Float #28: Niangua River

27 Oct

Bennett Spring to Barclay

Niangua River
Dallas & Laclede Counties, Missouri
Friday, October 14
6.5 Miles

October is a conflicting month for float trips. The weather is usually gorgeous, with perfect temperatures and little rain. The trees are in their full glory of warm fall colors. However, the small amount of rain mean streams are usually low and portages are more common. The daylight fades quickly and leads to shorter floats and earlier start times. The temperatures are comfortable, but not warm enough to get in the water. There is also the constant reminder that winter is coming and the end of floating season is quickly approaching.

Since we tend to stay close to home during winter floats, its nice to branch out a bit during the fall to locations farther away. This time we chose the Niangua river in south-central Missouri. The Niangua is a popular trout fishing stream that flows into Lake of the Ozarks. Bennett Spring, one of Missouri’s four public trout parks is located on this river. We put in at Bennett Spring conservation access, which is across the highway from Bennett Spring State Park. DW and I have never floated the Niangua before and we aren’t very familiar with the area, so we asked the outfitter at NRO for advice on the best float in the area. They advised us to stick to conservation accesses or private campground accesses on rivers in this area. Apparently the locals and the law enforcement have nothing better to do than tow vehicles left at county road river accesses and they are always on the lookout for boaters trying to enjoy themselves. That left us with only one option close to our campground, a short float only 6 miles long from one conservation area to another. Short floats usually start late and greater quantities of beer are consumed to slow us down. Otherwise we would fly through a 6 miler in a couple hours and not really enjoy ourselves.

Niangua River, Bennett Spring Conservation Area

The boats line up at Bennett Spring conservation access

Niangua River

Looking downriver from the access

Niangua River

Niangua River

Charlie and DW converse on the river

This weekend was the fall portion of the biannual MVOR, a campground gathering of Midwestern cave enthusiasts. DW and I usually attend at least once a year and many of our boating friends come along. We find caver culture entertaining and are supportive of cave conservation efforts, but we usually only go spelunking in the winter. The other three seasons are for kayaking! We were camped at NRO (Niangua River Oasis) and the campground was halfway through this float, which provided a nice pit stop to waste time.

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

Charlie shows off his canoe standing skills

Niangua River

Alex makes a pit stop at NRO campground

When we arrived at camp on Thursday night we noticed our neighbor, Richard, had a canoe so he agreed to float with us the next day. Plus he had a truck that could haul multiple boats, so that’s always a bonus! One of the vendors at this MVOR was River Jim, a Perception kayak dealer. He brought along 50 close-out kayaks from last year. I think he sold 20 of them in the first day! After stopping at the campground on our float we all met back up at the river bank after a half hour or so. We kept waiting for Richard and he never showed up. DW went to look for him and found him carrying a brand new kayak down to the river. He had bought a new boat halfway through the trip! On how many float trips can you do that?

Niangua River

Richard tries out his new blue Perception kayak

Niangua River

Niangua River

A gorgeous fall day on the river

Since Richard had never owned a kayak before we all excitedly gave him advice on how to maneuver the boat. I had a few beers in me and was feeling mischievous. I told him the first thing to learn was finding the edge of his boat (that magical line that divides leaning from flipping). Every kayak is different and the faster you learn it the less you flip. I showed him how to lean over until you feel the edge. He promptly flipped over and we all had a good laugh at his expense. He flipped a couple more times toward the end of the float, but I think he enjoyed it all the same.

As the sun began its descent we reached a high, glade covered hill that marked our takeout. The conservation access is on the left side of the river. We loaded up our gear and headed back to camp for dinner and drinks around the campfire. We enjoyed the rest of our weekend and I managed to leave on Sunday without purchasing a new kayak!

Niangua River

Ferns drape a small bluff

Niangua River

A tall glade right before the take out

Critter Count: Turtles, Ducks, Blue Herons

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