By Tom Uhlenbrock
Missouri State Parks
Fall is the best time for a float trip in the Missouri Ozarks. Summer crowds are gone, and the sparkling streams reflect the autumn colors.
“It’s also the prettiest time of the year for wildflowers – you have all the yellow and red, even some purple blooms,” said Gene Maggard, president of the Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association.
Maggard, who owns Akers Ferry Canoe Rental on the Current River, said fall colors start showing in early October.
“You’ll have your peak anywhere from the 14th through the 21st,” he said. “You’ve got the rivers to yourself; the hustle and bustle of summer is over. It’s a good time of year for solitude.”
Here are five fabulous floats, all of which will take four or five hours, depending on the time spent fishing and picnicking on gravel bars.
Most of these stretches are spring fed, which means there’s enough water for year-round floating. All are perfect for family outings. Visit www.missouricanoe.org for a list of outfitters on each river.
- The Current River, from Cedargrove to Akers. The Current begins in the springs at Montauk State Park, and picks up steam with the input at Welch Spring, which averages some 175 million gallons of cold, clear water a day. Be sure to take time and visit the stone ruins of the hospital built above the spring cave.
- The Jacks Fork from Alley Spring to Eminence. The Current and the Jacks Fork make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park created to protect America’s pristine rivers. The mill at Alley Spring, across Highway 106 from the access, is one of the most picturesque in the state.
- The upper Black River at Lesterville. This little jewel is one of the clearest streams in the Ozarks, with plenty of deep swimming holes. Combine a float with a visit to nearby Johnson Shut-Ins State Park to play in the Black as it flows through the chutes and bowls of the famed shut-ins.
- The Eleven Point River from Greer Access to Turner Mill. Greer Spring pumps 220 million gallons a day of crystalline water into the river, making it a brisk float in all seasons. Take the mile hike to see the gorgeous spring, and look for the old mill wheel, standing like a giant steel sculpture in the forest opposite the Turner take-out.
- The North Fork of the White River from Hammond Camp to River of Life Farm resort. The river is one of the few in Missouri clear and cold enough to support wild trout. Stretches of the river run over bedrock slabs. Rainbow Springs strengthens the flow along the way.