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Float #113: Niangua River

13 Oct

Moon Valley to Barclay

F113_Niangua

Niangua River
Dallas County, Missouri
Friday, October 3
14 Miles

There is almost nothing better than a good float trip during the week when everyone else is at work. On this particular trip we floated with our friend Jake, from Nashville and our friend Rob. This was our first kayak trip in over a month, as we hadn’t floated at all in September. A busy work schedule and chores around the house sucked up all our time. We don’t get over to the Niangua all that often and we had gotten a decent amount of rain the night before, so we decided to put in above Bennett Spring in the hopes there would be enough water for a decent float. We ran the shuttle and were on the water around 10:30. The sky was overcast and the temperature was chilly. The high temp for the day was sometime around 8am and it kept dropping all day long, making me wish that I had dressed a little warmer. The transition from summer kayaking to winter kayaking happens so quickly and I never manage to bring the correct gear the first couple of fall floats!

We put in at Moon Valley Conservation Access, conveniently located on Moon Valley road. DW had recently purchased a used whitewater boat and was testing it out for the first time. The water at the access was pretty shallow, though there was enough to float. The upper portion of this float all the way to Bennett Spring would have been great with about four more inches of water. As it was, we had lots of sections that were draggy, and we did have to get out and walk just a couple of times, but nothing too bad. DW had it the worst as the whitewater boat did not have enough surface area to glide over the shallows and he got stuck the most often.

Putting in at Moon Valley

Putting in at Moon Valley

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

The fall colors were just starting to show in the river valley and the leaves were beginning to drift down from the trees. The sun did manage to come out for about an hour, which was really nice. I just wished it would have lasted longer. Soon the clouds drifted back in and we got sprinkled on for a while. We saw a good amount of wildlife on this trip. A deer, a bunch of turkey, two juvenile Bald Eagles and two adult Bald Eagles. We also saw the normal assortment of herons and other birds. We only saw a couple of turtles, I guess it wasn’t a good day for sunning.

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

The portion of river above Bennett Spring had quite a few small boulder gardens and several tight turns that would have been a lot of fun in higher water. At this level they were more like sleeper gardens, as the overcast sky made it hard to see below the surface of the water and we all ran into a lot of rocks. We all got a lot of good ab exercise in trying to scoot over shallow areas and paddle around small boulders. Soon we reached Bennett Spring, which adds a lot of water to the river and it was smooth paddling from there.

Bennett Spring

Bennett Spring

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree

Hwy. 64 bridge

Hwy. 64 bridge

Bennett Conservation access

Bennett Conservation access

There were a fair number of trout fishermen at the mouth of the spring and as we paddled by we noticed two Bald Eagles watching from a Sycamore tree. They didn’t seem to mind all the humans. I think they were waiting for someone to catch a fish for them! We watched them as we floated past and they watched us right back, allowing me to get a couple of good photos. Right after the trout park is highway 64 bridge and then Bennett conservation access is on the left side of the river. After the conservation access we stopped on a gravel bar for lunch and to try to warm up a bit in the feeble sunlight. DW was pretty wet from the waist down, as he didn’t have a properly fitted skirt for his new boat.

Niangua River

DW testing his new whitewater boat

DW testing his new whitewater boat

Niangua River

The next six miles from Bennett to Barclay is a popular trip and we saw quite a few kayakers on the water. We didn’t come upon any obstacles on this section, but it is a pretty float. Toward the end there are a couple of steep hillsides with glades, which stand out quite a bit from the usual forest. Of course the sun came out again quite nicely as we finished the trip! We were finished around 4:30 and headed back to camp. The next day we did the short float from Bennett to Barclay again, as everyone was tired (still drunk) from the night before. It was much warmer and a good day for a casual float.

I also bought a new boat that weekend. A Wilderness Systems Tempest, which is a 17 foot long sea kayak. I hadn’t intended on buying a 17′ boat, but it was a really good deal. I took it out on the short float Saturday and was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned on such a small river. It took a little planning ahead when entering the turns, but it did well and I didn’t fall out! I look forward to taking it out on some bigger rivers and lakes in the future.

Critter Count: 1 Deer, Turkeys, Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles, 2 Juvenile Bald Eagles, 2 Adult Bald Eagles

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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