FAQs for Canoeing
It’s important to realize that as Ozarkians, we reside in the middle of the best stream floating area of the United States if not the world.
Occasionally, I am amazed when I run into someone who has lived here for decades, or even a “native,” who has never experienced the navigation of a jon boat, canoe, kayak or inner tube down one of our numerous, clear water streams.
As a former outfitter and guide, this column will repeat for the reader the most frequently asked questions that I have fielded over the years.
Drinking out of the river?
With the decline of hog farms and dairies over the last 25 years, the current state of river quality is very good. However, even though the water looks clear and tasty, it still cannot be ingested without iodine treatment or boiling. This applies also to most Ozark springs. If you are thirsty and you run across a spring above water level located in a remote area with no cattle in the area and no recent run off, you may be ok to give it a try. But it’s risky.
Type of Equipment:
Canoes were originally designed by Native Americans. The shorter ones were meant to be handled by a solo tripper or trapper. And a canoe seat is the white man’s invention.
An all-around canoe suitable for two people, or a solo paddler with light gear, should measure 15’10” to 16’6”. If solo, turn the canoe around and sit on the front seat facing the stern end; or better yet, kneeling lowers your center of gravity and you can gain power from hip moves, not just your shoulder moves. You can also rest your rearside against the rear of the forward seat. Which seat is the forward facing seat? The one with the most space to the end of the canoe.
A good thermoplastic canoe of this length new will run between $1000 and $1600. A secondary material, cross-link plastic is more economical although not as good. Most kayaks and some Old Towne canoes are made of this molded plastic. A new kayak will run from $400 up and a new tandem canoe starts around $760.00
If you are new to whitewater and want to try something besides a kayak or a 13’ solo canoe, consider a “rubber ducky,” an inflatable kayak. Solo’s start at around $1000 and tandem’s start at around $1700. They are more forgiving at bouncing off boulders, but they are also less adept at tearing of the fabric in tree jams and sweepers.
Reserve jon boats for slow stretches, maybe with a small motor for gigging, as they steer like a barge. Instead consider broad-beamed square stern canoes which can also handle a small motor as well as one person standing.
As for your old aluminum canoe, consider donating the old rock-grabber to the aluminum scrap pile for re-use as a shining new pop can or beer can. An exception might be made for the two best with flush rivets: Grumman and some Aluma-Craft canoes.
Where to Float?
Try rivers closer to you before you branch out. In this area: Beaver, Bryant, North Fork, Spring River Ark.; and Bull and Swan for spring whitewater.
Later you can branch out to other nearby scenic floats that are suitable for overnight canoeing: the Buffalo National River, Arkansas; Jack’s Fork and Current National Ozark Riverway; Eleven Point Wild and Scenic National River through the Irish Wilderness; and, many others like the James, Gasconade, Niangua and so on.
Of course, spring is the most fun, and most dangerous, as water levels are at their highest levels. In the spring and winter, hypothermia is an ever-present danger. Try the winter season for floating with soaring eagles and clear viewing of bluffs, caves, and wildlife.
In the summer, as the days become longer, and the nights are warmer, the bugs come out in full force. And, there are crowds on the more popular rivers.
The low-water period of the year usually lasts from late August to Mid-October.
However, fall canoeing with the falling leaves and brilliant foliage is invigorating. You just have to put in farther downstream to avoid shallow and rocky shoals.
How Many Miles?
If in doubt go for less, not more miles. This is especially accurate if you bring children, newcomers, or you are fishing.
A full half-day trip, plus shuttle, could easily take up 4-6 miles with the appropriate swimming stops and fishing good-holes.
Overnight Camping & Equipment:
Ozark Rivers are custom made for overnight camping on bugless gravel bars. However, be alert for weather. A couple of changes in weather patterns and quickly rising water levels may occur, depending on past water flows.
Note of interest: No glass bottles allowed! And pack light. A lightly loaded canoe is much more maneuverable than a heavily loaded one.
Wildlife viewing is obviously better when foliage is mostly gone. I have seen elk in Arkansas on the Buffalo River, and the rear-end of a cinnamon-colored black bear on the Mulberry River in Arkansas. Eagles, egrets and great blue herons are also easier to locate in flight.
Taking the kids along:
Absolutely yes! First teach them to swim, and to not be afraid of moving water. And then, find them a good-fitting life jacket with all of the perks.
If you handle this process up-front, you will have an enthusiastic boating partner for life!
You’ve probably heard the phrase: “In the outdoors, leave nothing but footprints.” Especially, do not leave trash. In fact, if someone else has left camp litter at a site or river access, consider picking it up.
This kind of behavior will help the reputation of “rowdy” canoeists, and really all outdoorsmen and women.
Besides, this litter attracts a variety of wildlife, including the occasional black bear, and there’s no truer statement that applies to the outdoors than this: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Note: When I was an outfitter and guide years ago, I would have customers contact me, as they com-monly wanted to tackle 18-20 miles a day. My usual answer was: “why?” because you’ll be doing a whole lot of paddling and nothing else.
I once had a father and teenage son rent a boat from me and put in on Bryant Creek at Highway 14, at high water. Their plan was to take out at Hodgson Mill, at Sycamore. At 4:20 p.m., they called from the Mill stating that they planned on taking the bottom 17.5 miles of river and take out at Tecumseh. I was waiting for them after their 40-mile grand trip down Bryant when they rolled onto the beach at 8:15 p.m., just before dark. I know they probably slept soundly that night, after taking a couple of ibuprofen.
I once floated 41 miles on the Missouri River between Atchison and Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1978. My female partner and I arrived after dark, and after that, I basically was resigned to become a solo paddler.
In 1992, on day two of a Grand Canyon adventure, I flipped my cataraft at an 11’ drop in a newly-formed rapid in Marble Canyon named “24½-mile Rapid.” My boat flipped over on me, equipment and all, loaded for a 226 river mile trip. I apparently cracked or severely bruised a rib or two. I got to camp 42-miles later just after dark. And for the next two days, I was no longer a boat rower, I was a static passenger.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozark outdoors!