It has been called one of the world's crookedest rivers, and looking at a map of it will reveal why the Gasconade River of central Missouri earns that title. At 265 miles, it is the longest river flowing wholly with the state. The Gasconade forms in the Ozarks of Wright County, then flows northeast (and every other direction on the compass rose) to its Missouri River confluence near the Town of Gasconade in its namesake county between Jefferson City to the west and St. Louis to the east. From its headwaters the river lazily flows through a deep valley that is adorned with many large caves and springs along its upper half. The river sources near US Highway 60 at Mansfield, but is seldom navigable above SH 38 near Hartville.
This reach of the Gasconade River flows from near the intersection of SH 38 and SH 5 in southern Wright County to the low-water bridge on Rochester Road near SH 7 at Ozark Springs over a distance of 96.6 miles through Wright, Laclede and Pulaski Counties in Southcentral Missouri on an average gradient of only 2.6 fpm, though the top section reaches 6.2 fpm. While the river is generally gentle, it does have some fast chutes, particularly around sharp bends where strong currents and deadfallen trees may create potential dangers for unattentive boaters. This is a very natural area of small foothills, dogwood, hardwood and softwood trees, an abundance of birds, wildflowers, shrubs, and numerous species of animals and fish. It is a photographer's dream. Above Competition the river is seldom navigable except during periods of significant rainfall without having to walk and carry or drag your boat across riffles and gravel shoals, but below Competition the river has a generally adequate flow for good trips.
Between Falcon in Laclede County and Vienna in Maries County there are at least eight outfitters serving the needs of paddlers and campers, with six of them located along the north side of IH 44 between Hazelgreen and Rolla. The character of this stream is such that one can paddle a lot of miles without going very far away from where they started. At one point near its Missouri River confluence the Gasconade travels some 67 miles in a driving distance of roughly 23-24 miles, and the area where the outfitters are located is much the same. The river is a flatwater paddle without substantial danger from hazards to navigation. Surrounding scenery is awesome wilderness of trees, plants, wildlife, birds and numerous species of fish, smallmouth bass being the primary game fish found in its waters. While devoid of any whitewater, the Gasconade River offers a wealth of natural scenery and paddling enjoyment that most boaters will appreciate, regardless of experience or skill. This review will cover the popular 96.6 miles of the river where commercial outfitters and campgrounds are located.
Wright, Laclede, Pulaski, Phelps, Maries, Osage and Gasconade Counties of southcentral and central Missouri, beginning southeast of Springfield and ending at the Missouri River between Jefferson City and St. Louis.
St. Louis 195 miles; Joplin 132 miles; Springfield 60 miles; Kansas City 229 miles; Oklahoma City 348 miles; Little Rock 230 miles; Dallas 605 miles; Austin 795 miles; San Antonio 875 miles; Houston 250 miles; Albuquerque 890 miles; Phoenix 1,329 miles; Denver 973 miles; Salt Lake City 1,449 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)
The spring-fed waters of the Gasconade River usually flow clean, clear and cool at almost year-round navigable levels. The modest gradient produces a gentle, but usually steady current that is suitable for tubing, as well as canoeing, kayaking and rafting.
Just any time, weather permitting, is a good time to paddle the Gasconade River. Numerous springs feed water into the stream, maintaining its navigable levels. The river will tend to run low during periods of prolonged drought, though the 5 major springs below Falcon will usually provide sufficient flow for trips. Above Competition the river is usually only navigable in spring months or shortly after a significant rainstorm within its drainage basin.
Many sharp bends and tree-lined banks combine to produce a sufficient quantity of dead-fall strainers and log jams, especially at higher flows. Low-hanging brush along the banks contributes to the potential for strainers. Paddlers should be vigilant along the banks and at riverbends, and during high flow conditions extra caution should be urged, especially where visibility ahead is limited. There are no major rapids or waterfall hazards along the course of the Gasconade River.
SH 38 bridge on the Woods Fork of the Gasconade near Hartville at 0.0 miles; SH 38 bridge on the Lick Fork of the Gasconade at about 0.7 miles; Camp Branch Access (gravel ramp) on river right off SH 38 at about 2.5 miles; Buzzard Bluff Access (gravel ramp) off Highway E just west of Green Mountain at abut 14.3 miles (camping is allowed); Wilbur Allen Access (gravel ramp) on river right, on Radford Drive, west of SH 95, at about 21.5 miles (camping is allowed); Ford Access on Kincheloe Drive west of SH 95 near Jerktail at about 27.1 miles; USFS Access east of Highway Z and west of Lynchburg at about 33.3 miles; USFS Access on a county road south of Falcon and SH 32 at about 42,8 miles; Anna Adams Access on a low-water bridge between SH 32 and SH 17 at about 51.6 miles; Unimproved river ford (approach from east on Highway AB) at about 65.2 miles; Hazelgreen Access on Old Route 66 / IH 44 bridge on river left (concrete boat ramp) at about 75.4 miles; SH 133 bridge on river right under bridge at about 84.6 miles; Mitschele Access on SH 7 bridge (gravel ramp) at about 92.5 miles; Rochester Road low-water bridge off SH 7 at Ozark Springs (PORTAGE - do NOT run at ANY level!) at about 96.6 miles. Other access points are available at commercial outfitter locations - launch fees may apply unless renting from them.
The uppermost reaches of the Gasconade River in Wright County flow through farmland and cattle ranches, where limited campsites exist at several public access points: Buzzard Bluff Access, Wilbur Allen Access and Hazelgreen Access. There may also be private resorts or campgrounds where you can camp for a fee.
There are many commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information along the Gasconade River, though few, if any, exist above Falcon. Most trips on the upper end of the Gasconade River need to be self-supported.
A boater could almost get drunk paddling this crooked river! A boater CAN paddle a long way without going very far from the starting point on this river. The Gasconade begins in the remote farming and ranching country of Wright County, then flows into and through Mark Twain National Forest in its middle reaches in Laclede and Pulaski Counties before cutting a path through Maries, Osage and Gasconade Counties to the Missouri River near the small Town of Gasconade. This run begins in a land of many large springs and caves, the former providing sufficient flow for boating almost year-round, weather and climate conditions permitting. While services are scarce on the upper and lower reaches, the middle 100 miles, or so, has several outfitters who can provide a place to camp, boat rentals and shuttles, information about riverside camping along the way and other helpful hints on how to enjoy this gorgeous river. Paddlers will find the river to be quite popular between SH 32 near Nebo and SH 42 east of Vienna, a reach where the river flows back and forth just north of IH 44, part of which is on the reach below this one. Access is good and the river is great. Be sure to pack the camera, because there is much to photograph along Missouri's Gasconade River. You might also want to pack the Marizene or Dramamine in case you get motion sickness from all the switching back and forth this very crooked river does as it meanders through the Ozarks.