Float #9: Jacks Fork River

24 Jun

Bay Creek to Eminence

jacks fork river map

Jacks Fork River
Shannon  County, Missouri
Saturday, June 18
12 Miles

The Jacks Fork is one of the beautiful streams in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Crystal clear waters, towering bluffs and abundant wildlife are all major draws to this river. It’s been a few years since I’ve floated the Jacks. There always seem to be wilder, more remote rivers calling my attention when I am going to drive multiple hours from home. After doing a bunch of close-to-home floats I was ready to drive for a weekend of camping and floating. We organized the trip weeks ahead of time, planning to camp at Bay Creek, a National Forest campground about halfway down the river. We originally wanted to float the upper part of the river, but the water was too low, even for kayaks. So we revised our plan and floated down from Bay Creek for two days.

We arrived at the campground at 6pm Friday night. It’s a good thing we didn’t arrive any later because the campground was almost full. There was only one spot left; the smallest one. We had 9 people in our group throughout the weekend so camping was tight, but we managed. Bay Creek only has 10 sites, all well equipped with fire rings, grills and picnic tables. Half of them are in a meadow right at the river access. The rest of the sites are across a small creek ford and very spread out along a rough gravel road that goes a few miles along the river. It was almost a mile from our site to the only toilet!

It was very humid and warm on Friday night, so we didn’t build a fire, we just hung out in a circle around a citronella candle. Turns out it’s a perfect substitute for a campfire! After dinner and a few beers we hit the tents to get some sleep for tomorrow’s float. About an hour before dawn I was awakened by some rustling outside the tent. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew some animal was messing around in our site. I sent DW out to investigate. I think he was still asleep because he tried to exit the tent through the window and I had to direct him to the door. Eventually he stumbled out to discover some raccoons had broken into our food container and chowed down a bag of Red Hot Riplets (very spicy bbq chips). Joke’s on them because I bet they had asses of fire the next day! DW chased them off a secured the campsite. Right at dawn I heard coyotes howling and yipping just over the ridge. They were very loud, but it only lasted a few seconds. Just after that it started to rain. There was plenty of thunder, but it never rained too hard. It kept up throughout the early morning, so we didn’t get as early of a start as we had planned. About 9am the birds started singing, so I took that as a sign the rain was over and we could get our day started.

bay creek jack forks river

Bluff just above Bay Creek

DW, Charlie and our friend Gregg ran the shuttle down to Eminence while Alex and I prepped the float gear and food for the day. Once they returned we put the kayaks in the water just upstream from our campsite, which was a little over a mile upriver from the Bay Creek access. A few minutes after we put in we came across a rope swing and had to take a swim break. Down at the access we met up with Gregg’s brother, his 11-year-old nephew and his nephew’s friend. They were floating in a 12 ft. whitewater canoe and a 15 ft. canoe. They probably had to do a little more scraping than the kayaks, but it wasn’t too bad. The day was pretty warm, but the sun didn’t come out until after noon.

jacks for river bluff

Bluff down from Bay Creek

jacks fork river

Alex kayaks around the bend

jacks fork river

Swimming stop

We had lots of fun watching the young boys maneuver their canoe around the fast bends. The adults were yelling instructions while the boys simultaneously yelled “I got it. I know how to do this!” Every overhanging tree, bluff and large rock prompted a chorus of “Can we jump off that? Dad lets stop and jump.” Thus we made several swimming stops, which was good for a hot and sunny day.

The halfway point of our trip was Alley Spring, a beautiful and historic spring with a large campground, picnic area and historic mill. It’s well worth a stop if you have never been before. We’ve visited countless times already and when we arrived it was already pushing past 4pm so we only made a brief stop to swim. As soon as we got to Alley we saw large crowds swimming next to the campground, where there is a popular jumping rock. We stopped here for a while as everyone took their turn on the rock. I never jump off things due to a fear of heights that just can’t be reckoned with, but I enjoy watching others have fun. Due to the low water, all the outfitters were putting their customers in at Alley Spring. So the first half of our trip had been exceptionally pleasant with only private boats, fewer people and almost no trash to pick up. After Alley there still weren’t many people on the river as it was late in the afternoon and most of the crowds were already off the river. However there was significantly more trash to pick up, mostly beer cans. Thus we concluded that as a group, boat renters must be awful litterbugs and Bud Light is the choice drink of assholes. We must have picked up at least a 24-pack of Bud Light cans in the last 6 miles of the trip.

jacks fork river

DW and Charlie

jacks fork alley spring

The jumping rock at Alley Spring

baby turtle jacks fork river

Baby turtle

The remainder of the trip included several more swimming stops, many turtles and a northern water snake sunning itself on a rock. After Alley Spring enters the river the water temperature is much colder. The last two miles of the trip are more populated with houses as you near Eminence and we didn’t see as much wildlife. We finally pulled off the river at 8pm. There was still plenty of light with the summer solstice only a couple of days away. We loaded 4 of the kayaks on our Subaru and headed back to Bay Creek so the rest of the crew could run shuttle for the canoes. By the time they got back it was dark and we worked on cooking dinner and building a small fire. No critters invaded camp that night and we all slept peacefully.

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Green Herons, Turtles, Northern Water Snake

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