The Current River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway and is a cold, spring-fed river. This is the first NPS site to protect a river system. This region is home to caves, trails, bluffs, the largest spring in the US, and so much beauty of the Ozarks. A float trip can also be a party scene. How well did it accommodate our party of five families with kids?
We booked a site at Ozark Riverfront Campground in Van Buren, MO. This is a central location and is across the Current River from The Landing, a starting point for floating as well as a hotel and a restaurant. Our site was snug, very snug. I had to stand under our neighbor's pop-up awning to set up our water and electric. This campground was fine as a place to sleep-off a long day on the river, but the unfiltered parties continued late into Friday night, making this less than ideal. To be fair, this is kind of what we expected on this stretch of the river as it is a favorite party spot. Besides the somewhat rowdy crowd, the staff was great and very accommodating to our needs, and the bathhouse was clean.
We did enjoy nearby amenities and attractions. The Blue Heron Restaurant across the river at The Landing was great. We also enjoyed a drink on the deck overlooking the river while we waited to eat. Just ten minutes down the road from the campground is Big Spring. The state of Missouri donated Big Spring to the NPS in 1969 for the nation to enjoy one of the biggest springs in the US, with daily flow of 286,000,000 gallons.
We had planned to float the Current River on Saturday, however, we learned Friday night that the river was flooded and would be closed to any floating. As we discussed our plan at Big Spring to spend the day hiking and exploring the region, a park ranger suggested that the Jack’s Fork River was open if we wanted to call for reservations. We should have vetted out the conditions of the river ourselves, as this well-intended recommendation would lead to a stressful ensuing five hour tour.
We were able to secure eight canoes and a handful of tubes that the concessioner suggested could be tied behind the canoes with a clothesline, another well-intended recommendation that wasn’t so great. As we traveled to the river, we learned that the concessioner had zero youth life jackets, but luckily, we packed a few and were able to get all of the kids secured in a jacket. This would prove to be extremely important.
About one mile into the eight mile canoe ride, we lost three members of our party. Their canoe-tube contraption went different ways around a log in a rapid, tipping the boat and convincing the three to walk to a nearby campground to look for a ride to the end. Later, a second boat tipped and sank against a tree, held in place by the current. We had to leave the canoe behind and add those three people to the remaining boats.
By the end of the day, four of our canoes had tipped. Our party of 22 paddlers with eight canoes and a handful of tubes had become 19 paddlers with seven canoes and a handful of tubes inside our canoes. As we walked off the river five hours later, we looked defeated. Missing shoes, bloodied knees, missing spouses, lost hats and water bottles. We were not the only ones. We watched dozens of canoes and kayaks tip throughout the day.
Our kids did great. Lillian and her friend, respectively aged 13 and 15 years old, navigated the rapids like champs all day. They never tipped, helped a guy pull his kayak out of a tree, and offer moral support to our party. Mitchell navigated with Shane all day and kept us going strong as well. We are chalking this up to a tough day on the river and plan to try again later this summer, ideally not after a week of exceptional rain fall.
Not having enjoyed the water, we headed back to Big Spring Sunday morning. They have a rock bar at the campground and we wanted to swim. On Sunday, the water was perfect and we swam, floated, skipped rocks, and got to take in the beauty of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.
There are a number of attractions we didn’t visit this time, but we previously had on our visits to Echo Bluff State Park, Big Spring Campground, and Big Creek RV Park. There are still more sites we want to see and see again, so this region is still on the return list.
Shane and Jessica
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