Whitewater

Paddlers in Missouri are likely familiar with the calm, gravel-bottom streams that flow throughout the state providing a relaxing day on the water. However, the St. Francis river stands alone as the only river with enough whitewater action to fulfill your extreme adventure curiosities.

Premiere Whitewater in Missouri

The whitewater paddling sections of the St. Francis River in the Mark Twain National Forest account for nearly 80% of the whitewater opportunity in Missouri. The river is the main drainage from the St. Francois Mountains, the highest part of the Ozark Plateau, and the riverbed consists of granite and interspersed shut-ins. These combine to create exciting whitewater paddling opportunities in the heart of Missouri, separated into two parts, the Upper St. Francis and Lower St. Francis.

The Upper St. Francis

Stretching for 3.2 miles, the Upper St. Francis River is an easier paddle with less intense rapids and large, calm pools between rapids, making it a favorite for beginner and intermediate paddlers. There are three main rapids along this section.

The first is Entrance Rapid which sends paddlers over a series of three ledges which are steepest river right. Thick willows line both sides of the river bank, so paddlers should be aware of roots and limbs in the water. Next, drop into Kitten’s Crossing, a series of three drops that end with a large surfing wave. The final rapid is Land of Oz which delights paddlers with two back-to-back surfing waves. But beware, debris can collect in the drop. Following these three rapids is a series of pools, then the river turns right just before the take-out at the Fisherman’s Access in Millstream Gardens Conservation Area.

The put-in for the Upper St. Francis is at the intersection of Highway 72 and the river, 2 miles west of the Millstream Gardens turn. Use the Roselle Fisherman’s Access Entrance, located southwest of the bridge. The take-out for the upper section and put-in for the lower section is in Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. Take Highway D to Highway 72 and turn left. Go 4 miles on Highway 72 and turn left at the sign for Millstream Gardens. After about 1 mile, turn left and go 0.5 miles to the parking area and pavilion that overlooks the Tiemann Shut-in section.

The Lower St. Francis

The Lower St. Francis is slightly shorter, but features the largest, most thrilling rapids in the state. The put-in for this section is at Tiemann Shut-Ins at the Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. Once paddlers hit the water, they will drop nearly 60 ft per mile through Big Drop, Cat’s Paw, Double Drop, and Rickety-Rack. Along the way, there are plenty of pools and waves for paddlers to play in.

Downstream of Rickety-Rack there is a large bluff on the right which signals the mouth of Mud Creek, a great spot for a short rest or a hike up the creek. Roughly a mile later, Turkey Creek enters on the left at the Turkey Creek picnic area in the Silver Mine Recreation Area. Then, the river makes a right bend and splits around a gravel bar that offers rapids on both sides along with a few thick areas of willow.

This leads to the pool just above the Silver Mines Dam. A breach to the left of the dam creates a route that can be run at medium to low flows. However, water levels over 6ft create dangerous conditions as a large hole forms in the run. When water levels are over 8ft, and the dam is completely covered, the route is extremely hazardous and best viewed from the portage on the right. Always check river conditions and scout your runs before attempting them.

To get to the take-out from Fredericktown, go west on Highway 72 for 4.5 miles past the Highway 67 intersection and turn left on Highway D. After 0.5 miles, turn right at the bottom of the hill at the road marked by the USFS camping sign.

Whitewater Events

Every spring, the Missouri Whitewater Association puts on two events. The slalom competition takes place on the Lower St. Francis starting at Millstream Gardens. The beginner/intermediate whitewater clinic takes paddlers through class II and III rapids while teaching them valuable river reading, playing and safety information. Spectators can view all events from the trail that runs the length of the white water section river left.

Updates, Guides, and Helpful Hints to Exploring the Forest

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