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Black River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Mill Creek to Clearwater Dam
~ 30.9 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Black River forms near Pilot Knob in the Mark Twain National Forest of Iron County, then flows southward through Reynolds, Wayne and Butler Counties into Arkansas to its confluence with the Current River at Pocahontas. It is characterized by its lazy, slow-moving current on Class I flatwater surrounded by beautiful forests and the southeastern Missouri Ozarks. Its headwaters begin just a short distance north of Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point of elevation in the State of Missouri, and then flow by Johnson's Shut-ins State Park above Lesterville down through Clearwater Lake and Poplar Bluff before entering Arkansas' far northeast corner. Nearby major waterways include the Big, St. Francis, Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point Rivers, all but the Jacks Fork eventually finding their ways into Arkansas.

This reach of the Black River begins at Reynolds County Road 364 (Mill Creek) below Lesterville and runs about 30.9 miles to Clearwater Dam, though many paddlers opt to take out at Reynolds County Highway K bridge east of Redford and north of Clearwater Lake about 14.3 miles below Mill Creek. The river is navigable all the way to the lake, but the long paddle across the lake make trips below Highway K impractical for most boaters. There are, however, three access points between Highway K and the dam for those who don't mind paddling on lake-effect waters. This short reach offers excellent scenery that is typical of the southern Missouri-northern Arkansas area. Hardwood trees cover the adjacent mountains and hills while a variety of softwoods line the riverbanks. Wildlife, birdlife and fish are prominent along this run, and attest to the remote nature of the surrounding area.

The Upper Black River features exceptionally clean and clear water with a large population of smallmouth bass and other species of fish. It is mostly a Class I stream with occasional Class II rapids, but nothing too challenging, especially for competent boaters. The Shut-in areas should be avoided because of their difficulty for navigation at just about any water level. Wildlife and plantlife are abundant on this very beautiful, natural river. With an average gradient of about 4.8 fpm the Upper Black River is a gentle river except when it floods. The non-navigable Shut-in Creek, a tributary stream of the East Fork, has a gradient of 70 fpm.


Reynolds County on southeastern Missouri near the Mark Twain National Forest. St. Louis is about 2 hours to the northeast.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 120 miles; Joplin 307 miles; Springfield 235 miles; Kansas City 404 miles; Memphis 240 miles; Little Rock 280 miles; Oklahoma City 523 miles; Dallas 605 miles; Austin 800 miles; San Antonio 843 miles; Houston 714 miles; Albuquerque 1,161 miles; Phoenix 1,605 miles; Grand Junction 1,426 miles; Denver 1,221 miles; Salt Lake City 1,718 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Black River water quality is generally good to very good, flowing clean and clear except in hot, summer months when it will rate good. Flows are nearly always adequate for boating, weather permitting. Winter days will be very cool to cold. Summer days will be hot and steamy.

Best time to go

The Black River is navigable almost year-round, depending upon local weather conditions, but the prime seasons are from early April through June, and again from September through November, when temperatures are more moderate. The Missouri Ozarks are cool to cold at night except from about May through September or mid-October.

Hazards to navigation

There are no hazards to navigation along this reach of the Black River. From Mill Creek to Reynolds County Highway K Bridge the river flows as a Class I flatwater stream. Swift currents and overhanging brush can combine to create strainers and control hazards right after significant rainstorms in the drainage basin of the river.

River Access Points

Put in at Reynolds County Road 364 (Mill Creek) south of Lesterville at 0.0 miles; MDC access off Mill Creek on river right at about 1.5 miles; Reynolds County Highway K Bridge on river left at about 14.3 miles; Highway CC access on river left at about 21.5 miles; Access on river left at about 22.8 miles; Happy Hollow access on river left at about 26.9 miles; learwater Dam access on river left at about 30.9 miles (Take out here or portage around dam to continue on the Lower Black River.) There are other access points at outfitter locations along this reach of the Black River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Sam A. Baker State Park southeast of the Reynolds County Highway K Bridge offers excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. Primitive campig is available on river left or right at the Highway K bridge. There are several commercial campgrounds operating along the Black River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rentals and shuttles are available from any of several commercial outfitters located on or near the Black River.

Reviewer's comments

For flatwater paddlers in the northern Arkansas and southern Missouri area the Black River is one more of many really beautiful and fun rivers where boaters can canoe, kayak and raft in a remote wilderness area surrounded by the wonders of Mother Nature's handicraft. This river is conveniently located just about 2 hours southwest of St. Louis and about 4-4.5 hours from Memphis or Springfield. It is in the general vicinity to several other really great Missouri rivers that flow down into Arkansas, so paddlers have a wide variety of gorgeous streams from which to choose when they visit this area in Iron and Reynolds Counties. Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri's highest point of elevation, sits very near the headwaters, and if you need a little more excitement that is offered on a Class I stream, then the East Fork of the Black River offers excellent Class II to III boating for about 2 miles near Johnson's Shut-ins State Park. A paddler could spend many days paddling Missouri streams and not boat them all. This is a state rich in waterway treasures.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 30.9 miles (accessible)
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Reynolds CR 364 (Mill Creek)
Last Take-out Clearwater Dam
Elevation msl
Gradient Above Lesterville - 10 fpm
Lesterville to Hwy. K - 5.7 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 07061500 (Annapolis)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Upper Black River, Missouri
Map courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Highway K bridge and access
Highway K bridge and access

Black River from the Highway CC bridge
Black River from the Highway CC bridge

The very scenic Black River in spring
The very scenic Black River in spring

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Black River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Black River Homepage ] [ Clearwater Dam to Highway W Bridge ]

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