The James River forms in southeastern Webster County east of Springfield, then winds its way south by southwest through Greene, Christian and Stone Counties to Table Rock Lake just south of Galena, near the Arkansas State Line. The river flows about 80 miles in total length, and Lake Springfield, just south of its namesake city, is formed by a dam on the river. A popular reach flows about 61.6 miles as a Class I stream between the SH 125 bridge, which is situated between Greene County Highways YY and D on the eastern edge of Springfield to the Stone County Y bridge at Galena, just above the lake. Along the way, the James River receives the waters from Finley Creek to the west, both flowing through the beautiful and remote Mark Twain National Forest of the southern Missouri Ozarks.
The James River is nowhere near as crooked as the Gasconade River, but it is another stream that flows a greater distance than its straightline mileage, winding back and forth from east to west through the Ozarks until it finally reaches the lake. Both the James River and Finley Creek are parts of the White River system that begins in Arkansas, flows into Missouri, then ends at the Mississippi River on the Arkansas-Mississippi State Line. Though not widely known as a paddler's stream, the James River is served by at least two outfitters who also provide services for Finley Creek trips. The James River is located in an historic part of Missouri, near the Wilson Creek Battlefield site that was part of the "War of Northern Aggression" (aka the Civil War), so there is much to see around this stream, as well as the enjoyment derived from paddling its quiet waters. Fishing is also great, so if you are an angler, then bring a valid Missouri fishing license and double your pleasure.
Webster, Green, Christian and Stone Counties of southcentral Missouri, flowing from east of Springfield to Table Tock Lake on the Missouri-Arkansas State Line.
Joplin 82 miles; Springfield 10 miles; Kansas City 179 miles; St. Louis 210 miles; Little Rock 345 miles; Oklahoma City 298 miles; Dallas 503 miles; Austin 693 miles; San Antonio 773 miles; Houston 759 miles; Albuquerque 840 miles; Phoenix 1,279 miles; Denver 923 miles; Salt Lake City 1,400 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to very good, though it degrades slightly near Springfield, clearing again upon leaving Lake Springfield. Flows are usually adequate for paddling, though the river may be low in summer, or during periods of drought.
The James River is best as a paddling stream from late-winter through early-summer, and again in mid-to late-fall, if sufficient rainfall has occured after the summer season. It is suitable for fishing at most times of the year, and will be better for both boating and fishing below Lake Springfield than above it.
There are no significant hazards to navigation on this quiet, Class I stream.
SH 125 bridge about 10 miles east of downtown Springfield, between Greene County Highways YY and D, at 0.0 miles; Highway D bridge at about 3.5 miles; US Highway 60 bridge at about 9.0 miles; US Highway 160 bridge at about 13.0 miles; Christian County Highway FF bridge at about 18.0 miles; SH 14 bridge west of Nixa at about 21.0 miles; Stone County Highway M bridge at about 28.0 miles; Stone County Y bridge near Galena at about 61.6 miles. There may be other access points for the James River.
At least two commercial campgrounds are available along the James River. Other campgrounds may be available along or near the James River.
At least two commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles and river information on or near the James River. There may be other outfitters providing boat rentals, shuttles and other sevices on or near the James River and Finley Creek.
The James River has historically been more popular with fishermen that paddlers, but that is probably because paddlesports is just starting to take root among many outdoors enthusiasts and the fact that, until somewhat recently, there were no outfitters to assist in getting to or from the river, or offering rentals, leaving the river to those who had their own equipment and were willing to spend the time to set up their own shuttles. There are also a number of great paddling streams in the not-to-distant area where canoeists, kayakers and rafters usually go. The James River offers an excellent paddling destination in very close proximity to Springfield, and all the conveniences that a city affords, including motels for those whose idea of camping is to stay where there is a private room with shower, toilet, phone and television, as well as restaurants nearby. Today, the James River offers every paddler the opportunity to enjoy a gorgeous stream in the Missouri Ozarks, and though whitewater enthusiasts will not find much fun or challenge here, recreational paddlers can enjoy themselves without worries about rapids, waterfall drops, portages around obstructions or other potential hazards that sometimes make a river more work than most paddlers want to encounter. Below Springfield, the river is quite remote and scenic, as it winds its way back and forth toward Table Rock Lake on the Arkansas border. Paddling anywhere in the Mark Twain National Forest is always a serene experience set against a backdrop of heavily treed woods where nature abounds. If you are going to be in the Springfield area, and want to paddle an easy and quiet stream, then the James River is the place to be.