Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Kayaking the Spring River in NE Oklahoma

This weekend Dianne and I made a quick overnight trip to Twin Bridges State Park & Spring River Canoe Trails near Quapaw in extreme Northeastern Oklahoma.

Getting There is Half the Fun

I say 'extreme' not due to the attitudes of the locals, but to the number of other states we accidentally visited on the way (both Kansas and Missouri). Due to a slight miscalculation on the part of our navigator (me), we ended up driving into both Missouri AND Kansas. Did I mention I hate turnpikes? I think that they should be called turn-less-pikes because there is nowhere to turn off the darn things. That’s not a road; it’s a livestock-loading chute!

I suppose the first thing I should tell you about Spring River Canoe Trails State Park is that it is much harder to find than the other State Parks I have visited. Also, once we arrived at what we think was Spring River Canoe Trails State Park; we found no sign officially marking it as that particular Oklahoma State Park. In fact, the only signs we found marked the spot as merely "Park" and mentioned some history of the Nez Perce Indian tribe. Looking around on the net, I think we may have been at Bicentennial Park.

Oklahoma's Spring River

Spring River near Quapaw, OKEither way, we were definitely on the Spring River near Quapaw, Oklahoma and it was a lovely spot for paddling. The water is very clear and cold with banks surrounded by large limestone bluffs. After only a few miles of Spring River paddling, we saw more fish than in all of the other rivers of Oklahoma that we have been kayaking in. The river is quite low and full of stringy green moss. The flow is plenty low for paddling both downstream and upstream where the water is deep enough.

The water in the Spring River gets deeper as you near Twin Bridges State Park and the Spring River merges with the Neosho River to form Grand River. Twin Bridges State Park has deep, plentiful water even in this oh-so dry rainy season. In fact I've read that Neosho is an Indian word meaning "plentiful, clear water".

Sadly, we arrived to Twin Bridges Park too late to check in with the park office and get any info on the Spring River Canoe Trails. Although they are two separate parks, they share the same park office. I wish we had made it their earlier, we could have used some guidance. Looking around Twin Bridges, it was a lovely park but seemed to be filled to the brim with RV's and Ski boats. The water in the river was wide and the wind had stirred up large waves all over the surface.

We decided that Spring River Canoe Trails with its primitive tent camping spots and canoe launch might be more ‘our speed’. The park we finally found right before dark was indeed primitive tent camping. However, when we arrived they were several small celebrations underway and only a few real campers. It would appear that we had found the favored spot for teen drinking and mating games. Since it was too late to explore other options (there is another park on the Spring River in nearby Baxter Springs, Kansas) we pitched our new, larger, Wal-Mart tent and hoped things would settled down by morning.

A Fun Night in Quapaw

However, once the sun set people went a little crazy. Campers on three different sides of our tent built campfires! As if that were not appalling enough, considering the extremely high winds Saturday night, one of the fires was huge. I would have considered the campfire closest to our tent to be unsafe during a rain shower! One of the other burn ban scofflaws spent most of the evening trying to extract their pickup truck from a gravel bar that they had decided to drive onto. About 11pm a large 4WD truck showed up that was finally able to pull them out.

The next morning they asked to borrow my jack to change a flat on their now unstuck truck. Once they got it changed, they left the park with their campfire still burning brightly around 9:30am. Clearly prudence was not the central theme of the holiday weekend for these campers. Thankfully, we are not haters, so we didn't let the foolishness of those around us spoil our goodtime. Nonetheless, I cannot recommend the park as a place to take your family for an overnight stay unless your family picks up beer cans for a living. We were glad we had not brought Dylan with us on this trip.

After an excellent night's sleep, we woke up early and took down the tent. We have learned that packing up camp before the morning paddling tends to save us about a gallon of sweat and a lot of frustration. The price is: we don't get on the river as early. Actually, that price is pretty high for me. I love the way the morning light looks on the water and taking down this new tent is not a real rapid operation. The decamping operation left us with about four hours to paddle, take pictures and enjoy the river. Heck, we spent that much time on the road getting here! Honestly, it's gotten me shopping around for some kind of tent camper or van for the family.

Despite the short amount of time on the river, I really enjoyed the trip. The Spring River is very scenic canoe and kayak paddling water and we didn’t meet another boater the entire time on the river. In addition to our paddling, we drove around and explored some more of old Route 66 and ate at two cool cafes.

Oklahoma Cuisine

I heartily recommend the Thomas Restaurant in Pryor, Oklahoma and a great country cafe that I didn't catch the name of in Narcissa, Oklahoma. The Thomas Restaurant was established in 1952 and is a really cool kind of art deco looking cafe offering a pan-fried steak w/ mushroom gravy that can't be beat! The cafe in Narcissa rocked our world with their Chuckwagon Steak and Strawberry Shortcake. I would like to apologize to them now for the pungent way I smelled then. They were unlucky enough to catch us on our way home, but they never complained.

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It's me, T.J. said...

That’s not a road; it’s a livestock-loading chute!


I have been caught on a turnpike like that before.

It made me sooo mad too! I think I had to drive about an extra 125 miles because of it.


Anonymous said...

Well my husband and I have been kayaking the illinose river in tahlaquah for five years. I am surfing your site looking for a new place with easy floating and great scenery. We have to rent our kayaks. Sounds like Twin Bridges and Canoe Trails is not the place to go as older folk looking to camp and float! Looking for a great spot in AR or OK, maybe Missouri any suggestions?

Thomas said...

It was a heartbreaker to me when I heard Blue Hole Canoe was closing up. The Spring River from Baxter Springs, KS to Quapaw, OK is a wonderful float trip. Hopefully, a new outfitter will rise up and take on that area.

There are not a lot of places to rent kayaks in Oklahoma. Broken Bow, Oklahoma kayaking is not to be missed and OKC Kayak is now offering kayak rental in Oklahoma City.

Also, I hear K-River Campground is planning on outfitting some Mt. Fork River trips when the water on the Kiamichi is too low.

It is a bit of a drive for me, but you can't beat the Buffalo River in Arkansas. So lovely and carefully managed with loads of choices for outfitters. When the water is too low in Tahlequah, we often try the Elk River in Pineville, MO.