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JEFFERSON CITY — Look around you. Right now. Do you see walls and windows, a cluttered desk or work area, noisy traffic? Get out! Get away from the doldrums and the commotion. All you need to do is enjoy nature on one of Missouri’s cool, spring-fed streams. No TV or video games; no yard to mow; no waiting in long lines; and no phone calls or texts . . . just you, the family and nature. Quiet. Peaceful. Relaxing. A great way for a family to get to know each other all over again.
Whether the river is slow and meandering, or swift and exhilarating, there is no better way to experience the Ozarks, just as the American Indians did more than 200 years ago, than by canoe. Floating down a clear Missouri stream will quickly wash away the trials and tribulations of the work week. Pitch a tent and watch nature’s eternal fireworks of the star-filled sky. A relaxing vacation, weekend or day doesn’t have to take you far from home; doesn’t need to be complicated or crowded; and doesn’t require weeks of planning. Families can enjoy just being a family again, right here in Missouri.
Missouri’s canoe and floating outfitters will set you up for an enjoyable canoe, kayak, raft or tube float lasting from a few hours to several days. All you need to bring is food and drinks, life vests, sun screen and swim gear . . . oh, and camping stuff for overnight stays. Do not bring firewood! Help keep the Emerald Ash Borer out of Missouri.
Talk about nature’s beauty at its best. Imagine the cool morning fog rising like a curtain from the surface of the Eleven Point River, unveiling a red-tailed hawk gliding along the air currents above the bluffs; a great blue heron searching the shallows for its morning snack; and the song birds filling the valley with music. Now that’s a Missouri morning everyone should experience. The Eleven Point is the only Missouri river which is part of the congressionally designated National Wild and Scenic River System.
Two of America’s clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, America’s first national park designated for the protection of a wild river system. The Current River and the Jacks Fork River offer a bounty of outdoor adventures, year-round.
The Eleven Point, Current and Jacks Fork are the only three federally protected rivers in Missouri. These pristine, secluded, backcountry rivers have almost no public or private developments along their banks. They are ideally suited for breathtaking float trips, streamside camping, hiking and great fishing. Outfitters for these streams are located in Eminence, Salem, Alton, Doniphan, Jadwin and Van Buren.
In the extreme southwest corner of Missouri, around the communities of Noel and Pineville, enjoy the Elk River and its main tributaries Indian Creek and Big Sugar Creek. In the Pineville and Noel areas, summer cottages are numerous, but the Elk River below Noel has an isolated quality. Big Sugar is an unusually clear waterway. Indian Creek is suitable mainly for spring floats, but has one of the best general gradients in the Ozarks. It is a good, steady, fast run through relatively undisturbed countryside. These streams provide a moderate gradient, steady current, many twists and bends and excellent fishing, hiking, camping, bird watching, cave exploration and other outdoor activities.
These are by no means the only floatable rivers in Missouri. Missouri’s canoe and floating outfitters operate on 29 rivers and streams throughout the state. The Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association Web site is loaded with details and lists of Missouri’s outfitters, floatable streams, water conditions and restrictions. These outfitters not only offer canoes and related equipment; they have literally everything you need for a great time on the water. They will shuttle you to and from put-in and take-out points. Many have campgrounds and cabins, RV sites, fire pits and grills, guide services, and stores with supplies and groceries; some even have a down-home restaurant.
Here are some points you need to keep in mind.
• This is well worth repeating: Do not bring firewood! Help keep the Emerald Ash Borer out of Missouri.
• Missouri law prohibits glass containers, bottles and foam coolers on or near waterways. Coolers must be sturdy and fasten shut to avoid spillage. This is strictly enforced by state and federal water patrol officers.
• You must carry flotation devices with you. Remember: a flotation vest will not save you if you don’t wear it.
• Federal waterways have restrictions on loud stereos, cliff jumping, rope swings, air horns and dry ice.
• Alcohol is permitted on all rivers, as long as it isn’t in a glass bottle. State and federal law bans beer and alcohol containers which hold four or more gallons, pressurized kegs and Jell-O shots.
• All wildlife is protected; leave it alone. Fishing is permitted if in season. State limits apply.
• Do not eat raw crayfish. Thoroughly cook all fish before consuming.
• Eight to 10 miles is a good length for a leisurely day on the river. With a stop for lunch on a gravel bar, an eight-mile float will take four to five hours.
• Wear the proper shoes, a hat and sun screen. Tight-fitting, water resistant shoes keep out gravel and have a sole for protection on side trips; have boots for longer hikes. Do not wear flip-flops; you will end up losing one or both and your feet will suffer.
• Keep everything tied down inside the boat in case you turn over. Carry out everything you carry in. Leave no trash behind. Outfitters hand out mesh bags for collecting trash, aluminum cans and other litter.
• Always bring a dry sealable bag with a change of clothes and keep matches, cameras and other water-sensitive items in the bag in case of a mishap.
• Saturdays during summer can be crowded. Most weekdays you’ll have the river generally to yourself. Don’t forget, these streams and rivers are floatable year-round.
Most of all, have fun, relax and don’t think about work. Don’t rush; allow extra time for sightseeing along the banks of a beautiful, spring-fed, cool clear Missouri stream.