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Little Sugar Creek, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

SH 90 to the Elk River
~ 7.9 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Forming a few yards east of US Highway 71 and just south of Jane in McDonald County is Little Sugar Creek, the smaller and shorter sister to Big Sugar Creek that shares most of the same "family" characteristics. The top end of the creek above SH 90 is just too narrow and shallow for paddling, but from SH 90 to the Elk River, which forms at the confluence of Little and Big Sugar Creeks, the stream offers a short 7.9 miles of beautiful water that could be a very short canoe or kayak trip, or a very long, all day tube trip. Topography is much like that of the other Elk River system streams - a lot of wooded hills, natural and undeveloped surroundings, abundant wildlife, great fishing and plenty of places to hike and explore. While not located directly on Little Sugar, there are numerous campgrounds and outfitters very nearby that can provide places to stay, canoe, kayak, raft and tube rentals, shuttles and other services. About a mile above the take-out is the Havenhurst Mill Dam, at Highway K, where paddlers must portage because the landing zone below the drop is just too shallow to run, but other than that there are no obstructions or hazards of consequence on this peaceful and scenic creek. Its close proximity to the Elk River, Indian Creek and Big Sugar Creek provides several options for places to camp and paddle in the far southwestern corner of Missouri and the Missouri Ozarks.


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

Distance from major cities

Joplin 55 miles; Springfield 100 miles; Kansas City 205 miles; St. Louis 310 miles; Oklahoma City 271 miles; Little Rock 225 miles; Dallas 476 miles; Austin 666 miles; San Antonio 746 miles; Houston 732 miles; Albuquerque 813 miles; Phoenix 1,252 miles; Denver 896 miles; Salt Lake City 1,372 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.

Best time to go

Little Sugar Creek is boatable almost any time except during periods of prolonged drought.

Hazards to navigation

Havenhurst Mill Dam, at the Highway K bridge, is a MUST portage because the water below the drop is too shallow to safely run. Otherwise, there are no serious hazards to navigation on Little Sugar Creek. However, dead-fall strainers and log jams are always a possibility, especially after a major rainstorm, so boaters should be vigilant, especially at riverbends.

River Access Points

SH 90 bridge northeast of Jane at 0.0 miles; Griffin Ford low-water bridge, 0.6 mile northeast of US Highway 71, at about 1.6 miles; US Highway 71 bridge near the Elk River confluence at about 7.9 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are at least ten commercial campgrounds, as well as conventional accommodations providers, located along or in close proximity to Little Sugar Creek.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are at least ten commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and river information along Little Sugar Creek.

Reviewer's comments

Little Sugar Creek is, well, little! It is a short creek with about 8 miles of boatable water between the SH 90 bridge near Jane and the Elk River-Big Sugar Creek-Little Sugar Creek confluence in a very scenic part of the southwestern Missouri Ozarks, where nature abounds. If not for the growing popularity of the Elk River, Indian Creek and Big Sugar Creek nobody would probably ever think to come and paddle Little Sugar, but its close proximity to those other great streams is an added attraction to a place that already offers plenty of its own reasons to visit. There are a lot of wildlife, birdlife, plantlife, rock formations, hiking trails and other things to see and do on and near the creek, and if you need a little nightlife away from a campsite, then Branson is not all that far away to the east. Joplin and Springfield are also nearby to the north and northeast, respectively. With many area campgrounds and outfitters offering services, this place is a paradise for outdoors enthusiasts. Considering all there is to see and do around here, a trip of several days would be ideal. The popularity of the Elk River and Big Sugar Creek attracts a lot of people in spring and summer months, but many of the campgrounds are open year-round for those who want to enjoy a little more solitude. If you are planning on paddling here in winter, then bring a wetsuit, drysuit or other water-repelling garments, because nights can be downright cold, and days will be just a little warmer, but you would not know that if you are wet! Bring your camera and your spirit of adventure when you come!

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 7.9 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 90 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out US Highway 71 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Pineville
Boats Canoes and Kayaks
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Indian Creek, Elk River, Big Sugar and Little Sugar map courtesy MDC
Little Sugar Creek map courtesy MDC

Canoeman River Guide Services - guided river trips, trip planning, and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

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

Missouri Whitewater Association - promoting whitewater paddling in the Ozarks

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 ] [ Indian Creek ] [ Big Sugar Creek ]

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