Current River Canoeing, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14208A, Canoe


  • Camp and canoe a crystal-clear, spring-fed Ozark river
  • Enjoy impressive rock bluffs, mysterious caves, bubbling clear springs, and wildlife
  • Explore on side hikes to historic places, springs, and caves


  • Canoe rental, paddles, PFDs, canoe and shuttle to put-in and from take-out
  • Campsite reservation and camping fees
  • Buffet dinner on day one, breakfasts and dinner each day


DatesOct 12–16, 2014
Min. Age12
StaffBill Nichols

Trip Overview

The Trip

A classic autumn canoe trip on the Current River in the Missouri Ozarks. We will spend four leisurely days canoeing and camping 35 miles of the clear, spring-fed Current River. Each day offers opportunities to relax, fish, photograph, and enjoy scenic side hikes. Novice paddlers and families are welcome. Canoe rental, paddles, PFDs, shuttle, permits, most meals & other expenses are included.

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR), established by an act of Congress in August 1964, is the first national park to protect a wild river system. The 80,000-acre national park stretches 134 miles along both the Current River and Jacks Fork River. Montauk Springs form the headwaters of the Current River.


Day 1: (Meet up at outfitter's campground) Participants are to meet by 3:00 p.m. CST at the outfitter's campground south of Salem, Missouri. If necessary, trips can be made into Salem to purchase additional supplies. As a group we’ll visit Montauk State Park and view the springs that feed the Current River. We’ll tour the trout hatchery and the "Old Mill" built in 1896.  We’ll enjoy a buffet dinner at the visitor's center restaurant (included in the trip fee), get to know each other, and discuss the trip. The visitor’s center also has a limited grocery store and fishing supplies. We’ll return to the outfitter’s campground and have a fireside trailhead meeting.

Day 2: (Tan Vat Access to Cedar Grove) Today we start our adventure, traveling light! The outfitter will shuttle the canoes, our gear, and us for the day to Tan Vat Access. We’ll take our time along this stretch of primitive, twisty river to fish the blue-ribbon trophy trout area (check the fishing regulations). We’ll side hike to John & Susie Nichols’ farmsteads, built in 1910, and learn about their life on the farm they worked until 1959. We’ll also visit the Lower Parker School, built in 1905 and in continual use until 1955. At Cedar Grove we’ll portage the only low-water dam on our trip and make camp downstream on a large gravel bar. The outfitter will meet us later in the day at Cedar Grove and deliver the rest of our gear. Cedar Grove only has basic amenities: pit toilets, tables, and fire grills.

Day 3: (Cedar Grove to Aker’s Ferry) From Cedar Grove we’ll paddle to Akers Ferry. For these eight miles we’ll be fishing a white-ribbon trout area. We’ll pass Medlock Cave. We’ll certainly stop at Welch Spring and the ruins of the Welch Spring Hospital. Homesteaded in 1855 by Thomas Welch, Illinois doctor C.H. Diehl bought Welch Spring for $800 in 1913, believing that the spring water and pollen-free cave air would heal people with asthma, emphysema, and tuberculosis. Dr. Diehl built a hospital and resort, but when he died in 1945, his project was being referred to as "Diehl's Folly." We may hike to Maggard’s Cabin, located across the river from Welch Spring. We’ll camp near Aker’s Ferry, the last working ferry on the Current River. This campsite only has basic amenities: pit toilets, tables, and fire grills. After setting up camp, we can hike to the Aker’s Ferry General Store to purchase ice cream, sodas, souvenirs, or necessities.

Day 4: (Aker’s Ferry to Pulltite Spring Campground) Today we’ll canoe to the Cave Spring Cave and take a side hike up the Cave Spring Trail to the Devil’s Well. Cave Spring has an average flow of 24 million gallons/day. A Native American dugout canoe was discovered on the bottom of the spring. Along the route today is Rock House Cave (aka Meeting House Cave), Troublesome Hollow, the "Pothole," and more good fishing. Meeting House Cave was used during the Civil War as a hideout by both sides. We’ll camp at the Pulltite Spring Campground facility (amenities include hot showers, RV dump stations, electric hook-ups, reservation systems, and campground hosts). We’ll hike the campground, look for ripe persimmons and paw-paws, and perhaps visit the hilltop Weese cemetery. On this day or the next we’ll cross the river to visit the Pulltite Spring and Cabin. Pulltite Spring is clear-aqua blue, lush with watercress and aquatic plants. Down the trail from Pulltite Spring is the Pulltite Cabin. The cabin was finished Thanksgiving 1913 and constructed in the "French-style" around a massive fireplace.

Day 5: (Pulltite to Round Spring) There are more caves (Shelter Cave, Merritt Rock Cave, Bat Cave, Hole in the Rock), more springs (Fire Hydrant Spring and Sand Boil Spring), Sinking Creek and more good fishing. After take-out at Round Spring Access, we’ll tour Round Spring, a deep blue spring that produces 33 million gallons per day. Local legend says a wagon fell into the spring one foggy Ozark night; in 1978, divers discovered wagon wheels in the 55-foot-deep pool. We’ll shuttle back to the outfitters to sort our gear, enjoy hot showers, and prepare for our journey home.



Getting There

Carpooling is eco-friendly and encouraged, but it is the participant's responsibility to arrange for carpooling. The closest airport is in St. Louis, approximately a two-hour drive or 127 miles. 

Accommodations and Food

The leaders take pride in creating unique, appetizing, and fulfilling meals each day. Dinners will contain chicken or fish -- hopefully we’ll catch some trout to add! Pre-trip, the leaders will solicit input from the participants on the menu. The leaders provide stoves and cooking equipment. The first meal provided will be the buffet dinner at the Montauk State Park Visitor’s Center and the last meal provided will be breakfast on day five. The leader does not provide trail snacks or lunches as people have diverse needs and preferences. Please discuss food allergies, dietary restrictions, or special requests with the leader before the trip. The leaders discourage alcohol use during the trip.

Accommodations while on the river are primitive with little or no development. This trip is self-contained and each night we’ll be tent camping. Campground amenities are described above. Participants will be asked to volunteer to assist with camp chores on a rotating basis, including collecting firewood, and assisting in meal preparation and clean-up. Much of the Current River country is remote without cell phone service, but there are public campgrounds with phones along the way. We’ll be traveling during the off-season and most days we will have the river all to ourselves.

Trip Difficulty

The Current River is rated as a gentle river with a strong current in places. Basic paddling skills are required. Novice paddlers will find the trip easy, but don’t hesitate to ask the leader for advice or to demonstrate any paddle strokes. Depending on individual skill levels, the leaders may assign paddlers into more efficient teams.:

Historically, the average high temperature is 74º and the average low is 52º with a range of 30º to 86º. We will watch the weather forecasts, but be prepared for a possible extreme of temperatures.

If you want to fish, you'll need a fishing license and trout permit. These can be purchased online, in Salem, MO, or at Montauk State Park. A daily fishing license is $7.00/day and can be purchased for single or multiple days. A trout permit is also required and costs $7.00.

Equipment and Clothing

Participants should bring basic camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, pad, proper clothing, small cooler) in addition to any canoeing or fishing gear. After registration and approval, the leader will provide a full gear list and can offer equipment recommendations.

Land Use Restrictions:

The National Park Service prohibits glass containers on the rivers within the park boundary. Additionally, all forms of polystyrene foods and beverage coolers often marketed under the name "Styrofoam" are not allowed. These containers often end up in the rivers as unsightly trash that can also be dangerous to the aquatic life in the river. This does not include bait buckets. Participants are encouraged to pick up litter when it can be done safely. The outfitter will provide mesh litterbags. We will pack out our trash or dispose of it in trash bins at the campsites. The National Park Service prohibits jumping from cliffs and bluffs and using rope swings. Cliff jumping is a serious safety issue that also impacts the fragile vegetation growing in thin soils on the glades.

The NPS has closed all caves for exploration along our route due to the discovery of White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a disease that is 90% fatal to bats but doesn't affect humans. The disease and its transmission are currently under research, but it is thought that humans may carry the disease spores. For more about WNS, go to or



  • Kohler, Steve and Oliver Churchyard, Two Ozark Rivers: The Current and the Jacks Fork.
  • The Ozark National Riverways Historical Assoc. c/o Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Van Buren, MO, 63965, has a number of books for sale.


  • Topographical maps of the trip route. Purchase these quad maps: Montauk, Cedar grove, Lewis Hollow, Round Spring, The Sinks, and Eminence.


The outfitter has a limited amount of literature, maps, and other info of the river and area.


The National Park Service is developing a new management plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. That plan will cover the next 20 years and will determine the kind of experience that visitors will have on the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. The Park Service is seeking input from the public. The Sierra Club and other concerned citizens have identified four major problems that need to be addressed in the plan:

  1. Overdevelopment and motorized intrusion: There are too many unauthorized access points for motorized access along the river, resulting in damaged and unsightly river banks, wildlife habitat loss, degraded recreational opportunities for those seeking a quiet river journey.
  2. Commercial horse over-use: Horseback riding is permitted in the park but the numbers have been out of control -- so much so that horse waste has at times contaminated the river so that it is unsafe for whole body contact.
  3. Scenic easements: These are voluntary agreements that permit controlled development in private lands along the river. Unfortunately these agreements are not always honored.
  4. Over-crowding: The Ozark National Scenic Riverways was established in 1964. Since then the rivers have become more motorized, more crowded, and more polluted.

The plan offers the chance to consider Wilderness Protection for a 3,536-acre area along the river that is near, but doesn’t include, Big Springs. The area can gain protection if it is eventually designated as a federal Wilderness Area. The plan is able to recommend wilderness status for the area called Big Spring Wilderness. For more information, contact the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, 7164 Manchester Ave, Maplewood, MO 63143, Email:

Here’s what you can do:

  • Experience firsthand the Current River and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
  • Ask the National Park Service to send you information about the developing management plan. Go to Click on the links for management plan and public input.
  • E-mail or write the National Park Service about your concerns for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. 
  • Renew your membership with the Sierra Club and become more involved in conservation.
  • Contact the local Sierra Club chapters and discuss their efforts to protect the area. 
In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Ozark National Scenic River.



Bill has been a Sierran since 2000. He has canoe/camped over 800 miles on the Missouri River between Sioux City, Iowa and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. He has enjoyed canoe/camping expeditions on the Upper Missouri River, Montana, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the North Cascades National Park Complex, Washington, the Current River, Missouri, and wolf tracking in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness Area, Idaho. At the local level, he coordinated a floodwall art project to commemorate the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial and lead a canoe local outing on the Kansas River. Bill has certifications in American Red Cross Remote Area & Wilderness First Aid and CPR/AED. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


Ed Gacek

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