Advice for Current River MO kayak trip 3 days

I’m planning a kayak trip down the Current River in southern Missouri at the end of June, and we have to keep it at 3 days 2 nights. The portion I’m getting close to locking in would likely either be Baptist Camp to Two Rivers, OR Cedar Grove to Two Rivers. Any recommendations on which would be best to avoid the long 10hr paddle days? I’d like to try and split the difference of seeing enough of the river vs not having to truck at full speed and just finding a nice camp to relax for the afternoon/evening. I guess I’m saying 6-8hr paddle days would be quite perfect. Also, does the Two Rivers access allow overnight parking?

We’ve done the Eleven Point a few times now so I know we can haul a good 20mi+ without too much issue, but the last one we actually spent 5 days on a 40 mile stretch, meaning we’d leave at 8am and find the next perfect camp before 11am. That might be a little too much leisure, if such a thing exists, as like I said I’d like to be able to see a decent amount of a river I have yet to visit. I’ve read the lower portions get a bit congested with boat traffic so I’d prefer to avoid that, but any alternative suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

It is really impossible to tell anyone not known to you how many miles they will be able to cover in an hour or a day. Right now the upper Current is flowing pretty well and has an average current speed of around 3 mph. So you really don’t have to paddle very much or very hard to go 4 mph and I have exceeded 5 mph on stretches of the upper Current many times.

Of course, a lot of people you see on the Current River don’t really paddle, they just “float” and react. If you have done 20 mile days on the Eleven Point it sounds like you are a paddler, not a floater and I would probably expect that you could average 4 mph on the water in a kayak. That might allow you to judge miles per day. I suspect you could easily paddle 15 miles per day or more within 6-8 hours including stops for breaks, lunch, and sight seeing.

My daughters and I paddled from Cedargrove to Powder Mill the last half of June last year. We had one tandem canoe which my older daughter and I paddled and my younger daughter was in a crossover style kayak. My daughters have a fair amount of paddling experience but I would not be inclined to call either of them a really strong paddler. We put on at Cedargrove after noon on a Thursday and took out at Powder Mill before suppertime on Saturday. That is about a 52 mile stretch and for various reasons we did not paddle more than about 11 1/2 miles on Friday. We did paddle fairly vigorously the last 7 miles from Two Rivers to Powder Mill at about a 5 1/2 mph pace because we were being chased by a thunderstorm but otherwise we paddled fairly steadily when on the water but not what I would call hard. And we made stops for lunch and sightseeing, etc.

As for where to put on, my advice would be Cedargrove. The stretch from Baptist Camp to Cedargove is lovely but the water is often not high enough in late June to make it enjoyable. People who have done it in the last week or so have reported having to portage around fallen trees between two and four times. And even if clear, you would still have to portage around the low water bridge at Cedargrove. In my opinion, with loaded boats the juice is not worth the squeeze.

You will encounter some motorized traffic below Round Spring and it can be rather heavy on weekends, especially Saturday. But you will encounter much less congestion in the form of livery clients below Round Spring. There are plenty of gravel bars on which to camp along the way and there are National Park Service campgrounds at Pulltite, Round Spring, and Two Rivers. But the campground at Round Spring might be fully booked up in late June. Pulltite has a lot of first come, first served sites that cannot be reserved and there will usually be one available, although not guaranteed. But the actual landing at Pulltite can be over 1/4 mile down the road from your campsite which can be a pain when you don’t have a vehicle. The raccoons were terrible at Pulltite last Summer and probably will be again this year. They can also be a nuisance on gravel bars. I would suggest you keep all foods and anything that smells like food in some type of rodent-proof container. I use blue barrels but they are usually too big for a kayak.

You can park overnight at Two Rivers, Cedargrove, and Powder Mill. Certainly Cedargrove to Two Rivers would be a good option if you are looking for a 45 mile trip. I would consider going the extra 7 miles to Powder Mill. The campground at Powder Mill was rebuilt last year after it was destroyed in the flood of Spring 2017. It is now classified as a “back country” campsite since it has no drinking water and only a vault toilet (which is new). There are only 10 sites and they are all FCFS. But camping there costs only $5 per site. So if you decided to take out there, you might be able to secure a site and leave a vehicle there for three days. Otherwise you can park at the vault toilet or the dumpster. Half of the campsites are right along the river. We got one that was adjacent to a little eddy and were able to basically take out right at our campsite.

I would suggest you read through this thread which contains a lot of information regarding the Current River from Cedargrove to Powder Mill (which is also known as Owl’s Bend). Pay particular attention to the posts made by my late friend “ozark paddler” who knew the river better than just about anyone else. There are some nice photos and advice.

If you have specific questions not answered feel free to send me a PM on this messageboard.

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Great, that might be all the information I was looking for! We’ve definitely decided to follow your advice and go for Cedargrove to Powder Mill. Our main points of interest to make sure we visited were only the hospital ruins and the cave spring at Devils Well, but it looks like between your reply here and the amazing and specific tips from ozarkpaddler, we’ve got plenty more to watch for. Our total river times are going to be nearly identical to yours, hopefully on the river Thursday by noon and hopefully out of the river by Saturday late afternoon.

Should there by any concern about having to leave our kayaks unattended at Powder mill for a few hours? Since there are only two of us on this trip, one car will be left at the end, and when we take-out at Powder Mill we’ll be leaving the kayaks alone while we haul back and forth from Cedargrove to get the other car that has the racks. I’ve done this quite a few times and haven’t had any issues, we usually pack all our gear up and just leave the boats behind for the car swap.

I don’t think you will have any issues leaving boats and gear at Powder Mill but of course, I can’t guarantee it. The campground is small with only 10 sites and does not have as much through traffic as the larger campgrounds. There are woods behind the sites opposite the river campsites that you could stash stuff in. If you have registered for a campsite there you could lock boats to the picnic table with cable locks as well.

Currently the Akers gauge is showing a discharge of 660 cfs. That is very close to where it was last June when my daughters and I did our trip from Cedargrove to Powder Mill. At that time the discharge was around 700 cfs the first day dropping to about 650 cfs the third day. Our loaded tandem canoe might have scraped bottom between the put in at Cedargrove and Welch Spring once or twice but we had plenty of water and certainly nothing was “high”. The current remained helpful even between Round Spring and Powder Mill. During dry months there can be some shallow stretches on the first 5 miles below the Cedargrove access. Once you pass Welch Spring there is usually no problem.

A few words of advice regarding some of the river features that you probably don’t want to miss. It is quite possible to go past Medlock Spring without noticing it. It is tucked back into a little cove formed by the spring branch itself and unless you look back over your shoulder you won’t see it. Welch Spring and the old pulmonary hospital are almost exactly 5 river miles downstream of Cedargrove and Medlock Spring is about 1.1 mile upstream of those. So if you don’t want to miss Medlock, start looking for it on river right after you have gone about 3.5 miles downstream from Cedargrove. If you are looking you will see the water flowing from the spring branch out of the cove and there is a fairly sizable rock on the river right side just below the junction. Paddle up into the spring branch if you want to check out the spring, which comes out of a cave well above river level and cascades down over rocks.

You can’t miss Welch Spring which looks like a good size creek joining the Current. But if you want to check out the old hospital ruins pull over the the left bank before you cross the junction of the spring branch. There is a smallish dirt landing of sorts there where you can pull up a few boats. Just walk up the hill to the ruins. If you pass the junction of the spring branch it will be somewhat difficult to paddle back upstream to get to the hospital and you are not allowed to wade in the springs.

You may want to check out the Howell-Maggard cabin which I believe was briefly mentioned in the BWCA message board site. This cabin is very well preserved and dates back to Civil War days. Allegedly four members of the James Gang ate breakfast there as they were making their escape westward after pulling off the first daylight train robbery in Missouri at Gad’s Hill. You won’t see the cabin from the river unless you pass it and look back and then only if you know exactly where it is. It is a very short walk up to the top of a little bluff with a nice panoramic view of a bend in the Current River. After you pass Welch Spring in a little less than 1/2 mile you will pass a big gravel bar open area on your left which is Welch Landing. At that point the river is flowing in a southerly direction. But about 300 yards downstream it will make a lazy bend to the left and start to flow in a more easterly direction. Keep a lookout for some power lines crossing the river there. As soon as your head passes beneath the power lines pull over to the right bank. There is a small streamlet entering the rive at that point and a trail of sorts going up to the top of the bluff where you will find the cabin.

You can get drinking water at Akers Ferry and buy ice cream and other stuff at the outfitter’s store at the top of the hill. There are also flush toilets at the outfitter’s store and the NPS building just downstream of it. From Akers Ferry to the next major access point at Pulltite Campground is just under 10 miles. Halfway down, again just about exactly 5 miles, is Cave Spring. This will be on river left and it too can be missed if you are not paying attention. The cave mouth is screened by some trees that have grown up on a spit like piece of ground and gravel between the cave mouth and the junction of the cave flow before it joins the Current. Cave Spring is not at Devil’s Well. The water flows underground from Devil’s Well which is over one mile to the north, and comes up through a fissure about 140 feet deep at the back of the cave itself.

Just before you get to Pulltite access the river, which generally flows from west to east, will reverse course and start to flow back to the west. There are some nice gravel bars near Pulltite if you wish to camp there. You can get drinking water at Pulltite and again, there is an outfitters store close to the landing and a bath house with flush toilets. The campground itself stretches for about 1/3 mile down the road from the landing itself so once you leave the landing you will be paddling along the campground for a good ways. If you look to the left side, where the campground is, you will see the old bath house up on a hill on the far end of the campground. At that point stay close to the right bank to stop and walk up along the Pulltite Spring branch. You will see a shallow gravelly area with watercress growing where you want to pull your boats up and the trail is plainly visible. There is a nice short hike along the lovely spring branch and there is an old hunting cabin back there that is falling into ruin. After you get back on the water after Pulltite Spring stay close to the right bank. In a few hundred yards you will hear and see Fire Hydrant Spring coming out of the bluff and rocks a short distance above river level on the right side. There is another spring just below Fire Hydrant that seems to issue right up out of a gravel bar that seems to have cut into Fire Hydrant’s flow in past decades.

A little over 4 miles downstream from Fire Hydrant you will pass the Current River State Park on river left. You will see the old buildings of the Alton Box Company retreat there. Just over 3/4 mile downstream look for the opening of Merritt Rock Cave on river right. Just before you get to it you will probably see the Shannondale fire tower sitting up on a distant ridge dead ahead. After you go about another mile and a quarter you will hear some traffic on Hwy 19 on your left which closely parallels the Current River at that spot. That will tell you that you are almost to Sinking Creek Campground. There is a vault toilet and dumpster there and a big gravel bar just before the creek itself enters which is a nice place to stop. That is just about 1 1/3 mile above the Hwy 19 bridge at Round Spring. If you need any supplies be sure to use the upper landing on river left just before you get to the bridge and walk up to the store at Carr’s Canoe rental. The main landing for the campground is a good distance downstream of the bridge at the lower landing on river right. That is where the bathhouse for the campground is located and drinking water is available there.

From Round Spring to Two Rivers is about an 18 mile stretch with no easy supply of drinking water or anything else so make sure you don’t need either before you pass Round Spring. Below Round Spring you will likely encounter some motorized boat traffic but far fewer canoes and kayaks. There are a couple of landings (Williams and Jerktail) and a primitive campground at Jerktail, but these are at the end of lengthy gravel roads so they are much less used than the other access points. A little less than 8 miles below Round Spring a sizable creek, Big Creek, enters on river left. This is often a popular place to “hang out”. A little over 2 miles further down you will pass scenic Bee Bluff on river left. There is a nice gravel bar opposite Bee Bluff but it too has become a popular spot and might not be available for camping as it was in the past. Jerktail Landing is another couple miles downstream on river right but it is not marked. There is a large gravel bar there and if you look you will see the road leading down to it.

About one mile downstream of Jerktail you will pass three enormous rocks that have fallen off a bluff and are sitting in the water which is so-called Twin Rocks. Twin Rocks is about 3 1/2 miles upstream of the junction of the Jacks Fork with the Current at Two Rivers. The outfitters store is at the top of the hill just past the junction. There is drinking water, beer, and other stuff available there as well as a bathhouse at the campground circle. The actual boat landing is over 3/4 mile downstream of the store on river right where there is a boat ramp and a vault toilet a short walk up from the landing.

The seven mile stretch from Two Rivers to Powder Mill is a pleasant run without much in the way of notable features. Big Blair Creek enters on river left about 2 1/2 miles upstream of Powder Mill. Powder Mill is so-named because it was the site of a mill that produced black powder (gun powder) many years ago. The actual campground on river left is over 1/3 mile downstream of where you pass under the Hwy 106 bridge crossing the Current.

If you have the time I would recommend checking out Blue Spring which enters the Current River a short ways downstream of where Powder Mill is situated. The easiest way would be to drive to it. There is, or used to be a hiking trail to it from Powder Mill campground along the river but since the floods in the Spring of 2017 I don’t know what type of shape the trail is in or if it even still exists. The gravel road leading down to the Blue Spring campground is off of Hwy 106. It is steep in places but passable with a passenger car. If you drive east on Hwy 106 from the junction with the road coming up from Powder Mill campground you will come to another road designated county road 106-535 after a little over 2 miles. Turn right and drive 2.5 miles to the Blue Spring trail head. There is a small, dark sign if I remember correctly. The hike to the spring is about 1/2 mile and the spring is well worth the trip.

@ pblanc, I don’t know what to say, other than there’s a shiny 20 dollar bill in it for you if you just wanna tag along as our scenic guide. You’ve pretty much just planned our entire trip, and I’m in the process of making my own map with all your tips included. I can’t tell you how much this helped, as I’ve came across most of this randomly and was desperately trying to piece it all together into a workable route… And here it all is. Thank you so much for all the help and especially the time you’ve put into writing this. If I can think of anything else in the upcoming couple weeks I’ll be sure ask you first!

Is the boat access from the north side of Cedar Grove fine to plan on? I was just looking at the satellite view, and it looks a little sketchy on that downstream corner (the northeast corner), but I know you can’t tell much from that. Combined with most videos I’ve seen people using the south access point, and now I’m wondering if I should just plan on the south access. Is there any way to find out when the bridge is passable with a regular car (aka not underwater)? Obviously if it is, this question doesn’t matter, but if it’s underwater and I need to get to the other side, that’s a good 1hr+ drive through Montauk Park.

Unless the river is so high that water is flowing over the bridge, there is no problem driving across it. It is regularly traversed by buses and vans pulling loaded trailers.

There is a small railing on the downstream side of the bridge that is maybe 4-6 inches above the road surface. I am told that one of the criteria that the NPS uses to close that section of the river is if the water comes up enough to touch the bottom of that railing. So it is possible that water could be flowing over the road surface and the river still not be closed by the NPS. But that is pretty unlikely. Most any time that the bridge is not safely passable the NPS will have closed that stretch of river anyway.

You can put in from the river left (north) side but it is a bit awkward especially if you have a lot of gear or multiple boats. There is a nice big gravel bar on the upstream side of the bridge but only a small area on the downstream side. You can usually only back one vehicle up close to the water at a time there and there is not a lot of room to spread out gear.

The river right (south) side is the actual designated access and is much preferable as a put in site. It has a big gravel bar that you can drive down onto to unload your boats and gear and you can load up multiple boats to set off at the same time. Unfortunately, that side can also become pretty busy on weekend Summer days. The river right side is used by multiple outfitters who will drive buses, vans, and trailers down onto it and there can be a couple of different outfitters unloading a couple dozen paddle craft at a time as well as their clients milling around.

If you use the river right side, which I would recommend if at all possible, try to park your vehicles so that they are not in the way of buses with trailers that have a huge turning radius. Unload your boats and gear quickly because a loaded bus with a loaded trailer can show up at any time. After unloading drive you car back across the bridge and park in the lot up by the vault toilet. I would recommend you keep your boats close to each other and at the far downstream end of the gravel bar so as to keep most of the gravel bar clear. Some outfitters are better than others and some of their employees are better than others but I have seen some outfitter help roughly push boats and gear out of their way.

Last year the ONSR was exceedingly busy and the NPS was on some busy weekend mornings restricting the areas that private boaters could use to put in so as to segregate them from the outfitter boats and clientele and keep traffic flowing. Unfortunately, at Cedargrove on those occasions they were making private boaters use the awkward river left put in. But I did discuss that policy with the chief law enforcement officer for the ONSR and was told that only a uniformed park ranger or a uniformed park volunteer working for the NPS had the authority to make such restrictions. Unfortunately, some of the hired help of the outfitters took it upon themselves to assume the authority to order private boaters around even on days in which the NPS was not making such restrictions.

There are two ways to get to the Cedargrove access if you are approaching it on Route K from the southeast. The easiest but slightly longer way is to turn left onto State Highway ZZ which will become county road 651. The other way is to turn left earlier onto county road 650 which is also known as White Oak Hollow road. That way is shorter but pretty much all gravel whereas the State Highway ZZ section is paved.

Okay on that advice I’ll start with trying the river left side first, as I’ll be coming from the north down K. I was actually wondering if 650 was a gravel road, which I’ll avoid since last year I cracked my tailpipe in half on the gravel road to Cane Bluff access at the Eleven Point. This will be next Thursday morning so hopefully not too much outfitter traffic in case I decide to put in on the river right side. I’m pretty quick with our gear, just two kayaks and a couple bins and my car is outta there. We had that issue at Cane Bluff, where someone decided to camp in the center of the access and there were trailers backing up literally feet away from their tent (and they slept through most of it).

Thanks again good sir!

Thursday morning should not be too bad. However, it was on a Thursday morning last June that my daughters and I put on at Cedargrove to start a three day trip to Powder Mill. I wanted to leave my vehicle at Akers Ferry rather than the much smaller parking area at Cedargrove so I unloaded our two boats, barrels, packs, and assorted gear at a location well out of the way by a picnic table under the trees near the downstream end of the river right gravel bar. That was a completely out of the way location where my daughters could sit in the shade while they waited for me to shuttle the car.

After unloading the boats and all the gear some young guy, obviously an employee of one of the outfitters came up to me and told me I needed to move the boats and all of our gear to the other side of the river where there was no shade. I told him he could go pound sand in slightly different words and that was the end of it. But that was the first inkling I had that the NPS was putting restrictions on private boater access. After the trip I called the ONSR and spoke to the chief law enforcement officer who confirmed that that particular individual had absolutely no authority to ask me to do that, only uniformed NPS personnel or uniformed volunteers, and that the NPS had never imposed such restrictions on a Thursday anyway.

Update: We survived! It was a fantastic trip, I had just about every one of your sites of interest listed on the map I made and checked most of them out. Rain threatened every day, but we got nothing, and the river was running around 340cfs give or take, which gave us a handful of bottom scrapes but nothing troublesome. But wow is that a heavily trafficked river, when I read “dodging jet boats” I didn’t realize it was literal- Most of them have zero care about paddlers when they rocket around tight turns at top speed (if you’re too busy maintaining control of your boat to worry about paddlers, you’re doing something wrong). We only made about 10-12mi the first day, so we had to rush a bit the next two, and if I do it again I’d probably just take out at Two Rivers to give us more “off” time. We camped maybe 2mi upstream of the cave spring, and then about an hour or so after passing Round Spring at a primo location for hammocks. The raccoons are ballsy down there- Shine a light and shoo them away and they’re back in about 30 seconds. They got a couple random bits of food we forgot to bag up, but we had everything else hanging from a tree.

Immense thanks to you again pblanc! We had our fair share of unknowns but you gave me an rock-solid itinerary to base everything off of, which was just enough to not feel like I was entering no-man’s-land, excluding the hundreds of day tripper floaters.

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Glad you had a good trip. The river dropped a fair bit between the time you posted (when it was flowing 660 cfs) to the time you put on when it had only about half that discharge. That does make a difference in average current speed once you get below Round Spring.

As for the jet boater, yes if you are below Round Spring on a Saturday in Summer you are going to see a lot of them, sometimes a line going upstream and downstream simultaneously. They do detract from the experience for me, if nothing more than for the noise they make. Now the jet boaters will tell you that the wake their boats create are much less at high speed when they plane than at low speed. But I think there is an element of BS there because I have been passed by hundreds of them at all different speeds and I have found the wakes to be less substantial at very low speed than at high speed.

They will also tell you that in shallow water they can’t slow down without potentially damaging their motors as they will suck up gravel or some such. If that is the case it creates a massive safety problem for paddlers who in shallow water have to seek out the same deeper water path. Most of the boat operators are decent enough but I have encountered some true jerks who deliberately went out of their way to buzz my boat or cut a path directly across in front of it for no other reason than they could.