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Indian Creek, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Highway D Bridge to the Elk River
~ 27.4 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Indian Creek, a major tributary of the Elk River, forms in Newton County, then flows southwest into McDonald County and its confluence with the Elk near Lanagan, just northwest of Pineville. Indian Creek offers a limited season for canoeing and kayaking, though it can usually be tubed most of the year. Its surroundings are nothing short of awesome, as is typical of the Ozarks wilderness of Missouri and Arkansas. While not as popular as the Elk, Indian Creek is an excellent stream for paddling, fishing, camping and enjoying many other outdoors recreational activities in close proximity to Joplin and Springfield. It features a very remote run through heavily-forested and undeveloped, natural terrain on a somewhat swift current and a moderate gradient that averages about 8.7 fpm over its 27-mile length. Numerous access points allow paddlers to choose the amount of creek they want to experience in a day or on a multi-day trip down a stream that is not heavily congested with other boaters most of the time, though that may be changing soon.


Newton and McDonald Counties of far southwestern Missouri, very near the Oklahoma State Line to the west and the Arkansas State Line to the south. Joplin is less than an hour's drive to the north.

Distance from major cities

Joplin 25 miles; Springfield 70 miles; Kansas City 175 miles; St. Louis 280 miles; Oklahoma City 241 miles; Little Rock 205 miles; Dallas 446 miles; Austin 636 miles; San Antonio 716 miles; Houston 702 miles; Albuquerque 783 miles; Phoenix 1,222 miles; Denver 866 miles; Salt Lake City 1,342 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent, flowing clean, clear and cool from natural springs and rainfall runoff. Navigable flows usually are found only in springtime, though the creek may be boatable any time after a significant local rain event.

Best time to go

Late-February or early-March through late-May or early-June is the optimum season for boating Indian Creek. From mid-June through February the creek usually has insufficient flow and depth for enjoyable boating.

Hazards to navigation

There are no major rapids or waterfall drops of consequence on Indian Creek. However, the river bends frequently, and dead-fall strainers or log jams can become serious threats to safe boating, especially in high-water conditions. A mill dam near McNatt, at about 7.4 miles, can be run by experienced boaters in high water conditions, but otherwise should be portaged over the dam. The aerated water below the drop is very hazardous to boats in normal to low water conditions, and could result in injuries to paddlers. The Seller's Ford low-water bridge, at about 18.8 miles, is a potential boat bender at any flow, and can be very dangerous at above normal flows. A concrete slab river ford at about 24.5 miles is slippery when covered with water, dropping off about 4 feet onto a nasty rock pile - exercise extreme caution when approaching, and portage as necessary. The low-water take-out bridge, about 0.4 miles below the Elk River confluence, can be dangerous at any flow level, as can the one at 1.7 miles below the confluence. Avoid pinning and wrapping on these bridges. A moderate average gradient of about 8.7 fpm gives a steady current that accelerates in or near flood stage conditions, making boat control even more demanding and important. Do not get lulled into submission by the gorgeous surrounding landscape, then forget to steer clear of obstructions. While most of this stream rates a Class I distinction, the higher Class II to III rating is due to the potential for pinning in the debris fields and log jams around bends, especially during or shortly after a high-water event.

River Access Points

Highway D Bridge (during spring months or high-water conditions only), just east of Boulder City, at 0.0 miles; Wolfenbrager Bridge on an unnamed Newton County road at about 3.5 miles; Old bridge about 3.5 miles east of Goodman, just off Highway C, at about 10.1 miles (private ownership); Mayfield Bridge, about 2 miles south of Highway C, at about 13.1 miles; Seller's Ford low-water bridge at about 18.8 miles; Indian Creek RV Park, at the US Highway 71 bridge, at about 19.3 miles; SH 76 bridge at about 19.8 miles; MDC Town Hole Access, next to the Anderson Post Office, at about 21.3 miles; Iron bridge on McDonald County road south of Anderson at about 21.6 miles; Lanagan City Park, on river right at about 25.1 miles; Highway EE bridge at about 25.5 miles; Low-water bridge about 0.4 mile downstream from the Elk River confluence (the normal take-out for this run) at about 27.4 miles; Mt. Shira Access (optional take-out), about 1.7 miles below the Elk River confluence, on river right at about 28.7 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are numerous commercial campgrounds, as well as conventional accommodations providers, located along or in close proximity to Indian Creek.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are numerous commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and river information along or in close proximity to Indian Creek.

Reviewer's comments

While more seasonal in nature than the Elk River or its other tributaries, Indian Creek offers excellent paddling opportunities when it is flowing, and great camping year-round. This stream flows through a forested area of very limited development and immense natural beauty. Outfitter services are very few, Indian Creek RV Park being the only one with which I am familiar, though others may have since located to this area. Unfortunately, the creek has a season that is usually only during spring months, when rainfall raises it to navigable levels for canoeing and kayaking, though tubing can be done almost year-round on some sections. Access is excellent, so boaters can choose from among trips of several lengths depending upon time available or other criteria. The way popularity of the Elk River and Big Sugar Creek are growing, it may not be long before Indian Creek becomes an equally busy place, but for now, paddlers and campers can find a lot of solitude in a pristine wilderness on very clean water. Best of all, from my perspective, is the very close proximity to the Elk River and Big Sugar, and the not-too-distant other great paddling streams of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. You may have a hard time being an Ozark Mountain Daredevil on this creek, but you will have a very enjoyable experience that will make you look forward to the next time you paddle here. As usual, bring your camera along to capture some photos of a gorgeous place to camp, paddle, hike and otherwise enjoy this very scenic part of the "Show Me" state.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III
Length 27.4 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Highway D Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Elk River confluence
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 8.7 fpm av. / 9.4 fpm max.
USGS Gauge Web: Lanagan
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Late-winter through late-spring
Permits No
Indian Creek, Elk River, Big Sugar and Little Sugar map courtesy MDC
Indian Creek map courtesy MDC

Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club - a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Ozark streams

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Elk River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Elk River Homepage ] [ Elk River ] [ Big Sugar Creek ] [ Little Sugar Creek ]

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