Floating the Black River

Many of you have read my post about my First Scary Float Trip https://howtodotheozarks.com/2018/03/03/first-scary-float-trip/. Over the past weekend, I went floating with my two youngest children, Cole (25) and Darby (21), in a 4-man raft on the Black River. Had I floated this way on that first float trip, I would have fallen even more deeply in love with floating than I already am.

Floating, especially on the weekend, is not for everyone. There are a lot of people partying on the river on the weekends, celebrating time off from work, turning up the radio and generally having a good time. Depending on your WHY for floating, you may want to choose a weekday for your next float or maybe even your very first river adventure. I try to cover all genres of people in this blog, but I’m mainly targeting the intrepid woman looking for new adventures to have with the family. Depending on your tolerance for revelry and colorful language, floating on the weekend on ANY Ozarks river may not be for you.

Parks Bluff Campground had many choices for floating the Black River

Shenanigans aside, it was a great float and just under 5 hours from Parks Bluff Campground, https://www.parksbluff.com/ to their takeout spot. Parks Bluff is located just inside the Lesterville city limits in Reynolds county. The staff at Parks Bluff made the rental super easy as we were also camping there (more on that in a later post or possibly a podcast!!!), were super friendly and helpful when down at the river getting everyone loaded onto their craft. When thinking about floating, especially your first time, plan to be there early. Most outfits have a time that they do NOT rent past due to the time the float takes. I know of one friend who was stranded on the river at night due to the fact that the outfit transported them to the long float when they should have stopped at the short float. Being stranded on a river at night with no supplies is NOT fun so plan carefully and plan to get out on the Black River before 11 a.m.

Kayaks are maneuverable and easy to handle on most Ozark rivers

Clear water, ample fishing opportunities (you cannot fish from most rafts), reasonable fees for the raft rental, all made for a very pleasurable trip. Once we had paddled past the partiers, the river became quiet and filled with moments of deep reflection and camaraderie between the three of us. Two-foot fish swam lazily beneath us, just begging for a jig to lure them in. The banks were crowded with trees all the way up to the river but there were only a few snags actually in the water to impede our progress. Shallow water was our biggest hold up as we are currently experiencing a drought in SW Missouri and other parts of the Ozarks. We did have to jump out and slide the raft over a few spots.

My children did most of the work this trip, and I was able to sit in the middle of the raft and enjoy the sun and just relax. I do not drink alcohol on the river as when out on the water you never know what will happen around the next bend, so my adrenaline generally burns through anything I drink and want my wits about me. This is a personal preference, my children can and did drink margaritas and beer while floating. You can rent cooler tubes to pull behind your craft to keep your beverages ice cold.

This float was just what I needed and I am looking forward to bringing you the next float adventure with JRO in September. I’m even contemplating a winter float with Cole, just to say I did it! Get out and do something you’ve never done before, you won’t regret it!

Boating at Stockton Lake Missouri

Stockton Lake Marina-Stockton State Park Missouri

For Father’s Day this year I really wanted to take my husband, Tim, out onto the lake and have him teach our son Cole and I how to handle a boat, especially by the dock.  He emphatically said “Not on a holiday weekend”, which was probably smart though disappointing.  So, on a random weekday, we set out to Stockton Lake Marina at the state park and rented a pontoon boat with a 90 horsepower engine.

Joey, one of the marina workers, handled all my manic questions beautifully and professionally.  He assured me that there was a bimini on the boat (it’s been 98-102 in Missouri lately) and the rental would cost $X amount and no more.  Previously, boat rentals on most lakes in SW Missouri may have had a hefty deposit against your debit/credit card until their boat was returned in good condition.  This was not the case for this rental, but I’m sure that could change at any time.  This extra deposit makes the idea of a 4 hour rental a little daunting.

We took some of the family on this trip including Cole, Darby and her boyfriend Tristan.  The 3 kids were born after 1984, which is important as anyone born before that date is grandfathered in to escape the need for a boating “license”.  I suppose the need for a boating license came about with the increased sales of boats to people who had no idea what “right of way” means out on the water where there are no marked lanes and your boat has no brakes (though my foot always looks for it).  The Missouri State Highway Patrol takes care of issuing this license and you can find more information here: https://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/WaterPatrol/BoatingLaws_Education/boaterEduLawFAQ.html

20′ 90 Horsepower Pontoon Boat

First off, I will tell you that I didn’t hit anything too hard with the bow or stern of the boat!  Second, I will tell you that Tim is a terrible boating instructor. We love watching the Broncos Guru YouTube channel every Sunday for Boneheaded Boaters of the Week!  It is a great way to vicariously live the boating life and learn what not to do when you are out on the water or trying to dock your boat.  One of his consistent pieces of advice when near the ramp or the dock is never go faster than you’re willing to hit something!  This is great advice for newbie boaters.  Check him out if you are thinking about boating as a new hobby or just want a laugh.  Broncos Guru is a much better boating instructor than my husband!

 I managed to back the boat out of the marina slip and make it through the breakwater, (which is larger than it looks from a distance) without any mishaps and with Tim constantly telling me not to over steer.  Boats have delayed reaction, it’s not a car with 4 tires AND the currents/wind are pushing you as well-steering is definitely a skill.

Stockton is famous for sailing in this area and is certainly a windy lake.  You have to find out of the way, calm inlets to anchor your vessel and jump into the water because even with an anchor, the wind will just push your boat away and you will have to swim to chase it down.  We tooled around the lake looking for spots to swim, enjoying the wind and the company for about 3 hours, eating the picnic lunch I had packed and taking turns driving the boat.  As it was the middle of the week, Tim was correct and there were very few boaters out on the water, which made learning how to come up to plane, how to find inlets and anchor much easier than on a weekend.  Joey had given us a map of the entire lake which helped in finding out of the way, deep areas to cool off and keep the pontoon boat safe from harm.  The ability to trim (lift and lower) the outboard engine is disabled on the rental boats from the marina as the propellers were being damaged by new boaters who didn’t understand how or when to trim the engine for safe anchoring.

Of course, bringing the boat back into the marina did not happen without bumping the dock once or maybe twice-who’s counting?  Joey was on the dock, ready to grab the lines, pull us in and tie us off.   He filled the tank while telling us about the otters that play under the dock interfering with the electronic connection between the pump and the register inside the marina store.  Of course, the fuel is in addition to the rental fee.

View from the dock of the marina.

 My advice for this type of adventure is to do some research first, watch a few videos and just take the boating class online.  If you know a boat person, entice them to come along on your first trip out to give advice and instruction.  I would have never attempted this alone.  Water of any type deserves respect and should be treated carefully.  Storms can blow up unexpectedly, engines can fail, the current can move your boat quicker than you believed possible.

In the end, learning to handle a boat is a lot like learning to drive a car.  You just have to dive in, after learning the rules, and do it.  The currents change, sandbars pop up, limited rain or flooding changes the water scape and you need to pay attention.   Now that I have a better understanding of boating, I would be comfortable going with Cole or Darby, though I would still rather entice the family boating expert out with me-terrible instructor or not.

Kayaking Springfield Lake

Springfield Lake Boathouse

Kayaking has become one of my favorite outdoor activities over the years and I always make plans to do more of it whenever possible.  Last summer I was able to get in a session of stand-up paddle boarding with ShowMe SUP (https://howtodotheozarks.com/2021/09/12/paddle-boarding-the-finley-river-ozark-mo/) and I was also able to kayak Springfield Lake with my youngest son, Cole.  Unfortunately, that was all I was able to get in last season, due to working full time and other obstacles like not having my own vehicle for 5 months or so.

So, this year I am making plans to get out in a kayak more often!!!  I am making a promise to myself to use my days off in the middle of the week to do some serious searching of awesome kayaking experiences and letting you know how they went!  For now I will share my last kayaking trip on Springfield Lake.

Small waterfall from runoff

The thing I love about kayaking on a lake is that you are bound in and the currents running under most lakes are less dangerous than on rivers.  I have been on some hairy, scary float trips (https://howtodotheozarks.com/2018/03/03/first-scary-float-trip/) that had my adrenaline burning through any alcohol I may have consumed, so now I don’t even bother having a drink while floating on the rivers anymore.  It’s just not worth it.  In my opinion lakes are also great learning experiences for new small craft boaters to learn how to maneuver their craft whether it’s a canoe, kayak or paddleboard.  Lakes are also a great opportunity to work on boating skills with a partner if you have a dual seat craft before having to rely on each other in a crisis elsewhere.

Cole and I met up at Lake Springfield Boat House located at 5324 S. Kissick Ave Springfield MO on a warm September day 2021.  https://parkboard.org/255/Lake-Springfield-Park-and-Boathouse?loxi_pathname=%2Flist%2Ffuture%2F1)   I made sure to bring plenty of water for this trip as well as snacks and sunscreen.  When you’re paddling and getting wet from splashing, deliberately or accidentally, you can easily forget the sun beating down on your exposed legs and feet.  Lake Springfield Boat House has reasonable prices for single and dual craft and provides everything you need to get out on the water safely including help shoving off.

Leaving the boathouse and heading north then east toward the Missouri Veterans Cemetery we passed bluffs, herons, and picturesque homes perched over the lake, some with their own dock access.  We squeezed into some inlets that were muddy and shallow to get a closer look at some flower or fauna that attracted our interest, both of us in single kayaks.  We passed fishermen angling from the banks and from their own kayaks along the way.  I think what I love most about kayaking is the quiet at certain points of traveling on the water and being able to stop along the way without worrying about a propeller or the depth of the water.

Heron are plentiful on Lake Springfield

Lake Springfield Boathouse opens April 15 and operates through October 15, weather permitting.  For about 2 hours for $25, kayaking is a great shoulder workout and an opportunity to spend time with people you love doing something different and sometimes challenging.  I will always jump at the chance to get out into nature with family or alone whenever possible (unless it’s really awful weather-wise).  Cole and I visited Galloway Grill after our lake trip, which gave us even more time to talk and support a local eatery.  I highly recommend them, especially for lunch.  So get down to Springfield Lake Boat House when the weather warms up and have some fun on Springfield Lake.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Paddle Boarding the Finley River Ozark MO

So paddle boarding is something I would have never thought to attempt given my graceless exits from kayaks and canoes. Standing and mounting or dismounting a floating device is always a challenge for this girl.  But, Darby wanted to paddle board back in June for her birthday and Pomme de Terre, where we had her party, was busy enough to buck me out of a kayak, let alone off a paddle board.  Then an intern at work mentioned Show Me SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding) out of Ozark and the great time he had floating with TJ and company in July.  So, I figured I’d give it a try and take Darby out for a sunset paddle this last Tuesday.

TJ, the owner of Show Me SUP, met up with us at the small boat dock in the Finley River Park in Ozark, MO right off Jackson Street.  From Springfield it’s only a 30 minute drive, so not bad.  In August, 6:00 p.m. is still pretty early and it was warm-about 94 degrees. He gave us a general overview of paddle boarding and what to expect, how long the trip would take and what we might encounter.  I’m generally not an anxious person and I’m a pretty strong swimmer so when the physical reality of what I was about to attempt rolled around and I was in the water getting ready to actually mount a paddle board, I was feeling pretty good….

Being first timers and less lean than other people, TJ gave Darby and I bigger paddle boards. They were wider and longer than the ones used by our more experienced cohorts who were joining us for their Tuesday date night.  On my knees, floating on the water, my heart finally pounding in my throat-TJ began to give me instructions on how to bring my dominant right leg up into more of a half kneel with the goal being to rise up on two feet while using the paddle as a “cane” so to speak.  I couldn’t do it.  My leg was tired from working all day and I had to adjust the paddle and lay it down to get that darn knee up into position with my foot next to the handle in the very center of the board.  Then came the even harder task of drawing the other knee and foot up and into a squatting position before finally coming up to stand with quaking knees and trembling thighs using the paddle for support all the way. I was very glad I had taken my blood pressure medicine that day as my adrenaline spiked into overload and I stood tall on the paddleboard (knees slightly bent) looking out over the river.  TJ commented that it’s better to look forward than down at your board as he left me to gain my composure while paddling over and guiding Darby to her feet.  In the end, we gained our feet, didn’t fall and began to feel more comfortable about actually using the paddle as more than a support for our quivering legs.

Then came the fun part; paddling up the Finley while standing and balancing on the paddle board.  TJ guided us up river to a little gravel bar where we could dismount and give our feet a break.  TJ mentioned that though he recommends wearing river shoes on the Finley, your feet will actually feel better if you can manage to paddle board barefoot.  Darby was able to take off her shoes and she much preferred it.  The small muscles of bare feet respond better to the balancing act they are attempting.  As tired as my feet and legs were, I spent the rest of the trip either on my knees or on my rear, paddling like I would a canoe.  I could definitely see that had I come into this in the morning fresh without 10,000+ steps under my belt already I would have been able to stand much longer.  Despite not standing for more than 20 minutes or so, I was extremely proud of the fact that I had actually done it; stood up and learned to paddleboard on a calm river.

The whole experience took about 2 hours and 15 minutes, watching wildlife and paddling around obstacles just as you would in a kayak or canoe.  Obviously, the chance to fall in and get wet is much higher during this activity, but neither Darby nor I fell off our boards which was a definite plus in my book.  TJ was a great teacher, calm and professional though I will also say that I am a teachable person as is Darby.  Going into this experience knowing you may get wet, expecting the unexpected and staying flexible (both mind and body) is the best way to have a great time.  So get out there folks and see what Show Me SUP has to offer.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

First (Scary) Float Trip

Ritter Springs Park, Springfield MO

Ritter Springs Park, Springfield MO

Fellow's Lake Springfield MO

Fellow’s Lake Springfield MO

Bluff overlooking Shoal Creek in Joplin MO

Bluff on hiking trail above Shoal Creek, Joplin MO

Spring is coming, so I thought I would share my memories of my first float trip back in 2013 with my readers.  It was quite the exciting day and I felt like I had come through this trial by water with a greater appreciation for the power of water and the importance of preparing for any circumstance.  Pictures provided are scenery taken elsewhere as I did not take a camera with me on this first float.

In May 2013,  I was finally able to take my very first all day float trip down the Niangua River.  Of course, being involved with Scouting over the years, I know which way a canoe or kayak faces, the rudiments of how to steer, and basic first aid.  I had paddled around lakes and slow moving streams for a few hours, but never on a river swollen with runoff and full of obstacles.

As you may remember the Midwest had been inundated with rainfall that spring.  Although we chose to float at least a week after the last downpour, the river was running high and had accumulated debris from previous weeks.  Uprooted trees and boulders that the current had placed in the middle of the river made my first float trip one I will never forget.

The Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, my son Cole, two of his high school friends and me headed out to Niangua River Oasis (http://www.nrocanoe.com/) on the Niangua.  The trip only took an hour from Springfield’s north side straight up Hwy 65 to Louisburg and right on Hwy 64 to NRO.  They had marked the highways well with signs making it easy to navigate directly to their door.

NRO is a good size operation run by some helpful people.  They offer 6 man rafts, canoes, sit in kayaks, and sit on kayaks.  We paid $80 for two canoes for our all day excursion.  Updated prices for 2018 are $45 a canoe for 2 people.  We arrived at about 9:30 a.m. and had to be out of the water by 7:00 p.m.  Not a bad price.  They have two floats, one a 7 miler and the other 14.  The lady behind the counter mentioned that the river was running so well that people were disappointed in the 7 mile trip because it went too fast.  We had already decided on the 14 miler.

After loading our gear onto a short school bus, we were driven to the drop off zone and pushed off.  It was about 10:00 a.m.  I insisted everyone wear their life jacket, not just have it available.  A woman kayaking on Table Rock Lake had died the week before after being caught under some tree roots, even with a life vest.  When we made our stops along the way I told the kids they could take them off as long as they stayed out of the current.

The first part of the float was peaceful and gave us all a chance to remember our rusty canoeing skills.  Jamie, one of the kids, had never been in a canoe so it took a little while for her to work out what was expected.  The trip was definitely scenic and we had the river to ourselves for pretty much the whole trip.  If we encountered 30 different people that day I would have been surprised.

Cole had packed his gear in a bucket with a tight fitting lid, which turned out to be a Godsend.  We had a cooler full of food, a couple of backpacks, water and one fishing pole.  We also had a fire starting kit and first aid equipment along with bug spray and sunblock.  Cole had rope as well, which also turned out to be useful as the day went on.

Uprooted trees can be a big problem on a float trip.  I had never had any experience with them paddling around on lakes, so didn’t realize how dangerous they were.  Our first and scariest episode involved an uprooted tree standing about 8-10 feet out of the water, blocking part of the river and causing a backwash.  Trent, my partner for the morning, and I chose the wrong route and ended up swamping our canoe.  We almost lost our gear, but I managed to grab the backpack in time and the cooler floated into the eddy created by the backwash of the current.  We ended up hanging onto the roots of the tree for dear life while standing on our swamped canoe.  I managed to control my panic (I was the adult after all) and finally started backing up into the eddy which immediately relieved the pressure of the current on my body.  Trent followed me, backing up slowly and we stood in thigh high water trying to allow our adrenaline to diminish while deciding what to do about the invisible canoe being pushed into the uprooted tree by the incredible weight of the current.

I have grown up around water, first the ocean, then the Great Lakes.  Ocean waves and even waves on Lake Michigan eventually go back out allowing you to recover from the force of the water.  On a river, that water has only one way to go and it doesn’t give you a break. Ever.  It was an eye opening experience for me and one I will not soon forget.  Cole worked his way downstream and then upstream to us and using his trusty rope, Trent’s muscles and my guidance, we managed to pull the metal canoe out of the water.  The bucket came in handy for bailing and a fellow floater came to our rescue as well.

Back on track after about 45 minutes we continued our float, stopping occasionally to swim and eat and rest.  The river wasn’t running extremely fast in most spots, just in a few where debris had created rougher water.  Occasionally we noticed boulders in the middle of the river, but tree trunks were everywhere forcing us to pay attention and make sure we threaded through them.

Our second “incident” took place around a bend and was again created by an uprooted tree.  We had switched partners and this time Trent and Jamie took the lead only to swamp their canoe because they couldn’t paddle hard enough to keep out of the danger zone.  Seeing this, Cole and I jumped out of our canoe and portaged it to safety before again grabbing our handy rope and bucket.  While we were bailing, three more canoes came into contact with the tree, one other swamping as well.  These folks were not wearing their PFD’s and I pointed that out to my charges. One girl went under for longer than we liked and three of us began to move in to assist her to break free of the current and the tree she was pinned against.  Again, our fellow floater and his friend helped everyone bring their canoes to safety and continue downstream.  You just never know what’s going to happen when you’re out in an isolated area relying only on experience and the kindness of strangers.

This last incident forced us to think about the next one.  The four of us decided we would rather portage around such obstacles until we were more comfortable with our skills and on the last leg of the journey, we only encountered one more that gave us pause.  We beached our canoes and checked out the best way to handle the area.  Deciding on a likely course, we adjusted our canoes and traveled onward without incident.

The float was beautiful and took 7 hours, which surprised me.  I am usually good at telling time by the sun, but was about 2 hours off that day.  There were plenty of birds and wildlife to look at, tons of turtles sunbathing on rocks, grateful for a chance to escape the rain and warm up.  Sometimes it seemed that we were the only people on the river, it was so peaceful and quiet.  I prayed for our benefactor and his friend several times that day, I thanked God he was there and so willing to help.  Apparently, he was right where he was supposed to be.  I, for one, will never take another float trip without being a little more prepared.

Lake Taneycomo, Branson MO

Flooded Lake Taneycomo, Branson MO

Kayaking Fellows Lake

***Disclaimer  This article is in no way intended to be taken for instruction on how to kayak or canoe in the Ozark region.  Before beginning any kayaking or canoeing, the author took a Red Cross approved course in Small Craft Safety, first aid, CPR and had many years of swimming experience.  Always wear your life vest.  Never kayak or canoe alone.*****

Canoeing and kayaking, floating-in other words-is a great Ozark pastime.  Floating here can be beautiful in any season as well as dangerous.  Spring rains can mean fast running water, changed watercourses, debris such as downed trees, and displaced wildlife such as snakes, poisonous and non-poisonous. When floating in winter, you may likely be the only person on the water enjoying the beauty and stillness the rivers have to offer.  You will also be far from help if anything goes wrong, your canoe or kayak overturns, or you have a medical emergency.  Cell phone service on the rivers is sketchy at best if you don’t manage to get your phone wet at some point during your float.

Jack’s Fork, the North Fork, the Current, Niangua River, Hemmed In Hollow in Arkansas-there are plenty of great floats to be had in the region.  My goal with this  article is to guide you to one of the great places to learn how to canoe and kayak before you take on that float trip with all your friends.  Fellow’s Lake, a small fishing lake north of Springfield, MO off of Hwy 65, is a perfect spot to practice your kayaking moves, learn how your watercraft responds to other motorized boats, and is small enough and usually populated enough to guarantee help is nearby if needed.  A Corp of Engineers lake, Fellows is pretty, well kept, and comes complete with marina, fishing dock, hiking trails and multiple spots to park and enjoy the views of the lake.  One unfortunate caveat is that there is no swimming allowed in this particular lake.  Of course, if you’re kayaking or canoeing, you can beg your friends to splash you until you cool down or you can just dip your hat into the water and let it run down your back like I did.

The marina will outfit you with one of three options: sit upon kayak, sit in kayak or a canoe.  Kayaking is a solo sport, there is no one to help if and when you get tired.  Canoeing has challenges all its own, usually in how well someone knows how to steer which is handled from the back of the craft.  Steering a canoe is tricky and takes practice to become proficient, which is why learning in the relative safety of a small lake is a good idea.  Taking a canoe out on a fast running river with no experience (which happened to me 3 years ago) is a recipe for disaster, and is a story for another day.  Make sure you and your friends know what kayak or canoe option you want before you go.

I, personally, have no preference for sit upon or sit in kayaks.  Since I was carrying more gear with me on this kayaking adventure, I chose a sit in kayak as there seems to be more storage space by my feet than with a sit upon. Due to my goals of taking pictures for this article, having enough water to last me in the July heat, and carrying my phone and car keys-the sit in was a good choice.  My daughter, Em and I checked in at the marina, paid our deposit and collected our life vests and paddles.  A staff member helps you as you slip into and out of your kayak or canoe so no worries there, though leaving the kayak at the end of the trip made me feel as graceful as a walrus on the beach.

The best part of a float, even this type where you are almost constantly paddling, is the wildlife to be seen on the edges of the lake, in the trees and flying overhead.  Sunbaked turtles, Blue Herons, largemouth bass and sunfish all turn up consistently and close enough to almost touch.  We paddled around the east side of the lake, turning into the small tucked in cove areas to check out the wildlife and to ask the fishermen if they’d had any luck.  Even though it was a weekday, the lake was busy with small motorized craft and people fishing on the accessible ADA fishing dock.

We were planning on a two hour session, but ran out of drinking water after only an hour due to the heat.  This was unexpected as I had brought quite a bit of water and so had Em.  Being on a lake, you have wind to help you but no real current.  Constant paddling gets you where you want to go and that works up thirst and an appetite.  We pulled into the marina after an hour, my daughter gracefully standing up in her kayak right into the waiting hands of our helpful staff  member while I flopped out of my kayak onto the deck, knowing if I tried standing up, I’d soon be ticketed for swimming in a no swim zone.

It was a fun trip, though short.  I did get slightly sunburned even with spray on sunscreen, so make sure to take some with you to reapply frequently.  Sunlight on an open lake hits from all sides so it’s not unusual to get burned even under your nose.  Wear a hat!  I got to spend time with Em, get some good pictures, and get a good workout.  A few things to remember before any water adventure:  be prepared, take enough water, make sure everyone in your party knows how to swim, or is wearing a life vest and most of all have fun.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!