Float #101: Elk River

23 May

Big Bend to River Ranch

F101_Elk

Elk River
McDonald County, Missouri
Friday, May 16
8 Miles

This was an unseasonably cold weekend in May for us Missourians. That didn’t stop us from getting out on the water to float some new rivers. DW, our friend Jake from Nashville and I were in Southwest MO at the biannual MVOR camp event for cavers. Since we had never been this far in the corner of the state we hit some new float territory rather than go caving. The day was partly cloudy with highs in the 60s; pretty chilly for this late in May! The Elk River was about an hour drive from our campground, but it seemed like a good float trip with many vendors to run shuttle. We chose River Ranch Resort because they have an 8 mile float with a $10/boat (weekday rate) shuttle, which is pretty cheap.

We arrived at River Ranch and loaded our boats and gear into their school bus and they dropped us at their private access 8 miles upriver. The Elk River reminded me a lot of the upper/middle Meramec in size and water quality. The water is a pretty blue green and fairly clear. The river was pretty quick in spots and there was some fun, choppy water in several areas.

Jake & DW prepare boats at the put-in

Jake & DW prepare boats at the put-in

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This waterway is made up of several creeks that converge to form the Elk River. Big Sugar Creek is the uppermost portion of the waterway and is later joined by Little Sugar Creek to become the Elk. Indian Creek joins the stream further down and greatly increases the flow of water. All of these creeks are floatable, especially during the spring. It looks like a good place to explore if I’m ever down in the area again.

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Choppy water

Choppy water

The majority of this float was fairly remote with a few riverside cabins and campgrounds along the way. Once we reached the lower portion it became a bit more urban, but not overly so. It looks like the lower portion this river can become pretty crowded and perhaps a little rowdy on summer weekends. There were a lot of campgrounds and riverside bars and clubs when we reached the town of Noel at the end of our trip.

Five miles above Noel is a railroad bridge, followed closely by a low-water concrete bridge. As we passed under the railroad bridge a train made up of a string of engines rumbled overhead. The low-water bridge is a higher out of the water than most. A portage here would only be necessary in flood water.

Train crossing

Train crossing

The concrete bridge

The concrete bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout a mile above Noel the river slows down as you approach the dam to Shadow Lake. We took our boats out at River Ranch, which is the last access before the dam. There were some people on the clubhouse deck at River Ranch who were having a good time. I rescued some guy’s hat after his girlfriend threw it in the river, so I got to be someone’s hero for a minute. DW had found an inflatable novelty dice further upstream, which apparently belonged to someone who was partying on the deck. They were overjoyed to have their junk back and we were glad to not have it littered on the water!

Overall it was a good float and a pretty river. I would definitely do it again and explore territory farther upstream. The next day we headed East of our campground to float Flat Creek, which was very enjoyable as well.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Herons, Turtles, Soft Shell Turtles

Bonus Prizes: 1 kid’s minnow net

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