Question about Missouri Paddling Spring

Hi, new to this site. It was recommended by Rutabaga in Madison, WI.

As the lakes up here will not be ice free till mid April at this point, I am starting to research paddling in Missouri or thereabouts in late March-ish. I have not thoroughly researched this site yet, but was wondering if anyone could clue me in to possible trips? I have been considering Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks. It looks like the longest “legs” of each reservoir would total slightly less than 200 miles. Any recommendation for shuttle service? I have all the gear, and would like to camp along the way. I will be going with another person and will be shooting for about 4 days worth of paddling. Any suggestions, tips, anything would be great. Thanks

Hold on

– Last Updated: Dec-30-15 7:48 AM EST –

My recommendation is DON'T paddel either of those resevoirs. They are both nice lakes for sure but both have quite a bit of power boat traffic, even in early spring. Additionally the boat traffic on Missouri lakes generally is not very paddle craft friendly.

Very few people paddle long distances on the lakes in Missouri so there are no shuttle options on either of those lakes or for that matter any of the Missouri resevoirs to the best of my knowledge.

Camping on Trumman and lake of the Ozarks would only be allowed at established camp grounds and those are few and far in between.

Not to worry, Missouri has 57000 miles of floatable streams and rivers! My recommendation is choose one of our Ozark rivers and enjoy some of the most incredible paddling anywhere in the nation.

Current, Jacks fork, Gasconade, Big pinney and Eleven point rivers are just a few but some of the best.

Current, Jacks fork and Eleven point rivers are all part of a national park called the Ozark national scenic Riverway.

Most of the Ozark streams and rivers have outfitters that will provide shuttle services.

Paddlers can camp at will just about anywhere along any of Missouri's navigatable streams as long as they stay below the normal high water line so camping is widely available.

Request information about paddeling any of Missouri's streams on this forum.

My .02


Watch this site’s “Getting Together” forum for a thread beginning “2016 Spring Ozark Canoe Rendezvous” (and research previous Rendezvous threads there also) - good folks who get together twice a year to paddle the flowing waters of the Missouri (and sometimes Arkansas) Ozarks. See you there…?!


Me too
I’m looking at heading that way in March also.

Lake Wappapello with some of the St Francis River is on the top of our list so far. Missouri is a tough state to plan a trip. I called a state park and got one answer to my question then they referred me to the corps of engineers, where I found out that the info I recieved from the state park was incorrect…

As far as Wappapello is concerned there is a few campgrounds and two primaries areas on Wappapello. You can also camp at all public Acsess points as long as there is no facility there. There is 19 of them on lake Wappapelo.

Other places we have looked into;

Current River

Mark Twain Lake

Norfolk lake, Ar

Bull Shoals, Ar

I’ll be following this thread too!!

Lots of choices
other than motorboat filled lakes and noisy launch points

I agree…
With the others…I can’t imagine why anyone would want to paddle the reservoirs when the streams are such a quality experience. But I’ll give a description of the reservoirs from a paddler’s perspective first…

Truman is a long, sprawling reservoir with a lot of flooded, dead standing timber in many places. The banks are mostly undeveloped and somewhat scenic if you don’t mind the bathtub ring from higher lake levels…since it was designed in part for flood control the water level varies considerably, so when it’s at low or normal level there is a wide swath of bank that is bare and either rocky or muddy. Like all the big reservoirs, it’s extremely popular with bass fishermen and speed boaters with high speed boats.

Lake of the Ozarks, by contrast, is a long, open lake with nearly all the banks extensively developed…houses, cabins everywhere, the banks lined with private docks. The boat traffic includes a lot of huge houseboats and super high speed craft like cigarette boats, and the wakes from all these big boats as well as the plethora of fishermen, water skiers, and PWCs makes it EXTREMELY unfriendly to paddle craft. I can’t stress enough that of all the reservoirs, it’s the one that you would least want to paddle…unless it’s a warm weekend and you want to see some spectacular bikini hatches (and in Party Cove, topless hatches).

Mark Twain is a little less popular and more unspoiled, but that’s a relative term, it’s still full of boat traffic, and is not very scenic and often not very clear.

Norfork is a beautiful lake as reservoirs go, in a true Ozark setting with a lot of hills, bluffs, and undeveloped banks. it’s normally very clear. It gets the same kind of boat traffic as the others. Bull Shoals is a larger version of Norfork.

Wappapello is different from the others. It’s a shallow lake winding through a lot of wooded bottom lands for much of its length. It’s usually murky, and if it’s low, as it will be in early spring unless there is a lot of rain, it will have a lot of exposed mud flats. The channel will be narrow in many places and the boat traffic is confined to the channel except for when the anglers are fishing…it’s famous in low water for having bass boats running aground on mud flats and hitting barely submerged stumps.

If you are going in early spring, you won’t see the PWCs and waterskiers, but the bass and crappie anglers will still be out in force on all the reservoirs. People will think you’re nuts if you ask them if you can get a shuttle on any of the lakes, it simply isn’t done. You can’t legally camp anywhere but in developed campgrounds.

Now…Ozark streams can give you any kind of experience from crowds of canoe and kayak paddler’s to complete solitude, depending upon the stream you choose. They are all class 1, easy paddling with a few exceptions. In early spring, however, you might still have difficulty finding a shuttle on many of them…most of the canoe liveries don’t begin operating until early April. As said above, though, you can basically camp anywhere along them on the gravel bars, and gravel bar camping is pretty sweet, with few bugs and other critters and great drainage if it rains.

Current River and Jacks Fork are protected in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways by the National Park Service. The Eleven Point is a Wild and Scenic River, administered by the U.S. Forest Service…it is NOT a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. All three are in many ways the best of the Ozark streams, fast, very clear, heavily wooded, with high bluffs, big springs, and plenty of wildlife. They are popular, but in early spring are usually not too crowded even on weekends, and practically deserted during the week.

However, there are other choices if you want a better chance of complete solitude. The Gasconade and Big Piney will be very little used during cooler weather periods and are nearly as beautiful as the more famous streams. They are a little slower and not quite as clear but have high bluffs, clean gravel bars, and little development. The North Fork above Norfork Lake is gorgeous, as is its sister stream Bryant Creek. The upper Black River above Clearwater Lake should have water that is clearer than any stream you will have likely seen, with huge clean gravel bars and steep wooded hills and bluffs everywhere. The St. Francis will give you even more solitude than the others, and has scenery different from them, with granite gorges alternating with farmland. Upper and middle portions are more difficult to paddle and require some whitewater paddling experience.

Later on in the spring, the Gasconade and St. Francis will be the only ones that won’t have a lot of rental canoe traffic on weekends, and the middle Gasconade and the Current will have a lot of jetboat traffic on weekends.

Thank You
Thank You for the detailed report on Missouri. … Do you think you could do one for every state then tag it too the top?? Lol … Great Job!!

Lake of the Ozarks sucks…
Forget about using it in a canoe or kayak. You do not want to deal with offshore racing boats, tourist rented speedboats, cabin cruisers, bass boats, pontoon boats, and jet skis. Some of the larger boats will swamp a canoe just for a laugh, and most of those boats are piloted by impaired, unskilled, and inattentive operators.

The vast majority of the land, all the way down to the water, is private property.

Have lived in Lake of the Ozarks area for over 33 years.


One other thing…
I forgot to mention that even on the streams, it might be difficult to find somebody to shuttle you if you’re wanting to go a long way, and the mileage is limited on some o these streams. If I was going to do just one long paddling trip in the Ozarks, I do the Buffalo River in Arkansas. It’s 125 miles from the Ponca bridge to the mouth of the Buffalo, and the Buffalo is the most scenic stream in the Ozarks (in my opinion, at least) and one of the most beautiful rivers in the country. I believe you can get the people at the Buffalo Outdoor

Center in Ponca to shuttle a vehicle to any of three take-outs on the other end on the White River. The Buffallo is very rain-sensitive, and the upper 10 miles or so require some mild whitewater experience. In late March, there is always a good chance of too much rain and too much water, and long trips are problematical because you could be on the river halfway through it and be in a big thunderstorm and have the river rise and get dangerous. Fortunately, if you deal with the BOC people, you could get off the river at any of the access points, hike until you find a phone and call them and they would make every attempt to pick you up. Keep in mind, though, that it would be expensive–just the shuttle is quite expensive as it entails a drive of two hours or more to get a car from Ponca to the take-out. A couple friends of mine did it this past early spring, and the river rose 8 feet on them with 25 miles left in the trip. They waited it out for a day and a half, and finished the trip when the water level dropped to where they could handle it.

Interested in paddling the Mississippi?
Here’s some info on the water trail, the paddling above St Louis seems better and less crowded to me.

Mike Clark may offer shuttles and is on the GRT board.

Contact Big Muddy Mike directly to arrange your adventure in the heart of America at or visit website for more information.

There are several places on the river you can park your car in town, paddle upstream, camp, then return to your launch.



Thanks for responses and details
Thanks for all the information…definitely gives me some great info. to consider. I would have never thought the reservoirs would be so gnarly or paddling from an motorboat activity standpoint. I guess I am naive due to paddling the Boundary Waters for so many years. I will continue the planning process. Thanks again for the great responses!

If It Were Me…

– Last Updated: Jan-05-16 11:57 PM EST –

....and I had 4-5 days I'd try to take in 2 rivers in the Ozarks. I'm partial to the Current and Jack's Fork, but as Al_A said, the Black, the Eleven Point, North Fork, Bryant Creek, et al are all great places.

I saw someone mentioned Lake Wappapello? I usually see a lot of traffic on my way to work on Saturday mornings spring-fall headed for that lake. I remember how crowded it used to be and doubt those crowds are less? But the St. Francis above the lake could be good for a few days paddling. It's pool & drop and a little murkier than most of our Ozark streams. I'm about 2-3 miles as the crow flies from there. Bad thing about the St. is it is almost as bad as the Buffalo for quick rises. And Spring weather in the Ozarks is unpredictable. You can have freezing temps and snow or 75 degrees and sunny.

I do lake paddling in the BWCAW, but not here. too many bass boats and jet skis on the reservoirs IMHO. Besides, with Ozark streams, who wants to paddle a man-made lake?

Here's a link to my photos with LOTS of river photos; many of those with people from this website. Good luck.

Missouri Ozarks Paddling
A good friend of mine travels from Iowa down to Missouri every March for a several week sojourn and paddles just about every day. He welcomes anyone who isn’t a jerk and has decent paddling skills to join him to whatever extent he or she is able. Streams enjoyed include Current, Eleven Point, Jack’s Fork, Spring, Big Piney (the Missouri one, not the Arkansas one), Bryant Creek and many others. Let me know if you’d like more info.

WI waters
Btw, not all the lakes in WI are frozen all winter, Lake Columbia up near Portage is ice free all year. It’s a cooling lake for a power plant so the water stays ice free regardless of the outside temperature. Lets you go paddling when everything else is frozen. Rutabaga should know about that lake too.

Normal paddle for many in the area the day after new years, the Fog Bowl paddle, lots of paddlers head up there first of January. Since the water is warm and the air is often cold it’s also very common for it to be very foggy.

Bill H.