Outdoor Opportunities in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southern Missouri is an oasis for outdoorsmen across the Midwest. Well known for its springs, caves, and clear rivers, this national park has something to offer for everyone. The list of recreational opportunities is long and varied. It includes canoeing, fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, and hiking. The springs and mountains are beautiful beyond describing, and many visit the park just to take a look.

The park includes some of the most popular canoeing water anywhere in the world. The Current and Jacks Fork are heavily spring-fed, and are navigable throughout the year. Between the two rivers, the park provides about 120 miles of floatable water. The rivers are crystal clear, cool, and have a blue-green color. Any float on either river will take you past mountains, springs, and bluffs. There are many gravel bars along the way that are perfect for picnicking, camping, or just relaxing. There are no rapids on the rivers that pose a serious threat, although fast riffles and shoals are common. Many canoe rentals service the river, so finding a boat and a shuttle is not a problem. Here's a few of the most special floats.

Jacks Fork River: Buck Hollow to Rhymer's Landing

This 9 mile float on the upper Jacks Fork River flows through a beautiful canyon. The river is relatively small and fast moving. The water is a series of fast riffles and deep pools, all of which are very appealing to the eye. This part of the river is quite remote, and few floaters take advantage of this beautiful stretch of water. Fishing for smallmouth bass and sunfish is excellent. Only small springs feed the river this far upstream, and it's best floatable in the spring and fall. During the summer, floating is possible if you are willing to drag through some riffles.

Directions to Buck Hollow Access

From Mountain View travel 3.6 miles north on Highway 17 and right before crossing the Jacks Fork River, turn right (east) to the Buck Hollow River Access.

Jacks Fork River: Eminence to Two Rivers

This 8 mile float on the lower Jacks Fork River is one of the most beautiful (and popular) floats in the park. Flowing through a variety of small mountains and deep valleys, scenery is amazing. The lower Jacks Fork is quite wide and deep, but the water is surprisingly clear and cool. You'll find quite a few more floaters than further upstream, but the crowds are usually quite bearable. Smallmouth bass fishing is very good, and the river is easily floatable all year. The take out is just below the river's junction with the Current River, at Two Rivers Campground.

Current River: Baptist Camp to Cedar Grove

This 7 mile float near the headwaters of the Current River has much to offer. The river flows past several springs, and tall bluffs, and there are many deep, blue pools. The river has a high gradient in this area, with many fast riffles separated by short pools. The river is not particularly large here, but it's always deep and wide enough for easy floating. Still, relatively few float this stretch, mostly because it's only serviced by one or two canoe rentals. This is a prime fishing float, with excellent populations of rainbow and brown trout.

Current River: Akers Ferry to Pulltite Campground

This is probably the most popular float in the National Park. At this point, the Current River is truly at its best. The river is still very cold and clear, and has grown to a size large enough to accommodate large numbers of floaters. Some of the largest mountains in the park can be seen from the river, and many small springs can be seen entering the river. The river here has some fast riffles, but also has some long, slow pools that are well suited for just sitting back and relaxing. Because this is where the river transitions from a cold to warm-water stream, fishing opportunities are quite varied. Rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and goggle-eye are all common. The river is easily floatable throughout the year.

Springs

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is home to one of the largest spring complexes in the world. Springs form in cracks where groundwater supplies rise to the surface. Some springs are just small upwellings, and others form large streams that rise seemingly from nowhere. The largest, (the aptly named Big Spring, which feeds the lower Current River, puts out more water on average than any other spring in the country. Most springs rise somewhere in between these two extremes. The springs are beautiful beyond description, flowing emerald blue from unfathomable depths. Many spring pools are more than a hundred feet deep. Due to this amazing beauty, many springs have become popular tourist attractions. Park Regulations do not allow fishing, swimming, or boating in springs, or spring branches. Here are some very special springs that are worth visiting.

Alley Spring

This spring, which feeds the Jacks Fork River, is probably the most visited in the park. This high output spring has a beautiful, watercress lined spring and spring branch. The most popular attraction on the spring however is the old mill at the head of the pool, which was built in the 1800s to generate power. The mill is no longer used, but it still provides a glimpse into the history of the Ozarks.

Welch Spring

This spring along the upper Current River forms a deep spring pool just above the river. The spring puts out about 150 CFS per second, and doubles the size of the Current River. Like Alley Spring however, it is most known for its history. In the mid-1800s, it was the site of a health resort. While the business proved to be unprofitable, the ruins of the building still stand today, and provide an interesting spectacle for visitors. As a side note, the pool on the Current River below the spring's junction is very popular with trout fisherman, and has produced many trophy rainbows over the years.

Big Spring

Big Spring, which flows into the lower Current River, is tied for the title of the largest spring in the country. 400 Cubic Feet Per Second of cold, clear water roar out a cave, to instantly form a large river. The spring branch flows into the lower Current River, which makes it much larger, and cooler. The spring is especially impressive in high flows.

Fishing

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways provide a wealth of fishing opportunities. The most popular species include smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, and goggle-eye, and green sunfish, but walleye, pickerel, and various rough fish are also available. The exceptionally clear waters of the Jacks Fork and Current River provide an incredibly attractive environment for fishing, and it seems that the world class game fish populations are just a bonus.

Jacks Fork Fishing

The Jacks Fork River is one of the best warm-water fisheries in the Ozarks. Smallmouth bass and goggle-eye are by far the most sought after species throughout the river, but you'll also find good populations of largemouth bass and pickerel in the slow water. Good fishing exists all the way from the river's South Prong to it's junction with the Current River. Generally, you'll find less crowds and bigger fish in the canyon above Alley Spring, but the lower river provides good fishing as well, and is more convenient to access. While wade fishing is quite possible, float fishing is far and away the most popular technique.

Upper Current River Fishing

The Upper Current River is loosely defined as the water between Montauk State Park and Akers Ferry, also known by fisherman as the "trout section". Between Montauk State Park and Cedar Grove, trophy brown trout are the main attraction, while there are plenty of rainbows around as well. Between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry, the fishery is under put and take regulations, and 10" rainbows are stocked about a dozen times each year. The upper Current generally has a high gradient, but there are no real rapids to speak of. This is famous trout water, and the number of fisherman will reflect that. Float fishing and wade fishing are about equally popular, with the best wading conditions occurring above Cedar Grove. There is about 20 miles of water here, and it's all good for trout. Smallmouth bass fishing is also pretty decent between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry.

Middle Current River Fishing

The middle Current River is home to the river's classic smallmouth bass water. The middle Current is generally defined as the water between Akers Ferry and the junction with the Jacks Fork River (aka Two Rivers), a distance of nearly 40 miles. The first 12 miles from Akers Ferry to Round Spring provides a mix of coldwater and warm-water fisheries, with rainbow trout and smallmouth bass. Below Round Spring, smallmouth bass become king. They hide in every pool and riffle in this part of the river, and fish densities are very high. Due to a lack of special regulations and extremely high fishing pressure, fish size is usually fairly small. Ten to fourteen inch bass are the norm, with some bigger and a few smaller. Goggle-eye and sunfish are also very common. There are some areas to wade fish, but a canoe will give you access to quite a bit more water.

Lower Current River Fishing

The lower Current River,from Two Rivers to the Arkansas state line provides some 70 miles of very big water for fisherman. Smallmouth bass still reign supreme. Although there are still not any special regulations on the lower river, the sheer size of the river allows many to grow to trophy proportions, and the average size of bass is considerably larger than any other part of the river. The river by this point has slowed down considerably, which makes boat fishing much easier. There are still quite a few riffles, but they tend to be relatively short, and are separated by many long pools. Below Van Buren, a few new species enter the scene, including walleye, crappie, and largemouth bass. Walleye fishing tends to be an on and off proposition, but generally they are common below Big Spring, and get even more common the closer to the Arkansas border you are. Crappie and largemouth bass also become common in the huge water below Big Spring, with the best populations in the slow backwaters. There are some productive areas to fish off the bank for smallmouth and panfish, but wade fishing is pretty difficult this far downstream. Most fishermen utilize canoes or river jon boats.

Hunting

There are some excellent hunting opportunities in the National Park. Unlike most areas managed by the National Park Service, hunting is allowed under statewide regulations. Deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and a limited population of upland birds can be found. Black bear are becoming somewhat common in the park, but it's not yet legal to hunt them. There is a good diversity of habitat in the area, with both river valleys and mountains available to the hunter. Also, it's always a fun adventure to combine a day of fishing and hunting. Just remember hunting isn't allowed in developed areas of the park.

Whitetail Deer Hunting

Most hunters in the Riverways target deer. Deer numbers are very good throughout the park. The river valleys are the most obvious choice for the deer hunter. The valleys of the Jacks Fork and Current River primarily consist of small trees, willows, and other types of brush. There are also quite a few areas of old fields. All of these areas work well for deer, both as bedding and feeding areas. Many hunters overlook the mountains and ridges that surround the river valleys. That's a mistake. Ample oak forests create great crops of acorn each year, and many deer take advantage. Deer densities tend to be a little lower away from the rivers but they are also targeted by fewer hunters. Nearby tracts of Mark Twain National Forest, as well as conservation areas provide even more acreage to the hunter.

Turkey Hunting

Turkey are also common in the Current and Jacks Fork River valley. The thick woods surrounding the river are perfect habitat for these wily birds, and the park provides some of the best wild turkey hunting anywhere. Both fall and spring seasons produce good results.

Camping

Camping is extremely popular in the park. There are many popular campgrounds in the park, including Pulltite, Two Rivers, Cedar Grove, Eagle's Park (Privately owned, but in the park), and Big Spring. Floating, fishing, sightseeing, and hunting opportunities are found within walking distance of all of these areas. Dispersed camping is also allowed anywhere in the park, provided you're 100' off the road. A popular technique is to paddle to a nearby gravel bar, set up a tent, and get up in the morning and fish or hunt. You can also hike in to an area and set up a tent, which will allow you to hunt or fish in solitude.

There are recreational opportunities of every type in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Whether you like to hunt, fish, camp, canoe, sightsee, or just relax, this is a great place to schedule your next vacation.

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