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Big Piney River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Cabool to Jerome
~ 89.8 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Big Piney River, a secondary tributary of the Mighty Mo, forms near Cabool in Texas County of southcentral Missouri, then flows generally north by northeast through the Mark Twain National Forest in Pulaski and Phelps Counties to its confluence with the Gasconade River near Jerome about 114 miles from its headwaters. Of this distance approximately 90 miles can be easily accessed and paddled. The river is a favorite of many paddlers and fishermen. Its close proximity to Springfield to the southwest, and St. Louis, a little further to the northeast, make Big Piney a convenient place to paddle, camp, explore and fish. Its natural beauty is an added attraction, as is its closeness to the Gasconade, Beaver Creek, Niangua and several other great Missouri streams. The river flows through a largely undeveloped countryside of dense forests with few signs of civilization. Paddlers will enjoy a choice of outfitters and campgrounds located along the river, allowing for trips of various lengths to satisfy the whims of just about everybody. There are no major hazards on Big Piney, though some minor rapids can be found in several areas, so it is a stream that is well suited to recreational paddlers with limited experience.

The Big Piney River is an excellent fishing stream where anglers will find an abundance of rock bass and small mouth bass, though other species can also be found. Excellent sandbars offer great riverside campsites. The river can generally be paddled and fished year-round, and ample outfitters offer canoe rentals, shuttles, campgrounds and other services. Under normal water conditions there is almost always adequate flow for paddling below Dog's Bluff Access at about 10.6 miles, though the upper reach can be paddled after heavy local rainfall. Towering limestone bluffs covered with pines, and hardwood forests of maple, oak and ash, provide habitat for kingfishers, pileated woodpeckers, herons, wood ducks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, turkeys, otters, beavers, minks and muskrats. Autumn brings a change of color to this forested area and offers spectacular vistas for photographers.


Texas, Pulaski and Phelps Counties of southcentral Missouri, just northeast of Springfield. Big Piney flows into the Gasconade River near St. Robert.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 166 miles; Joplin 150 miles; Springfield 75 miles; Kansas City 245 miles; Oklahoma City 363 miles; Little Rock 294 miles; Dallas 500 miles; Austin 695 miles; San Antonio 775 miles; Houston 745 miles; Albuquerque 905 miles; Phoenix 1,344 miles; Denver 988 miles; Salt Lake City 1,464 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is usually good to very good due to the natural and undeveloped area through which it flows. The river normally has adequate water for paddling almost all the time except during periods of extended drought, though the upper 10.6 miles may be very low in normal conditions. The water has a greenish hue due to plankton from soil runoff.

Best Times to Go

Spring and mid- to late-fall months offer the optimum conditions for flow, weather and climate conditions, though the river can be paddled just about any time by those who are properly outfitted.

Hazards to Navigation

There are no major waterfalls or rapids on the Big Piney River. However, dead-fallen tree debris piles can create strainers around bends, especially during and shortly after high-water conditions. Swift currents during high flows can carry lax paddlers into entrapments, and care should be taken to avoid those obstacles. The river is basically a Class I stream with some Class II difficulty at higher flows due to debris clogs and swift currents.

River Access Points

Simmons Ford Access (MDC) on Hwy. 63 between Houston and Cabool at 0.0 miles; Baptist Camp Access (MDC) one mile west of Hwy. 63 on Hwy. RA at about 1.7 miles; Bridge on Hogan Rd. in Texas County about 1.5 miles east of Hwy. 63 (landowner permission required) at about 4.1 miles; Bridge on Hwy. Z (landowner permission required) about 2 miles east of Houston at about 8.1 miles; Piney River Narrows Natural Area (MDC) about 1.75 miles west of Houston on Hwy. 17 at about 9.7 miles; Dog's Bluff Access (MDC) at Hwy. 17 bridge 3 miles west of Hwy. 63 at about 10.7 miles; Horseshoe Bend Natural Area (MDC) on Horseshoe Dr. west of Houston at about 13.8 miles; Mineral Springs Access (MDC) on Mineral Dr. north of Houston at about 15.6 miles (boat ramp); Bridge on Sand Shoals Rd. (landowner permission required) one mile east of Hwy. E at about 19.8 miles; Boiling Spring Access (MDC) at the end of Hwy. BB, 7 miles west of Hwy. 63, at about 26.6 miles (boat ramp); Mason Bridge Access (MDC) north of Hwy. 32 on Mason Rd. 7 miles west of Licking at about 32.5 miles; Bridge on Hwy. AF. (landowner permission required) about 10 miles east of Licking at 41.8 miles; USFS Slabtown Access on Slab Spring Dr. off Hwy. N north of Hwy. 32 at about 42.0 miles; Trail Ride Access (USFS) at about 49.8 miles; Six Crossing Access (Private - landowner permission required) at about 50.8 miles; Ross Bridge Access (MDC) adjacent to Fort Leonard Wood at about 57.6 miles; Demolition Road Access (aka Upper Boat Ramp) on river left at about 65.4 miles; Unimproved access immediately below dam and bridge on river right at about 65.6 miles; Breeden Spring Access (aka Lower Boat Ramp) on river left at about 69.3 miles; East Gate Bridge at Fort Leonard Wood Road 10, approximately 2 miles east of Hwy. J, at about 70.2 miles; USFS access (limited parking) at about 70.8 miles; Mayse School Access (USFS) at about 81.8 miles; Devil's Elbow Bridge (landowner permission required) about 4 miles west of St. Roberts at about 86.2 miles; and Bridge on Hwy. Z (landowner permission required) about 4 miles west of St. Roberts at about 86.8 miles; Gasconade River confluence is about 3.1 miles below the Hwy. Z bridge.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

Primitive camping is available at Paddy Creek (USFS) on river left at about 40.1 miles - no vehicles allowed; USFS Slabtown Access on Slab Spring Dr. off Hwy. N north of Hwy. 32 at about 42.0 miles; Trail Ride Access (USFS) at about 49.8 miles; East Gate Bridge at Fort Leonard Wood Road 10, approximately 2 miles east of Hwy. J, at about 70.2 miles (Camping permit is required from FLW Outdoor Recreation Center, (314) 596-4223); USFS access (limited parking) at about 70.8 miles; At least six or seven commercial campgrounds (or other accommodations) are available in the area of the Big Piney River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

At least eight known commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles and/or river information on or near the Big Piney River. Some services may also offer guided trips.

Reviewer's comments

There are plenty of reasons to paddle the Big Piney River. It would be difficult to think of a reason not to do so! This is a place of immense natural beauty and scenery flowing from its headwaters in Texas County to the Gasconade River confluence. If you are an avoid paddler who enjoys serene waters in wilderness settings, then this one offers all that, plus the added benefit of being very close to several of Missouri's other fantastic paddling destinations. Anglers will love the variety of fishlife in its waters. Wildlife and birds of many species can be seen all along the river and in the surrounding forests. The nearly year-round nature of the river makes it great for those who are prepared for cooler weather paddling, when the trees and plants around the river change colors with the seasons. This river is one that demands you bring a camera!

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 89.8 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Simmons Ford Access (MDC)
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Bridge on Hwy. Z (w/ landowner permission)
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Big Piney
Web: Fort Wood
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips 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

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

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

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Last updated June 3, 2021

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