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.
This reach of the Gasconade River flows from near the Rochester Road low-water bridge near Ozark Springs in Pulaski County through Phelps County to Bell Chute Access on County Road 513 in Maries County over a distance of 70.6 miles in Southcentral Missouri on an average gradient of about 2.0 fpm, though the top section reaches 2.7 fpm. The Gasconade River is a drop-dead gorgeous river with immense natural beauty all around it. Numerous outfitters along or near the river offer canoe, kayak and raft rentals, shuttles, campgrounds and other services. Growing in popularity, this reach gets somewhat crowded, especially on Saturdays, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In addition to a beautiful river fed my several major springs, there are tree-lined scenic cliffs, caves, gravel bars, birds galore and animals to view and photograph. The river is an easy Class I to II- in difficulty, so just about anybody can enjoy it. The river has several access points spaced short distances apart so trips can be scheduled to meet the needs of the paddler.
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 61.1 miles of the river where commercial outfitters and campgrounds are located, recognizing that the upper 45 miles and the lower 159 miles can also be paddled by self-reliant boaters providing their own boats, gear and shuttles.
Wright, Laclede, Pulaski, 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 531 miles; Austin 721 miles; San Antonio 801 miles; Houston 771 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. Boiling Spring, just below the Big Piney River confluence, kicks in about 42 million gallons per hour, and Blue Spring (Shanghai Spring) on the Big Piney River above the confluence adds another 10 million gallons per hour.
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.
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.
Rochester Road low-water bridge off SH 7 at Ozark Springs (PORTAGE - do NOT run at ANY level!) at about 96.6 miles; Highway T bridge (poor access because of steep banks) on river right at about 100.9 miles; Schlicht Springs Access off SH 133 on a resort road on river right (concrete ramp) at about 106.1 miles; SH 17 bridge at Roubidoux Creek on river right (undeveloped gravel ramp) at about 116.3 miles; Private access on river right at about 129.7 miles; Riddle Bridge access on Highway Y on river right (concrete ramp) at about 129.9 miles; SH 28 bridge (private access at cabins) at about 140.4 miles; Private access on right bank of the Big Piney River at about 141.7 miles; Private campground adjacent to Boiling Spring on river left at about 143.7 miles; Highway D bridge (either side of the river) near the Little Piney River confluence at about 150.0 miles; Jerome Access on river left off Highway D at about 151.2 miles; Table Rock Access at the end of CR 8500 on river right at about 154.2 miles; Bell Chute Access on CR 513 off Highway Y (concrete ramp) on river right at about 167.2 miles. Other access points are available at commercial outfitter locations - launch fees may apply unless renting from them.
The middle section of the river, in Laclede and Pulaski Counties, offers an abundance of natural campsites augmented by public camping at access points and commercial campgrounds opeated by outfitters who also provide canoe, kayak, raft and/or tube rentals, shuttles and other services. There are many commercial campgrounds available along the Gasconade River. Overnight camping is allowed at Schlicht Spring Access and Bell Chute Access, though space is limited.
There are many commercial outfitters offering canoe, kayak, raft, tube and jon boat rentals, shuttles, tent and RV camping, cabin rentals, camp stores and/or river information along the Gasconade River. Most are immediately adjacent to the river and easilyn accessible from federal, state or county highways.
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 in warm months, particularly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though most of the traffic comes on weekends, and especially on Saturdays. Access is good and the river is great. During winter fall and months you will probably be treated to views of bald and golden eagles that make their homes here during coler months.
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.