The St. Francis River, or Saint, as it is popularly known among paddlers, originates in St. Francois County Missouri, flows down through the Mark Twain National Forest through Iron, Madison, Wayne, Stoddard, New Madrid and Dunklin Counties before leaving Missouri to form the partial borders between Arkansas and Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee and Arkansas and Mississippi. The river ends at its mouth on the Mississippi River in Lee County, Arkansas in the St. Francis National Forest. The Saint is almost like two different rivers separated by Lake Wappapello, which divides the high-relief Ozark Plateau above the lake from the low-relief Mississippi Alluvial Plain below it. The headwaters are characterized by igneous rock in the Ozark uplift of the St. Francois Mountains, followed downstream by sandstone and dolomites. Impervious rock formations on the Upper St. Francis prevent ground seepage and contribute to heavy runoff during rains, making the river run fast and furious. Frequent flooding is an issue of concern, and paddlers need to check the weather before going to and watch it while on the Saint.
Between the Highway H bridge near Syenite and the USFS Silver Mines Campground at the Highway D bridge the St. Francis River flows about 15.7 miles on Class II to III whitewater through the Mark Twain National Forest of St. Francois and Madison Counties in southeastern Missouri near the Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee borders. This gorgeous and very exciting reach begins just below St. Joe State Park, then flows by Millstream Gardens State Forest, Fort Davidson State Historical Site and down to Silver Mines on a little bumpier water than is usually found on most rivers in this section of the "Show Me" state. In addition to an incredible ride, there are many spectacular sites to see along the way. Multiple access points allow paddlers to choose which sections, or all of them, they want to run. The upper 10.7 miles between the Highway H and Highway 72 bridges is primarily a Class I to II run, followed by 2.5 miles on Class II water down to Millstream Gardens and ending with a Class III thrill ride of another 2.5 miles to the Highway D bridge at Silver Mines Campground.
This reach is perfect for those with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills, and the first 13.2 miles can be run by those learning how to paddle whitewater, but who are not yet quite ready for Class III rapids and drops. Runs can be made year-round in canoes, kayaks and rafts, weather permitting, but Missouri does get cold in the winter, so if you are planning on paddling between November and March, then you need to dress for the conditions you will encounter. Camping in the Missouri Ozarks is nearly as interesting as running this fantastic river. Wildlife, birdlife and fishlife are abundant, asa is natural vegetation and dense forests. This is a heaven-sent vacation trip for paddlers who want to experience Ozarks paddling at its finest.
St. Francois and Madison Counties of far southeastern Missouri, in the Mark Twain National Forest about
St. Louis 65 miles; Joplin 262 miles; Springfield 190 miles; Kansas City 360 miles; Memphis 260 miles; Little Rock 300 miles; Oklahoma City 579 miles; Dallas 624 miles; Austin 819 miles; San Antonio 898 miles; Houston 751 miles; Albuquerque 1,255 miles; Phoenix 1,662 miles; Denver 1,000 miles; Grand Junction 1,246 miles; Salt Lake City 1,493 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually very good to excellent, flowing clean and clear most of the time, but not drikable without purification. The St. Francis River almost always has adequate water for paddling.
Weather permitting, the St. Francis River can be paddled year-round. Winter days will be cold and nights will feel a LOT colder. Summer days are very warm to hot, and nights are cool to warm. Dress for the conditions that you will encounter.
This reach of the St. Francis River has numerous rapids in the class II to III range that can pose problems for lazy or inexperienced paddlers in canoes or kayaks, though none is a serious threat to paddlers in rafts except at very high flows. Strong cross currents, haystacks and small holes around the large rocks that create the rapids demand good planning and execution to avoid pinning and/or wrapping a canoe or kayak. Most hazards can be scouted from your boat in the river, but if there is a doubt about the best line, then beach the boat and take a look before proceeding. The largest rapids will be in the lower 2.5 miles of this 15.7 mile run. None of the rapids should pose any serious problems for paddlers with at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills.
Highway H bridge one mile west of Syenite at 0.0 miles; SH 72 bridge at about 10.7 miles; Millstream Gardens State Forest at about 13.2 miles; Highway D bridge at USFS Silver Mines Campground at about 15.7 miles. There may be other access points along this reach of the St. Francis river.
St. Joe State park above the top of this reach off SH 32 near Elvins offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities; Silver Mines Campground (USFS) on river right at about 15.7 miles (where this reach ends) offers excellent campsites with amenities; Sam A. Baker State Park, on river right at US Highway 67 near Lodi (where the next reach ends) offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities; Coldwater State Park, off SH 34 east of Lodi, offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. Natural campsites are available all along this run through Mark Twain National Forest. Please do your part (and maybe somebody else's, too!) to keep our rivers and parks clean and beautiful. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
There are no known liveries or outfitters located along this reach of the St. Francis River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles.
The Saint is a favorite paddling destination for many paddlers in Arkansas and Missouri who frequently enjoy its wonderful personality and charm. It is not the biggest whitewater in the Ozarks (that distinction probably belongs to the Cossatot in Arkansas), but it is every bit as pretty as any and a lot more reliable than the rest. Perpetual flows make paddling the Saint a matter of dealing with weather and climate conditions. If you have the gear for cold weather paddling, then this is a river you can run most of the time in the dead of winter. You could run it naked in the summer, when the heat is almost unbearable, but this place is not all that far from the Chatooga River in Georgia where they filmed Deliverance, if you know what I mean. What I like about this reach is the Class II to III whitewater when I am paddling, and the numerous things to see and do in the parks and forests when I am off the river. Missouri is a beautiful state with many wonderful natural resources that they try hard to make sure visitors enjoy, and they have never failed me. The Saint also is close to several other great Missouri Ozark streams that I dearly love to paddle, including the Current and Jacks Fork, Black, Eleven Point and Meramec Rivers. There is plenty to see and do around this part of Missouri, and the wilderness atmosphere just adds to the joy of paddling here.