The Ozarks region is renowned for its shallow, scenic float streams. Whether you’re traveling by canoe or by johnboat in search of fishing adventure, the area has plenty to offer.
Here are 20 rivers and creeks that offer great floating.
1. CURRENT RIVER: The Current is protected from development because of its designation as a National Scenic Riverway. Good thing. The river is an Ozarks jewel, with towering bluffs, springs, caves, and swift current. One of the most-popular float streams in Missouri. Canoe rental available in Eminence, Salem, Van Buren, Jadwin, Doniphan and Akers Ferry.
2. JACKS FORK: The Jacks Fork is the Current River’s sister in the National Scenic Riverways Park. Actually a tributary of the Current, it has a face of its own. It is recognized as one of the Ozarks’ most scenic rivers. The first 25 miles are set in a deep valley. Canoe rental in Salem, Van Buren and Eminence.
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3. ELEVEN POINT RIVER: Another National Scenic River, the Eleven Point is fed by Greer Spring, the second largest spring in Missouri. Below Greer Spring, the cold water that rushes into the water supports an impressive population of trout. Canoe rental in Alton and Riverton.
4. BLACK RIVER: The Black River provides some of the most stunning scenery in the state. Floaters can get a close look at Taum Sauk Mountain, the tallest peak in Missouri, and enjoy outstanding smallmouth bass fishing in the upper stretches. Canoe rental in Lesterville.
5. ST. FRANCIS RIVER: This river looks more like something you’d find out West rather than in the Ozarks. With its steep gradient, it’s one of the few places in Missouri where you’ll find whitewater – and challenging whitewater at that. It’s narrow, boulder-strewn bed excites even the most experienced canoeists and kayakers. Canoe rental in Patterson.
6. NIANGUA RIVER: The Niangua is two rivers in one. Above Bennett Spring, it is a warm-water stream with good smallmouth-bass fishing under a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Below Bennett Spring, it becomes a cold-water stream with plenty of trout available. Numerous canoe rental businesses can be found in the Bennett Spring area.
7. GASCONADE RIVER: The Gasconade is known as the most crooked riverway in the state. It has a slower current, so it’s not one of the favorites with canoeists. But what’s bad for canoeists is good for fishermen. The Gasconade is an excellent smallmouth-bass river. Canoe rental in Richland, Dixon, Devil’s Elbow and St. Robert.
8. BIG PINEY RIVER: The Big Piney has long been known as one of the Ozarks’ best goggle-eye and smallmouth bass float streams. It also is known for its scenery — its spectacular bluffs, steep, timbered hillsides and wildlife. Canoe rental in Licking, Duke, Dixon, St. Robert, and Devil’s Elbow.
9. JAMES RIVER: The James has a rich heritage for Ozarks float fishing. Before Table Rock Lake came in and flooded sections of the James, it was famous for smallmouth bass. Sections, particularly from Hootontown to Galena, still provide outstanding fishing. Canoe rental in Crane and Galena.
10. NORTH FORK OF THE WHITE RIVER: This river is known for its large springs, which provide some exciting whitewater in stretches. Its upper part is in the Mark Twain National Forest and has a wilderness feel to it. Canoe rental in Caulfield, Dora, Tecumseh and West Plains.
11. BRYANT CREEK: This scenic stream is at its best in the spring, when water flows are adequate. Because it doesn’t have as many springs as some Ozarks creeks and rivers, it often is hard to float in the summer. But when it does have water, it can provide excellent smallmouth fishing. Canoe rental in Caulfield and Dora.
12. MERAMEC RIVER: Despite its proximity to the St. Louis area, the Meramec still has a wilderness look to it. The most popular float is from Maramec Spring to Meramec State Park, but other stretches also are floatable. Known for its float fishing. Canoe rental in Steelville, Leasburg, Sullivan and St. Clair.
13. COURTOIS CREEK: A tributary of the Meramec, this stream is known for its clear water, beautiful scenery and fine smallmouth-bass fishing. Canoe rental in Steelville and Leasburg.
14. HUZZAH CREEK: This stream joins with the Courtois in Crawford County to add flow to the Meramec. Like its sister stream, it flows through a beautiful valley and provides good fishing. Canoe rental in Steelville and Leasburg.
15. BIG RIVER: The Big River is more popular with fishermen than canoeists because of its slow current. The stretches above and below Washington State Park provide nice scenery, and the smallmouth bass fishing in management zones is among the best in the Ozarks. Canoe rentals in Bonne Terre.
16. BOURBEUSE RIVER: Like the Gasconade, the Bourbeuse is known for its crooked channel. The book “Missouri Ozark Waterways” claims that the Bourbeuse winds for almost 100 miles while covering only 27 miles cross country. Somewhat popular with float fishermen. Canoe rental in Leslie.
17. ELK RIVER: This river, in the far southwestern corner of the state, is a popular float stream. Pineville is a center for canoe rentals, and the stretch below offers good smallmouth fishing. Canoe rentals in Pineville, Noel and Anderson.
18. BIG SUGAR CREEK: A tributary of the Elk, the Big Sugar possesses many of the same qualities of the river it feeds. Canoe rental in Pineville and Noel.
19. INDIAN CREEK: This 27-mile creek can provide a nice float in the spring, when flows are sufficient. However, in the heat of summer, it can get too low to float. Canoe rental in Pineville and Noel.
20. SPRING RIVER: This river in southwestern Missouri is generally overlooked by floaters, but can provide good recreation. It is fed by Big Spring, which makes it a fairly fast-moving stream. It has good smallmouth-bass fishing in stretches.
Note: Some information provided by the book “Missouri Ozark Waterways.”