I've been paddling rivers and streams in north eastern Iowa for a number of years and have recently fallen in love with the Ozarks (very similar to my Driftless region, but on a grander scale with an extended paddling season). I had my first run on the Upper Buffalo April of 2014 and paddled the Current last fall. I'm a huge fan of clear water, interesting rock formations, remote wilderness settings and the option to camp on the river. Swift chutes and mild to moderate rapids can be a bonus too, although a gentle ride is no problem either. Can anyone out there give me some ideas for more streams that fit this bill? I'm really looking to extend my paddling season and gather a variety of quality streams for my "go-to" list. I typically run my own shuttle routes and bring a small (but quality) group. Your thoughts would be most appreciated! Thanks!
You might check pnet “trip reports” for
states near Iowa.
There are quite a few Iowans who frequent this board, as well as Minnesotans, Illinoisans, and Wisconsonites who will hopefully be able to give you a run down on their home waters. You can ask PJC about the Wisconsin River for example, which he knows well.
Although you have to drive across Illinois to get there, Sugar Creek near Crawfordsville, Indiana is a very nice paddle when there is sufficient water.
You might also consider coming to the Ozark Rendezvous in southern Missouri in early May, if you have never been:
There will even be some Iowans there, albeit of dubious reputation.
As for Ozark streams, the Buffalo in Arkansas is probably unsurpassed in scenery and the upper stretches have some nice Class I-II rapids. The Current is certainly no slouch either, and its numerous springs allow it to be runnable much of the year.
You should certainly consider exploring the upper Jack’s Fork when water levels permit. The Eleven Point River south of the Current is excellent for canoe camping as well and there is usually always enough water downstream of Greer Spring to paddle it.
The Ozark Rendezvous in spring will be on the north fork of the White River which is more rain dependent but quite worthwhile. It has some pleasant riffles and mild rapids, and its tributary just to the west, Bryant Creek has some very scenic sections as well.
Spring Creek just south of the Missouri border in Arkansas is interesting. I have heard some good things about the Big Piney River in south/central Missouri and the upper Meramec is supposed to have some nice sections although I have not paddled those two streams.
There is also the Mulberry and many other streams of varying difficulty in Arkansas.
He’s not that far from the Niobrara
in western Nebraska, and the Dismal if it has water. Both have gauges on USGS.
Have you paddled it? That’s a nice little driftless area river in western Wisconsin that you might enjoy. Ontario/Rockton/LaFarge is the usual trip but there’s a lot more river if you want to paddle it.
Avoid the upper parts on midsummer weekends. Like the Upper Iowa it can be chock full of partying drunks at that time, but its a nice river. You can base camp at Wildcat Mtn. State Park near Ontario if you’re with a larger group that might want facilities.
In the Ozarks the St Francis river is another nice one. (Ask Wildernesswebb or theBob for expert advice on it - or most other Ozark rivers for that matter.) So is a tributary of it called Big Creek. Big Creek has some pretty good Cl.II water but its navigability is rain dependent. Could be a real nightmare in low water.
I’ve actually had my eye on that river for a couple years. I own a paddlers guide for Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin to cover the bulk of the driftless region. I will have to make it a point to head there this year. I’ve also considered running the Lower Wisconsin for a long lazy float with giant sandbars. I really appreciate the insight. Information about particular put-ins, take outs, river traffic, sweet spots on the gauges, where it’s OK to camp, etc. are all invaluable.
Ezwater, another river I’ve had my eye on for some time. Valentine is about 8.5 hours from my home town (just a little further than the Ponca low water bridge). I’ve always been hesitant to go there on a summer day because of the reputation for drunk tubers. I’ve often thought about bringing a little tube-sinking blow-gun to the Upper Iowa for those times I’ve found myself following a flotilla leaving behind a trail of garbage and jamming obnoxious tunes. I bet it’s pretty spectacular in the fall if the river isn’t running too low. Do have any suggestions for put in/take out for an overnight and do you know if river camping is allowed?
We are a dubious lot
Thanks for all the suggestions, Pblanc. The Ozark Rendezvous is new to me! I'll have to look into that. I'm extremely interested in running the Big Piney in particular, from what I've read it sounds like it's right in my wheelhouse. I'm actually planning a trip to the Current this weekend, even though it's the last river I had the opportunity to float, it's such a tempting destination with a relatively stable cfs output and water temperatures, although I've heard, like so many great destinations, it get's completely overrun by drunken college kids on summer weekends, I don't think I'll have that problem on Saturday though! I had three pretty big "firsts" last year, including the two I mentioned plus a 7 day rafting/kayaking trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho (although that one really isn't possible to put on a go to list unless you land a job as a guide). I'm really looking forward to exploring more waterways this year. If you ever have any questions about Iowa rivers don't hesitate to ask! Thanks!
Well, let me know when you're interested. Can probably get a few other Pnetters to join in as well.
You're right about it being a big lazy river. Mostly shallow and always sandy. From Sauk City on down you can camp anywhere on any island or sandbar below the high water line. Strong headwinds are about the biggest obstacle, at least once you get in the habit of learning to read shallows in sand. No glass, carry a garbage bag. Carry your own water. Best place to pick up supplies if you need them is Muscoda or Wazeka. (The latter requires a bit of upstream paddling on the Kickapoo.)
From Sauk City to Spring Green (about 20% of the lower river) gets about 80% of the summer usage, so to avoid weekend crowds its better to stay further downstream. Mike Svob's book "Paddling Southern Wisconsin" has a pretty good guide to put-ins and such. We usually self shuttle, but if you need it Wisconsin River Outings (with offices in Sauk City and Boscobel) or River View in Muscoda are pretty good. There are others as well, but these are the ones I have most experience with.
Below Millville camping sand gets kind of scarce so its best to camp upstream of or near the Millville landing on the last day if you're going all the way to the Mississippi.
PS: If you're going to Canoecopia next weekend stop in at the FLOW (Friends of the Lower Wisconsin) booth for more information than you really need to know about that river. I think the booth will be in the main entrance hall again. Might see you there. I'm the one with the big nose.
Be sure to stop in and say "hi" to Brent & Brian at the Pnet booth also. They're even friendlier than they first appear.
Lots of Rivers here in the Ozarks
Haven’t done the Big Piney that you mentioned in decades. It was a nice river, but it’s another hour from the upper Current and when you live so close to so many nice rivers…
I’ll put a link to some picture albums. Scroll down to the “R’s” for “Rivers __________.” I have the Black, Big Creek, Current, Jack’s Fork, Eleven Point, et al. As for the Neobrara, some of those “Tubers” are in aluminum water troughs, so it may take a little firepower to sink 'em (LOL)!
The drunken tubers will be on the lower
half of the run. I ran from the edge of the wilderness area, up near Valentine, down to the state park, across from Nebraska’s highest waterfall. The only rapids were just class 1 but the scenery was mostly unspoiled, and I saw only one other craft that day. (It was a weekday.)
I’d love to arrange a trip sometime! It would probably have to be later in the summer though. I manage a tree care company and we always get mauled during the spring storm season, plus I have a multiple day trip on the Upper Buffalo scheduled for April. I’m pretty familiar with sandy-bottomed streams (I’ve dragged my boat through a few earlier in my paddling career!) and the strong headwinds shouldn’t be too much of an issue, I have some experience with that from miscalculations I made as a novice as well. No problem on packing out my trash, that’s how I roll. The water in the streams around Iowa is heavily polluted with farm run-off, even when it looks pristine, so I seldom use a filter and have found ways to pack enough water in my 12 foot yak to last a few days. I’d be up for any stretch of the river you advise is best. My group always looks for the least crowded streams, with the best water levels and best scenery for any given trip. I haven’t heard of Canoecopia, but it sounds interesting. I’ll have to keep my eye out for it. Definitely won’t make it this weekend though because a few of us will be on the Current river from Friday through to Monday. First paddle of 2015! Thanks again for all the helpful info!
I’ll pass on packing a rifle
I think it would just take up too much room in my yak and maybe just try to tip 'em over instead. Those are great pictures! Thanks for sharing! I’ll get around to posting some of mine from my trip down the Middle Fork in Idaho last summer, there was some pretty spectacular scenery and crazy rapids! It was a very eventful week on the water. I have some good ones of the current and the buffalo too but I’m sure you’ve seen enough of those!
Thanks for the ideas!
Those rivers all sound spectacular. I may have to devote some serious time to Wisconsin streams the next couple summers. Maybe Ozarks in the fall, when things get a bit too cold up north and the rivers you mentioned in the summer. Are you familiar with Wisconsin’s policies on river camping? We have very convoluted laws here in Iowa and only a handful of streams are designated as “meandered” and you are allowed to camp anywhere, up to the permanent vegetation line. We also have a several wildlife management areas that encompass parts of certain streams, that would otherwise be on private property, in most of these area camping is considered incidental and there is no ordinance against it. As difficult as it is to spot my camo hammock in the trees, I always prefer to cover my bases and know that I’m not camping illegally or trespassing.
St. Croix River
The St. Croix is usually very pleasant in the spring or early summer. But be aware that the stretch below Interstate Park is moderately wide and flat and can get pretty shallow by late summer. It is also prone to gathering headwinds which can make for a lot of dragging and a long day.
Switch your plans…
For this weekend- since you will be right there, the Upper Jacks Fork is where you want to go. The water level will be ideal for the type of paddling you mentioned above. Not to mention what I believe to be the 2nd most scenic of all rivers in the Ozarks (next to the Buffalo)
It meets all your criteria- interesting rock formations, great bluffs, a cool cave called Jam Up Cave, narrow shoots, swift water and privacy to camp on gravel bars.
This upper section is difficult to float since it's so rain dependant. It can be good for a few days and then not floatable again for months. If I were you, there is no doubt that's where I would be this weekend. You can check the USGS Gauge at the Highway 17 bridge- anything below 2.0 gets a little bony, but from the current readings it looks like it will be IDEAL this weekend.
You could even put in at "The Prongs" and float down to Alley Spring if you choose.
Heres a link to some of my pics- you will find them labeled as Upper Jacks Fork
Here’s a shot from inside the cave mentioned above.
The cave is small in terms of overall length, but it’s well worth checking out.
N. Wisc. River Camping
On the Flambeau north fork and Namekagon that GBG mentioned there are DNR campsites which have a cleared flat space, fire ring, thunder boxes (if you're unfamiliar, they're like an outhouse without the house) and usually a picnic table. They're first come first served so there is some wisdom in staking your claim early. No charge. Carry out what you carry in.
On the Flambeau, GBG, Durangoski, Boyscout, myself and some others here have done Svob's sect F-1 (Turtle-Flambeau dam to Agenda landing) four or five times over the years and have never encountered water level problems. Campsites at mile 8 (Quin's Rapids) and 11.5 (Logjam). The only rapid that might surprise on that stretch is Pine Tree. (Stay far left - there's a barely submerged flat rock dead center. Its not visible till you're over the drop and even then its disguised by the turbulence. Its gotten several of us.)
I've done F-4 (Camp 41 - Flambeau lodge) a couple times and so, I think has GBG but not at the same time. The rapids down there are bigger and one (Cedar Rapid) is a good bit trickier than the ones upstream. Cedar is easier at 2000cfs (Bruce gauge) but at that level Beaver Dam rapid a little downstream gets problematic - at least for me. Beaver Dam is just a big darned chute to left of center but it has some standing waves that can swamp you if you don't hit it dead on right. I'm happy to report that its a very pleasant swim out from there though. No problems at Beaver Dam whatsoever at 1000cfs. But people have died in Beaver Dam rapid (~8yrs ago? and most likely at higher water levels and perhaps not in the right chute), so its one to treat with some respect. Camping at Camp 41, and miles 2,4,5,6,7 and 16. Mile 4 at the junction with the south fork is a really sweet site.
GBG would have to fill you in on details of the other sections between 1 and 4.
As far as I know there are no DNR river sites on the Jump, though there is a campground at Big Falls. It has only 6 sites. They fill up with the hard core ww paddlers who run Big Falls a dozen or so times a day when the levels are appropriate. Looks like this when its high:
GBG and I did it (except for Big Falls) at 500cfs and 1400cfs on the Sheldon Gauge. It was splendid. I had such a fine time I went back in the fall and did it again. It was one of the most miserable days paddling I've ever spent. GBG says the drops are impassable at low water. He's right, of course, but he probably doesn't realize the pools are impassable too. Never worked so hard for a measly 9 miles in my life. Don't do it at 70cfs. Just trust me on this.
The Namekagon has lots of DNR sites along the river and there's free public camping at the county park at Earl. Below Trego the river runs through a lot of low wetlands. Stinnett to Springbrook is probably the sportiest section. There are no big rapids anyplace I've done on the Namekagon. There's a good bit of Namekagon above the town of Hayward, but I've never been on it so don't know what to say about it.
The Manitowish is another nice river in that area. It also has DNR sites. Very mellow river, the Manitowish. Beautiful northwoods and wetlands. Its a great river for a thoughtful man.
The Wisconsin River between Lac Vieux Desert and Eagle River is another nice relaxing paddle of about 25 miles. The first couple miles is a mite thin, but it gains strength pretty quickly. You'll become acquainted with Tag Alder there.
Just a farmer planting seeds...
I’m actually not familiar with Wisconsin law when it comes to camping on rivers that flow through private land, because most of my overnight trips have been on the lower Wisconsin River, where camping rules are as described above by PJC. When traveling alone on that river, I tend to “bend” the rules and camp in the woods instead of on the sandbars, but only on public land, and I don’t make a fire or do anything else that would make it apparent that I’ve been there.
Some of those northern rivers flow through State or National Forests, and in such cases there will often be established campsites available on a first come, first served basis. Camping “below the high-water mark”, if that in fact is a legal option here, wouldn’t help much in a lot of cases, but it might sometimes be possible to find a useable site meeting that criterium. In National Forests, you can camp in remote locations (at least that was the case when I checked several years ago, and though that rule wasn’t written with boat travel in mind, I think it would still apply). I’m pretty sure that in State Forests, you can only camp at established sites, and in places where I’ve seen that situation, the competition for sites was not all that great. Strictly speaking, you can’t camp in Wisconsin’s Wildlife Areas (I’ve done it though, with leave-no-trace methods).
The video by Morrall River Films mentions camping options for each river that’s described. Of course there are no legal options for camping on rivers that flow through private land, and many of them do, and in that case the video will mention base-camp/day-trip options. It’s pretty easy to research the camping situation for various rivers. A website has even been set up for at least one popular river, the Flambeau (I think it’s paddleflambeau.com, but you can find it easily enough).
Thanks for the heads up on that. I was just checking the forecast and scrambling for an alternative trip because it looks like the current has a good chance of flooding this weekend with all the rain in the forecast. It sounds like flood conditions are almost necessary for this stretch though. I may call some local outfitters for more info.