Arkansas/Missouri Lakes

Gasoline prices have put a stop to summer plans for the 6000 mile roundtrip drive to Saugenay Fiord, Quebec. I am trying to come up with an alternative destination a little closer to home. I am looking for someplace far enough north or at enough elevation that tent camping in late June is not going to be miserbly hot. Since I am in South Texas its around 600 miles just to get to the Texas border going north so I do not have many options within the 1000 mile (one way) limit I have set for the trip.

Northern Arkansas and southern Missouri lakes such as Beaver, Table Rock, Norfolk, and Bull Shoals seem to be the best possibilities. I would like to do 10-12 days paddling without having to do too much driving to different locations. Multiple different day trips out of each of several campgrounds or a couple of 2-4 day camping out of the kayak is what I am looking for.


  1. At the end of June would temps be cool enough for comfortable camping (low temps in low to mid 60’s or less) at any or all of these lakes?

  2. Do any of these lakes (or particular parts) have less jet-ski, skiing, high speed powerboat traffic than the others?

  3. Which of the lakes (or parts of a lake) have the least shoreline development?

  4. Am I crazy even thinking about kayaking on these lakes during the summer from a safety standpoint?

  5. Are there any other destinatons that you think might fit my criteria.

    Thanks for any info you can give me.


MO/AR Lakes in late June

It’s likely it will already be pretty hot by late June in the Ozarks. It’s possible a cold front might drop by for a brief [but welcome] visit, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Figure lows in the upper 60’s or lower 70’s at best, and highs in the upper 80’s or mid-90’s.

The “mountain top elevation” around there is about 1400 feet, so not much of a factor.

Table Rock, Bull Shoals, and Norfolk will have plenty of boats and jet skis; I’m not familiar with Beaver Lake, maybe someone else will comment on it. And I’m not knowledgeable enough about the others to know if a particular arm is less busy than or not.

I don’t think you’re crazy for considering these lakes … from a safety standpoint … but you will want to be careful and “paddle defensively” as there will be ignoramuses with power boats.

If you’re not locked into lakes, you might want to consider some of the great rivers in the area. They too will be busy in late June, but you’ll mostly have to deal with drunks on inner tubes instead of drunks in power boats. The Current, the Jacks Fork, and the Buffalo are all potential sites for you to consider. Check the Paddling Places and Getting Together sections of pnet for more information on those rivers.

Thanks for info
I was planning on taking a 17ft fiberglass seakayak so I had kind of discounted the rivers. Are the rivers you mentioned suitable for that kayak? Maybe I should consider taking the Royalex canoe instead and trying out some of the rivers.


The rivers require some tight turns that wouldn’t be easy in a sea kayak, although they also have plenty of flat water by late June. You’d probably be better off taking the canoe.

You’re not going to find solitude at any of the lakes in the Ozarks. None of them have arms that are significantly less traveled. Some really nice scenery and clear water, but nothing to compare with the better rivers, in my opinion.

If you’re tent camping, you’re more likely to find comfortable temperatures at campgrounds along the rivers. Many of the rivers are heavily spring-fed, and stay cool, and also keep the valleys a little cooler at night.

Keep in mind that the rivers are fast enough that you can’t do much upstream paddling. You’ll be dependent upon canoe rental people to shuttle you for downstream float trips. Most of the rivers have canoe liveries, and most of them do private shuttles, especially on weekdays. Costs of a shuttle range from $15-45.

You could either do a long float, camping on the river (Ozark rivers have GREAT gravel bars for tent camping, but you’re totally on your own), or base camp at a campground and explore different stretches of the nearby rivers.

The Buffalo at that time of year will have about 5-6 days of float camping. The Eleven Point could have several days. You could do a float of up to 10 days on the Current River. Or if you really wanted an adventure, you could probably do three weeks on the Gasconade!

Or you could base somewhere around Current River and be within easy driving distance of Current, Eleven Point, Jacks Fork, and Black rivers, with all kinds of floating possibilities. Or base camp around the Big Piney (the Missouri one) and have the Big Piney and Gasconade within easy reach, with the Meramec and upper Current not too far away.

Or do a “sampler”…a couple days on the Ouachita in southern AR, a couple days on the Buffalo (northern AR), a couple days on the Eleven Point, a couple days on the North Fork and Bryant Creek, a couple days on the James and Elk (all in southern MO) before starting back home.

I live in southern MO and I’ve floated them all. About every other year or so I do the “sampler” thing for a week or more, just floating various rivers.

Go for it!

Heat. Sure. But relief is just a swim away. Take a mask and snorkel. Water clarity is very good in Bull Shoals and Norfork. Nap and read in the heat of the day and paddle more in the early morning and evening (and night with safety lights).

These are big lakes with miles and miles of shoreline. Stay closer to shore and away from the more crowded areas and big marinas and you’ll have plenty of space including lots of secluded coves to yourself.

You should also be able to handle any of the mentioned rivers in a 17 ft. sea kayak. I saw someone handle Jack’s Fork in a 17 footer this spring. It was no problem for that decent paddler.

Jack’s will likely be too low, but the spring fed rivers – North Fork of the White, Bryant’s, Current and Eleven Point should be OK for water level. (Avoid the weekends on all these rivers during the summer!) Also, I’d consider running the White below Bull Shoals dam. It rises and falls depending on water releases from the lake, is more developed than the other rivers, and it will have a bunch of trout fishermen in johnboats running up and down it. But for a change of pace it might be fun. And beware of the water rises!

Another Option
If you are willing to add 300-400 each way to your trip (remember, your first mileage was 6000), consider going to Fontana Lake in W. North Carolina. Fontana sits on the south edge of the Smokey Mountains. It is huge, but it feels really small. I would say you could paddle 10 days and not cover it all.

I really don’t know about the jet ski or power boat thing, but I have been going there 2-3 times a year for last 4 years, and I have never seen any of that. I live in southern Illinois, and the temps at Fontana are always 10-15 degrees cooler in the summer months than at home, and my weather is identical to the MO Ozarks.

Here is the campground that we stay at This campground is within a couple minutes of the lake. The owners are the best. Also, within 15 minutes of Fontana is world class Mountain biking and Hiking in the Smokey’s. The Nantahala river is just 10 minutes away if you get an itch to rent a yak and have some real fun :slight_smile:

If it were me, I would consider this over the Ozarks, for the shear beauty (there is nothing wrong with the Ozarks, but they don’t quite compare to this), as well as the endless things to do, and there is the temps too. Just having the Smokey Mountains as your shoreline is well worth it.

Have fun wherever you go.


Good info
I was going to ask about Fontana later if the Ozark stuff did not look that promising. Seems like it would be a good alternative and not that much further.

Looks like it is going to be a toss up between Fontana and a combination of a couple of lakes in New Mexico (Heron,Abiquiu,Conchas, and Navajo).

I think I will save the Ozark Rivers until I can get someone to go with me. I am new to canoeing and solo on a river is probably not a good idea for me this year. Maybe I can get some Ozark lake time in this fall when it cools down a bit.

Thanks to all of you for the good info.