Early Spring Southern Missouri Paddles March 15 - March 31, 2019
We had pretty good and mostly dry weather, with good amounts of water in many rivers and creeks. Still, frost and cold nights were common the first week. We relied on the weather station at West Plains about 20 miles east of Twin Bridges where we staying.
Warmer weather was common the second week. The turtles came out to sun themselves, bushes and a few trees were beginning to bloom, the woods began to leaf out tentatively, spring ephemerals wildflowers were blooming and the birds became more active. Osprey, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and an otter joined us as we paddled too.
A total of 18 different paddlers took part in all or part of the two weeks of daily paddles. Canoes and an ever growing number of kayaks were part of the mix. With a kayak stacker on a car and a long crossbar, kayaks make shuttles much easier.
The day's paddlers would commonly break into two groups, some focusing on local and shorter paddles. Al Donaldson, who started these early spring paddles, often led one group.
Al is stepping back some now, so I have been filling in as best as I can. I could not have done this without a lot of help. Thanks to all the paddlers for their many efforts at making these wide ranging daily trips possible and go so smoothly.
Several paddlers started as far upstream as Highway 95 Access. Other starting accesses included Monastery Road and Hodgson Mill Access. Paddlers went as far downstream as Florence C. Cook Access. Paddles ranged from about 6 miles to about 18 miles, though most paddles were about 10 miles. The gage near Tecumseh ranged from about 800 to 1400 cfs which was both safe and more than adequate for some great paddles.
North Fork of the White River
We paddled various sections from as far upstream of Twin Bridges, where we stayed in cabins, as Slab Ford and as far downstream as Dawt Mill. Paddles commonly were 5.5 miles to 11 miles. The gage at Tecumseh was as high as 1800 cfs, which was my favorite water flow and quite safe. Mostly though, the gage was around 900 to 1100 cfs which was more than adequate for a good paddle.
The upper sections above Hale Ford is creek-like, so trees and room to maneuver can be an issue. Still it was an enjoyable contrast to Bryant Creek, which is quite large south of Warren Bridge. Higher waters could make this a considerably more challenging section with two low water bridges to navigate.
The North Fork and Bryant Creek are relatively close to Twin Bridges where we were staying, so we paddled several different and overlapping sections during the two weeks of our early spring paddles. We also mixed things up some from the more local paddles.
We paddled from the Prongs to Baptizing Hole just downstream from Blue Spring Access - about 11 miles. We had such good fun we decided to paddle from the Prongs again. We took out at Bacher, which is a bit further downstream from Baptizing Hole, about 11.5 miles.
The Mountain View gage ranged from 195 to 220 cfs for our paddles. The 220 cfs was better for the long chute just upstream of the Highway 17 bridge. Though adequate for the Prongs section, any lower, would suggest it would be better to start downstream of the Highway 17 bridge.
Big Piney River
We put in at Simmon's Ford about 2.5 miles upstream of Baptist Camp off of Highway 17. Here the river is creek-like with modest room to maneuver and the possibility of strainers around the bends and chutes.
Several took out at Tone Hogan's Ford for about a 5.8 mile paddle. Though a short paddle for some, it took all of us past the wonderful painted bluffs of many colors.
Others continued downstream to Dog's Bluff, to round out an 11 mile paddle. And once again, there was a dog roaming around at the access on this wonderful spring day.
The gage at Fort Leonard Wood was about 940 cfs. a good level, not too pushy and about right for the rockier chutes.
Several of us explored another section from Camp Beach Access to Buzzard Bluff Access, an 11.8 mile paddle on a pleasant spring day. This section had its share of s-curves, snags, pools and chutes, along with outcroppings, bluffs and fields. A small river here with little room to maneuver which mostly worked just fine for this group of seasoned paddlers.
There is no gage, but just enough water was going over the low water bridge about one mile down from the put in as an indicator of a good flow.
Some of us also explore Swan Creek with Tom’s prompting. Much of the ground under Swan Creek is a solid limestone sheet. This makes for an amazing assortment of nearly continuous haystacks to navigate, being sure to try to miss both the largest haystacks and any rocks mixed into the tumultuous water. Besides the rocks, there are some ledges buried in the haystacks, so a canoe or kayak that can take a bit of possible abuse is best.
There is no gage on the creek, but Beaver Creek nearby has a gage and was at about 4'7' / 700 cfs. This was a good level for the experienced paddlers that were on this trip, albeit, with an assortment of kayaks and canoes, not all of which were exactly designed for this kind of water, but all did fine.
We put in at Highway AA bridge and took out just past Highway 160 bridge, about 12 or so miles at an unmarked dirt ramp on river left.
It is an amazing creek. I look forward to the next time I paddle it, hopefully with just a bit more water and again with an appropriate boat.
Additional information about these paddles, accesses, distances and routings are in the wonderful book, "A Paddler's Guide to Missouri."
If you have intermediate paddling skills, I hope you consider joining us in 2020.
Greg Vitale, Trip Report, April 14, 2019