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Black River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Clearwater Dam to Highway W Bridge
~ 37.5 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.


Wayne and Butler Counties in 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 below the Clearwater Lake Dam in Wayne County above SH 34 at 0.0 miles; SH 34 bridge near Leeper at about 3.5 miles; SH 49 bridge at Mill Springs at about 5.5 miles; Wayne County Highway A bridge near Williamsville at about 19.5 miles; US Highway 67 bridge near Hendrickson at about 26.5 miles; Take out at Butler County Highway W Bridge at about 37.5 miles. 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; Lake Wappapello State Park is located at the east end of Wayne County Highway A a few miles east of Hendrickson, and offers excellent campsites with drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. 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

This reach of the Missouri's Black River flows through Mark Twain National Park along the entire 37.5 miles of its reach. This remote trip provides paddlers with excellent scenery in a natural and largely undisturbed area where signs of civilization are primarily limited to crossing roadways at a few points several miles apart. This Class I stream offers a high degree of solitude most of the time, though summers see a larger number of recreational boaters, most in canoes, plying the waters and enjoying some of the state's prettiest vistas. Most boaters will take 3-4 days to run this entire reach, if that is their intent, but will probably opt for shorter segments by choosing from among several put-in and take-out points along the way. Fast paddlers in marathon mode could run this entire reach in a day or less, but why? The Black River is so beautiful that you might not ever want your trip to end. Bring a camera to save memories of your trip so that you can relive it with friends for many years to come.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 37.5 miles (accessible)
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Clearwater Dam
Lat/Long 37.1297989 / -90.7667999
Last Take-out Butler County Highway W bridge
Lat/Long 36.8210983 / -90.422699
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 07061500 (Annapolis)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

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

Missouri Whitewater Association - promoting whitewater paddling in the Ozarks

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

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Last updated September 10, 2014

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