This weekend, Oklahoma was blessed with lower than normal temps under clear, sunny skies. That kind of weather is not to be ignored! Dianne and I decided to make a day trip to the Ozarks to kayak some clear, cold moving water.
For day trips, Dianne and I keep it to four hours away or less. Eight hours of total driving in a single day should be plenty for any non-professional driver. Typically, this means the Lower Mt. Fork River in Broken Bow, but the levels on it have really been fluctuating this year. We decided to visit an old friend, the Elk River in Missouri for some late summer kayaking fun. We were NOT disappointed.
Unlike the lower Mt. Fork River, the Elk River from Pineville MO to Noel, MO drops gently but consistently. The water moves faster over the shallower areas making paddle-work nearly optional. This makes it popular with rafter during Summer Vacation. Hitting the Elk River on this Sunday morning in August, we were surprised to see more canoes than kayaks or rafts. Dianne enjoyed the river much more with the lighter traffic and more family friendly atmosphere. The eight hours of driving...not so much. Next time, we might seek lodging in Jane, MO.
There are loads of outfitters on the Elk River in Missouri and the river flow is so consistent that folks float it all year long. Visit the Elk River on a Saturday during summer vacation to see hundreds of other crafts on the water. From church group outings to bachelor parties everyone is out enjoying the summer on the Elk River.
We put-in at Big Elk Camp & Canoe, right off Highway 71. They charged us $30 to shuttle us and our boats back to our truck from the Shady Beach Campground at Mt. Shira, Missouri. Many outfitters won't shuttle private boats, so plan carefully and call before you drive. With so many outfitters in Pineville and Noel, you are sure to find someone to take your money. I usually end up spending more on t-shirts and other mementos than shuttling. This time, it was close.
Since I have never gotten a decent restaurant recommendation from an outfitter in Noel or Pineville (strange phenomenon peculiar to the Elk River), Dianne and I drove around in desperation seeking Sunday lunch... at 2pm when we got off the water. Right next to River Rat Pizza in Noel (they were closed), we found Rosa's Mexican Store and restaurant. The window said "Buffet, All Day, Everyday"... and the congregation shouted: "Amen!" Rosa's had the best buffet I've tried in ages and a cool little ethnic food market right next door! They make wonderful breads and pastries at the market!
Yakker didn't make this trip, so I wasn't able to test self-shuttling options in the area. Someday, when I have more time in the area, I would like to make a list of the public use areas on the Elk River. It is truly a great river for recreational paddling. Until then, consult this map for public access points on the Elk River: Elk River area map.
I don't believe I have ever seen so many baby fish swimming around my kayak as I did this weekend. As Dianne said: “the water is so clear you can read the labels of the countless beer cans that litter the bottom of the Elk River”. A small fortune in aluminum cans awaits someone in 'The Canoe Capital of the Ozarks'. Other than that it was lovely. I'll bet I saw 20 soft shelled leather back turtles. It was so cool watching them swim through the crystal clear water. It may not be challenging whitewater, but it moves along nicely through a very scenic portion of the Missouri Ozarks.
According to our outfitter, the water levels on Big Sugar and Indian Creek were too low, but we might be able to catch some deeper water this fall.
From Tulsa, you can head up north on I-44 for about an hour, then east on US 60 and finally south down Highway 71 to reach Pineville, MO. However, there are scores of routes to get to the Elk River including many slower routes popular with bikers. Don’t miss the town of Noel, Missouri…the highways there are bordered by really scenic bluffs! I can't wait to see the area when the fall colors set in, it really isn't very piney, so there should be quite a change.