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Thursday, May 24, 2007 02:32 pm

Float your boat

Ozark streams offer opportunity for exploration and relaxation

Untitled Document Just a few hours from Springfield are hundreds of miles of floatable streams that offer an ideal natural playground for exploration, fishing, and relaxation. Many are crystal-clear, spring-fed, and surrounded by breathtaking scenery, including towering limestone bluffs and undisturbed forests. I was first exposed to some of Missouri’s Ozark streams nearly 30 years ago, during college trips to southern Missouri’s beautiful Eleven Point River, part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Gear in tow, my friends and I made many overnight canoe/camping trips to the river’s edge. Over the years, single times led to family times, and primitive camping along the river ultimately gave way to cabin rentals along the river. Memories of these trips with family and friends, marked by campfires, the aroma of charcoal grills, great scenery and wildlife, and clear rock-lined streams, prompt me to take an annual trip to one of Missouri’s great rivers. When it’s 90-plus degrees and the humidity is a steamy 100 percent, nothing beats playing and floating in the currents, taking in a cave tour, or watching a hawk gently circling on the air currents overhead as you skip a rock to the other bank. I’ve canoed many stretches of the Meramec River, and my family and I have taken rafting trips on the Meramec and on the Huzzah and Courtois creeks. The clear Huzzah and Courtois (pronounced “coat-away” by the locals) flow into the blue/green-tinted Meramec, which is deeper than the other two streams.
Today the Meramec region is dotted with megacampgrounds, many offering cabins and in some cases even complete meal packages. Canoes, rafts, kayaks, and tubes may be rented for trips ranging from a few miles and hours to all-day and even multiday trips. While planning your trip, keep in mind that you go slower on the water than you might think, especially if you are using a raft or stop to play and explore the many sand bars along the river. In addition, streams are usually lower and their flows slower in middle to late summer, so you may have to spend more time hauling your canoe or raft over rocks than you would at other times of year. The rivers and campgrounds are extremely crowded on summer weekends, especially holiday weekends, so consider a weekday float trip if it’s solitude you’re after. Private campgrounds are found mainly between Meramec State Park and an area west of Steelville, Mo., along the Meramec River; others are located along streams that connect with the Meramec. Meramec State Park and Onondaga Cave State Park are good places to set up camp and arrange for a float trip; they also offer hiking trails, cave tours, interpretive programs, and great Meramec sand bars to play on. Onondaga Cave State Park’s namesake feature is spectacular. A National Natural Landmark, the cavern boasts great stalagmites and stalactites and other unique features. In addition to float trips the region offers many attractions that make great side trips. Consider a visit to Meramec Caverns, the Shaw Nature Reserve, Elephant Rocks State Park, the Dillard Mill State Historic Site, or the Mark Twain National Forest, or take a hike along the Ozark Trail. The region is also home to many wineries. To request information on lodging, rafting, campgrounds, and other general information for your trip, contact the Missouri Division of Tourism (800-519-2100). Call Meramec State Park (573-468-6072) or Onondaga Cave State Park (573-245-6576) for information and a list of facilities at each park.

Walt Zyznieuski is regular contributor to Illinois Times. Contact him at