Forming north of SH 76 in Douglas County, Bryant Creek flows south about 42.6 miles from Vera Cruz to Norfork Lake on the Arkansas border to its confluence with the North Fork of the White River about a half mile above the lake, and just east of Bull Shoals Lake. It is a normally gentle stream with Class I to II rapids, willow jungles, rock shoals and a nearly perpetual flow, though it may run low during periods of drought. The creek is a low-volume, spring-fed stream that can and will become dangerous in high water conditions, so paddlers need to visually check its status before putting in after significant local rainfall. The surrounding area is a wilderness of bluffs and farmland in the Ozark Mountains foothills, where wildlife is abundant and people are scarce. Wildflowers and indigenous vegetation cover gently-sloping creek banks, and the stream frequently bends sharply, raising the risk of willow entrapment as flows increase. A moderate gradient averaging about 5.8 feet per mile (fpm) maintains a gentle current that makes paddling easy.
Above the Bell School low-water bridge on Missouri SH 95, the creek is narrow and often choked with deadfall debris and willow strainers. The upper reach can be paddled, but extreme caution is urged to prevent injury or damage to boats and gear. However, below SH 95 awaits about 27.7 miles of awesome paddling. Low-water bridges at SH 181 and near Warren offer access points, as well as potential hazards in high water conditions. The Aid-Hodgson Mill, at the SH 181 crossing about 10.6 miles below the SH 95 put-in (this is the site where Ewell Gibbons filmed those Grape-Nuts commercials back in the 80's), has drinking water, restrooms and gorgeous scnery all around. This beautiful creek offers a pristine place for canoeists and kayakers to enjoy the magnificent beauty of the Missouri Ozarks area, and numerous other great Missouri and Arkansas streams are located close enough to give paddlers many options for boating away from major population centers or development. Mark Twain National Forest surrounds Bryant's Creek. There are no local services available, so come prepared and be sure to bring your camera!
Douglas and Ozark Counties of southcentral Missouri, near the Arkansas State Line, Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork Lake. St. Louis is about 3.5-4 hours northeast and Little Rock is about 6 hours (or more, depending upon road conditions) to the southwest.
St. Louis 195 miles; Springfield 80 miles; Kansas City 250 miles; Little Rock 275 miles; Oklahoma City 616 miles; Dallas 600 miles; Austin 795 miles; San Antonio 875 miles; Houston 709 miles; Albuquerque 1,156 miles; Phoenix 1,600 miles; Denver 1,216 miles; Salt Lake City 1,713 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is very good to excellent most of the time due to a lack of development of polluting influences anywhere near the creek. Flows are almost always adequate for paddle trips in canoes or kayaks except during drought periods.
Any time except during a drought is a great time to paddle Bryant's Creek, though it can become very dangerous in high water conditions due to low-water bridges, sharp bends in the channel and willow strainers, as well as dead-fallen tree debris piles that collect at those bends.
Generally, there are no significant hazards for boaters at normal flows. The two low-water bridges at SH 181 and near Warren (closer to Norfork Lake) pose potential threats to boats and boater safety when the creek is at or near flood stage. Willow strainers and deadfall debris piles, especially where the creek bends sharply, are also potential hazards to navigation during the same high-flow conditions.
Vera Cruz Access on Hwy. AB at 0.0 miles; Hwy. 14. Access at about 2.5 miles; Bertha Ford Access (low-water bridge) on CR N-345 just west of SH 95 at about 11.6 miles (portage MAY be necessary); Bell School low-water bridge on SH 95 near Vanzant ay 16.3 miles; Private campground on river right at about 24.0 miles (fee required); SH 181 low-water bridge at Aid-Hodgson Mill (Sycamore Access on right below bridge) at about 25.9 miles; Warren low-water bridge at about 33.3 miles; Florence C. Cook Access on right, on County Road 308, off Hwy. 160 at about 40.0 miles; Last access 0.4 mile downstream from the North Fork confluence at about 42.6 miles.
There are no known commercial or public campgrounds along Bryant' Creek. There are, however, at least two great campgrounds in Mark Twain National Forest along the North Fork of the White River just a short distance to the east, as well as at least three US Army CoE parks located around Norfork Lake in Arkansas, just below the take-out (all can be reached by paddling directly to them.)
There are at least seven known commercial outfitters providing rentals, shuttles and river information on the North Fork River and Bryant's Creek, though not located directly on the Creek.
Bryant's Creek is one of those places that is unknown to most paddlers and seldom enjoyed because of its remoteness. For those who find their way here, the creek offers a pristine place to enjoy the magical beauty of the Missouri Ozark foothills and the surrounding wilderness of Mark Twain National Forest. Easy access at 10.6, 18 and 27.7 miles allows paddlers to choose reaches and distances they want to paddle, but from my perspective it would be a waste not to run this entire creek.
It can be paddled about 13.3 miles or more above SH 95, but access is more difficult, finding it is also harder, and the channel is tighter, with more dead-fall and willow thickets to navigate. The charm of Bryant's Creek cannot be overstated. Wildlife, birds, plants, beautiful bluffs and rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains combine to offer a backdrop that is most pleasing and enjoyable. Best of all, you will not encounter crowds of other paddlers (or anybody else, for that matter) on this stream. It's a little off the beaten path, but that is a large part of what is so special about this awesome creek.
The Class I to II rapids are not too technically challenging, but offer a little whitewater fun to go with the natural beauty of this place. Pack the camera along with everything else you need, and be self-sustaining, because you will not find canoe liveries, restaurants or motels along the stream. This is a gorgeous wilderness trip that would only be better if it were two or three times as long.