking the Current River. King and queen suites are available, plus some larger suites in the Moonshadow Lodge that will accommodate up to eight guests each. Moonshadow Lodge is located adjacent to the River Centre, where private functions, such as weddings, parties, reunions and corporate events are held. The River Centre also plays host to a spring and fall concert series. Find out more at landingrivercentre.com. Enjoy fine riverfront dining at the Blue Heron restaurant, open for dinner daily during the summer. Visit eatsleepfloat.com or call 573-323-8156.
Big Spring Lodge and Cabins is located in Big Spring National Park in Van Buren. The 14 cabins were built by the Civilian Conversation Corps in the 1930s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are six floor plans that will accommodate two to eight guests. All are within walking distance to the river, but Cabin 413 has the best view of the Current River from atop a bluff. Prices range from $65 to $120 with added fees for extra guests. The Dining Lodge is also an historic building. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the summer and overlooks the Current River. Private functions such as weddings and receptions are often held here in the off-season. The park service maintains the campground and hiking trails inside the park. Visit bigspringlodgeandcabins.com or call 573-323-4423.
The Current River Cabin in Van Buren is a privately owned five-bedroom home that overlooks the Current River. It was built in 2002, but the owners just started renting it two years ago. It can accommodate up to 14 people and is great for large families or groups or several couples. It features two outdoor entertaining areas, full kitchen, wireless internet and satellite. This place books far in advance, so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to stay there. Visit vrbo.com/378680 or call 901-494-3962.
The Maggards have owned Akers Ferry Canoe Rental since the 1940s. (They also operate Jacks Fork Canoe Rental & Campground on the Jacks Fork River.) Also located on the upper Current, Akers Ferry offers canoes, tubes, camping, cabins, a general store and more. Gene Maggard also operates the ferryboat (see p. 87 for details). Visit currentrivercanoe.com or call 573-858-3224.
Current River Canoe Rental is located at Pulltite Campground on the upper Current River. The same owners also operate Carrs Canoe Rental at Round Spring Campground. Both locations offer canoes, kayaks and tubes for rent, plus camping. Akers Ferry to Pulltite is a popular, scenic float with nothing but nature in between. Akers Ferry to Round Spring is a favorite longer float. Visit current-river.com or call 800-435-5050. Visit carrscanoerental.com or call 800-333-3956.
The Landing is located on the lower Current River in Van Buren. Here you’ll find canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes and several different float trip options, from one-day to multiple days. The Landing River Store offers anything you might need on the river, including some pre-packaged food items. Enjoy fine dining at The Blue Heron, open daily for dinner during the summer, with live music featured occasionally on the deck overlooking the Current River. Lodging also available. Visit eatsleepfloat.com or call 573-323-8156.
Rocky Falls is one of the most visited attractions near the Current. Although you can’t actually see it from the river, it’s worth the side jaunt to visit this spot. Located on Route NN east of Eminence, Rocky Falls is a steep cascading waterfall that pours into a large pool of water, where folks like to swim and cool off on a hot summer day. Picnic spots overlooking the water and public restrooms can be found here. You can also access the Ozark Trail at Rocky Falls if you’re up for a little hiking. From the river you can see where Rocky Creek enters the river on the right side near the Roberts Field access.
Akers Ferry is the last two-car ferryboat and the last “downstream” ferry in Missouri. The ferry service started in 1949 and has been operated by Gene Maggard and his family since 1952. The Maggards also own Akers Ferry Canoe Rental. The ferry runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the summer. Folks traveling from Salem to Summersville often use the ferry as a shortcut. Cost is $4 per car. Call 573-858-3224 for more information.
Kyle Kosovich has been studying rivers and streams his entire life. He grew up in Ozark County floating the North Fork and Bryant rivers, which fueled his passion and encouraged him to further his education in order to better understand rivers and streams. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology from Missouri State University. He now teaches biology and environmental science at OTC and is a fishing guide for River of Life Farm on the North Fork River. He also offers guided float trips on several Missouri streams through his own guide service: Longboat Outfitters. But this isn’t just any guided float trip. It’s an all-inclusive river adventure. You can go for one day or several days and nights. The most exclusive trip offered is four days on the North Fork. It includes all the gear, food and two guides in two separate boats for up to four people. It’s the ultimate floating experience, only you don’t have to prepare a thing. One night you’ll stay at River of Life Farm’s tree house cabins. On the nights you camp, everything will be taken care of for you, so that you and your fishing party may float in to a private gravel bar, where the tents are already set up, the fire is stoked, and food is being prepared. You won’t find hot dogs at this campfire. Think local steaks, homemade macaroni and cheese and crème brûlée for dessert. Not only is the food top-notch, but the rest of the service is, too. Everything is planned and prepared for you, from understanding the weather and the river to knowing the best places to camp, fishing techniques, gear and food. “It’s quite a magical experience,” says Kosovich. The price tag? Around $6,000 for a party of four. Visit longboatoutfitters.com or call 417-293-3860 for more information about guided trips, availability and pricing.
The Jacks Fork is one of the most primitive wild and scenic rivers in the United States. The first 25 miles run through a canyon and the first 30 miles are difficult to access. Any camping along this upper stretch of the river should be done well above river level for safety if there is the slightest chance of rain. Buck Hollow to Alley Spring is a trophy smallmouth area, and folks come from all over the country to fish this section of the river. The upper section is usually only floatable until early summer, depending on rainfall amounts. Alley Spring is the main tributary of the Jacks Fork, so the section below Alley Spring is usually floatable year-round. The Jacks Fork is a major tributary of the Current River and joins the Current near Eminence. The two rivers make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Jacks fork spring
Alley Spring is the seventh largest spring in Missouri. It forms a big pool of water below Alley Spring Mill, located on the left side of the river. When floating down the river you can see where the spring empties into the river and the mill is just a short walk up from the river bank. Swimming is now allowed in Alley Spring.
Harvey’s Alley Spring Canoe Rental is located at Alley Spring National Park Campground near Eminence. They offer canoe, kayak, tube and raft rentals on both the Jacks Fork and the Current rivers. Owner Shane Van Steenis says one of the best floats their guests enjoy is 17 Bridge to Alley Spring. It’s a long float—24 miles—and folks usually spend one to two nights on the river. There are plenty of gravel bars and primitive campgrounds along the way. This stretch is typically only floatable until early summer; however, Alley Spring to Two Rivers (where the Jacks Fork joins the Current) is floatable year-round. Visit harveysalleyspring.com or call 573-226-3386.
Windy’s Canoe and Tube Rental offers canoe, kayak, tube and raft rentals on the upper Jacks Fork and the Current River. They are located near River’s Edge Resort in Eminence and pick people up there frequently. Visit the general store for any necessities. Visit windyscanoe.com or call 573-226-3404.
Jacks Fork Canoe Rental and Campground is owned by the Maggards—the same family who owns and operates Akers Ferry Canoe Rental on the Current. They offer several float trips and camping facilities. Visit jacksforkcanoe.com or call 573-858-3221.
River’s Edge Resort overlooks the Jacks Fork River in Eminence and has a private gravel beach along the riverfront, to which guests have exclusive access for grilling, picnicking, swinging or just relaxing in a hammock. Accommodations include hotel rooms and suites in the main lodge, plus riverfront cabins with wood fireplaces and the three-bedroom River House. Visit rivers-edge.com or call 573-226-3233.
Hawkins House B & B is a restored 1913 home in downtown Eminence. The bed and breakfast is within walking distance of the Jacks Fork River.
Five guest rooms each have private baths with king or queen-size beds, and some have Jacuzzi tubs. A full country breakfast is served each morning. If you’re interested in fishing, ask about their guide service. If you want to float the river, they’ll help you arrange a trip. Visit hawkinshaus.com or call 573-226-5944.
Crystal Creek Ranch in Eminence is located one mile from the Jacks Fork and two miles from Alley Spring Mill. Stay in one of several cabins or houses on the property and enjoy self-guided tours of this working farm and ranch. Enjoy walking trails and see all kinds of animals, from goats and sheep to chickens and ducks. And don’t miss the awesome view from the decks at the Ranch House. A museum on the property features antique horse-drawn farm equipment, tools and more. Ask about individual and group retreats. Visit crystalcreekranch.com or call 573-226-2222.
Alley Spring Mill—also known as the “Old Red Mill”—is an icon of the Jacks Fork River. It is situated on the left, just a short walk up from the river bank. The grounds are open year-round, and the mill itself is open daily during the summer months. Tours are given by request, and free demonstrations of the milling equipment are given at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. The Alley Overlook Trail begins at the mill and climbs up a steep bluff. At the top you’ll see a spectacular view down into Alley Spring. A lot of folks stop here to take pictures, and the mill has played host to many weddings.
Jam-Up Cave is located on the upper Jacks Fork about six miles below the Buck Hollow Access between Rymers and Blue Spring on the left. It can only be reached by boat. Although you can’t go inside the cave, the entrance is spectacular to see. It’s about 80 feet tall and 100 feet wide.
There are countless beautiful bluffs along the Jacks Fork River. The first 25 miles flow through what some describe as a canyon, and the bluffs on either side are majestic. A few notable bluffs include Chalk Bluff—a huge bluff on the left side of the river between Rymers and Bay Creek. Bee Bluff is located just above Bay Creek on the left side. And Rymers Bluff is also on the left side of the river, across from the Rymers access.
If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of Missouri’s Wild Horses. These horses have been roaming free for more than 100 years. The original herd was said to be turned loose during the Depression when people couldn’t afford to keep them. They continue to live freely around both the Jacks Fork and the Current Rivers and are protected by law and considered to be a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Call the Missouri Wild Horse League at 573-226-3492 for more information.
The Eleven Point River flows mostly through the Mark Twain National Forest, and the campgrounds and hiking trails here are maintained by the Forest Service. The 44 miles from Thomasville almost to the Arkansas border are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The upper Eleven Point from Thomasville to Greer is usually only floatable until early summer. It’s less crowded, the water is warmer, and smallmouth fishing is excellent. Greer Spring to Turner Mill is a Blue Ribbon Trout Area. In the summer, Greer to Riverton is the most popular section to float. A portion of the Eleven Point also flows through the Irish Wilderness, a protected area of dense forest filled with hickory and oak trees.
Eleven Point Springs
Greer Spring is the second largest spring in the state. Imagine floating down the Eleven Point and coming around a bend to see the river nearly triple in size. That’s where Greer Spring enters the river. The spring itself—along with Greer Spring Mill—is on private property. You can’t get there via canoe, but you can hike there. Greer Spring Trail is located about a mile south of the Highway 19 Bridge, which crosses over the Eleven Point River. The trail descends nearly a mile down to a point that overlooks the spring. Swimming is prohibited in the spring. From Greer Spring to Turner Spring is a Blue Ribbon Trout Fishing area with a daily limit of one trout 18 inches or longer.
Turner Spring flows from a high rocky bluff on the edge of the Irish Wilderness. It is located on the left side of the river, nearly five miles downstream from Greer. Visitors can hike up a short path to view the spring, as well as what remains of Turner Mill, which is simply the old water wheel. From here if you follow the path to the right you’ll come to an old school house. There is access on both sides of the river here. There are picnicking spots by the wheel, and camping is only allowed at the access across the river.
Boze Mill Spring is a popular destination along the Eleven Point for swimming. It is located near Riverton on the left. There is a primitive campground and rock landing there, where you can park your canoe or you can paddle up the spring branch. Visitors love to swim in the deep round pool here or just gaze at the beautiful turquoise water. You can hike across the spillway or down below it and swim there, too. There is a running competition among some scout and church groups to see who can stay in the water the longest. Apparently the time to beat is about 90 minutes. Boze Mill Spring is accessible by car on County Road 152.
BIG WATER: Greer Spring is the second biggest spring in the state, and it is accessed via a short walking trail.
Eleven Point River Canoe Rental offers canoe, kayak and raft rentals, plus four rental cottages located a quarter-mile from the river in Alton. Choose from two or three bedrooms. All have full kitchens, washer and dryer. Fishing guide service is also available as well as a fly and tackle shop on the property. Visit 11pointcanoe.com or call 417-778-6497.
Richard’s Canoe Rental is one of the original outfitters on the Eleven Point River. They rent canoes, kayaks and tubes and serve the entire length of the river. They also rent cabins and campsites and have a camp store on the property. Visit richardscanoerental.com or call 417-778-6186.
Hufstedler’s Canoe Rental & Guide Service is the only outfitter within walking distance of the Eleven Point. It’s located near the Riverton access. Here you’ll find canoes, kayaks, tubes, rafts and flat-bottom motorless jon boats, cabins and campsites. Pick up necessities at the general store. Visit hufstedlers.com or call 417-778-6116.
Mark Twain Lodging is situated near the Mark Twain National Forest and minutes away from the Eleven Point River—less than five miles from Greer Spring. The three log cabins here are fairly new—built in 2009—and each has two bedrooms, full kitchen and a porch with a charcoal grill. The cabins are located about a mile and a half from the Turner access. Rates start at $115 per night for two people during the summer. Visit marktwainlodging.com or call 417-778-1759.
Mary Decker Shoals is located just upstream from Turner Spring. The boulders out in the middle of the river are what remain of a dam that was put in the river in the late 1800s to catch logs that were trimmed from the hills upriver. The dam would stop the logs, and they were extracted and placed onto train cars. The shoals are fairly easily navigated from any direction.
Halls Bay Shoals is located about a mile below Boze Mill. It’s a little more adventurous than Mary Decker and is especially fun in a tube or kayak. It is best navigated down the middle or to the left; or to the right in high water conditions.
Primitive float camps maintained by the Forest Service are located along the Eleven Point River. They are open to the public, and most are reachable only by canoe. At Horseshoe Bend Float Camp you might catch a glimpse of a pair of eagles that nest there year-round. At White’s Creek Float Camp you can access a trail that meanders through the Irish Wilderness.
Niangua means “many springs.” And there are countless springs that feed the Niangua River; however, many of them are inaccessible to the public because they are located on private property. The most notable spring here is Bennett Spring, located in Bennett Spring State Park. This spring and park are a major tourist attraction, and hundreds of thousands of visitors come here yearly to see the park and fish for trout. Fishing is good all along the Niangua, and there is always plenty of water to float below Bennett Spring.
Niangua River Springs
Bennett Spring is the sixth largest spring in Missouri and is located in Bennett Spring State Park, about a mile and a half from where it enters the Niangua River. This spring and the more than 3,000-acre state park that surrounds it are a major tourist attraction of the Niangua River. Folks flock here to fish for rainbow trout that are raised in the Missouri Conservation hatchery on site and stocked daily in the stream.
Blue Spring is located three miles downstream from Oldham’s Access on the right side. Unfortunately, most visitors do not float this far down river. If you ever do, this spring is worth seeing for its brilliant blue color.
Outfitters with Lodging
Niangua River Oasis Canoe Rental—more readily known as “NRO”—offers canoes, kayaks and rafts for rent, plus cabins and guest houses for overnight lodging. Holly Hock BBQ serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on the weekends. Order at the window and eat out on the deck overlooking the river. The most popular float here is seven miles from NRO to Rendezvous Point—NRO’s private take-out point. If you want a longer float, NRO to Oldham’s Riverview is 14 miles and can be done in one day. Visit nrocanoe.com or call 417-532-6333
RiverFront Campground & Canoe Rental is not only a full-service outfitter, but they also have riverfront cabins and a 250-acre campground. Little Blue Spring is located on the property. It’s a pretty blue pool of water about 80 feet deep that guests enjoy swimming in—even though it stays at about 52 degrees year-round. A nice spring or early summer float is Moon Valley to RiverFront. It’s above Bennett Spring, so the water is warmer, it’s quiet and less crowded, and the scenery is breathtaking. The most popular summer float here is the eight miles from RiverFront to the North River takeout. This float takes you past the point where Bennett Spring enters the Niangua. There is always plenty of water below Bennett Spring, so the river is almost always floatable from here down. Visit riverfrontcampcanoe.com and riverfrontrentalcabins.com or call 417-588-3386 for information.
Sand Spring Resort offers canoes, kayaks, rafts and jon boats; plus lodging, an indoor pool, camping, fly fishing seminars and The Gravel Bar & Grill, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily throughout the summer. In the spring and early summer folks like to float from Moon Valley to Sand Spring. The most popular summertime float is Sand Spring to the North River takeout. The resort is named for an actual spring on the property called Sand Spring, where the water comes up through a sand pit. Ask about catered cook-outs, which are frequently held for family reunions, company retreats and church groups. The menu ranges from hamburgers to Kansas City strips, but the ribs and chicken are the most popular. Visit sandspringresort.com or call 417-532-5857.
RiverWood Resort, located one mile downstream from Bennett Spring State Park, is a 156-acre ranch with a half-mile stretch of river frontage. There are 10 individually decorated cabins, six of which sit right on the river. Cabins sleep from two to 10 guests; the three smallest cabins sit a little higher up on the property and overlook a small lake. They offer the most privacy. Every cabin has a king-size bed, Jacuzzi and a deck with a barbecue grill. RiverWood also has an indoor pool on the property, gazebo and covered pavilion where weddings and receptions are held. There is a nice little gravel bar directly across the river from the cabins, where floaters like to stop and swim. The owners of the cabins named it “RiverWood Beach.” Visit riverwoodresortmo.com or call 417-532-2878.
Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon is a major attraction of the Niangua River. Built around Bennett Spring, the park covers more than 3,000 acres and features seven hiking trails, camping, lodging, a rustic dining lodge where the chef will cook your catch, plus a swimming pool that is open to the public during the summer. One of the main reasons folks come to Bennett Spring State Park is for the trout fishing. The stream is stocked nightly with rainbow trout that are raised in the on-site hatchery. Visit bennettspringstatepark.com or call 417-532-4307.
Standing Rock is a huge rock in the middle of the river adjacent to RiverFront campground. This is a popular stopping point, and many folks like to climb up and jump off the rock into the deep pool that surrounds it.
A really great swimming hole is located just upstream from Mountain Creek. A point of reference for finding Mountain Creek is the Prosperine Access and campground. If you come to a rocky riffle you’ve reached the mouth of Mountain Creek and gone a little too far.
Chapel or “Church Camp” Bluff is located on the upper Niangua River between Moon Valley and Sand Spring. Bennett Spring Christian Church Camp holds outdoor services on this bluff overlooking the river in the summertime. Visit bennettspringchristianchurchcamp.com or call 417-532-2644.
Most of this feature’s float trips are along spring-fed rivers that can be a bit of a road trip for most 417-landers. But urbanites with float trip ambitions have options closer to home, especially if they live in Springfield.
Legend has it that float trips themselves were conceived on the James River near Galena. Back then, the floats were done on long john boats—much bigger than the kayaks and canoes that most people prefer today.
The James River flows from its source in Webster County, through Springfield (where it is impounded to create Lake Springfield and is a water source for the city), then down past Galena and into Table Rock Lake. The river runs past some gorgeous, tall limestone bluffs and features some great smallmouth bass fishing.
When you’re ready to try floating this river, you have some options. Head down to Galena, less than an hour from Springfield, to rent canoes, kayaks or rafts from James River Outfitters (jamesriveroutfitters.com). Or stay in the Springfield area and paddle away.
You can rent canoes from Lake Springfield Boathouse (parkboard.org/lake_springfield) and paddle right up into the James River Linear Water Trail. Once you’re on the water trail, you’ll forget that you’re in the middle of the city. It feels wild and secluded, and you’ll surely spot some wildlife along the way.