The Osage Fork River, a tributary of the Gasconade River, forms just southeast of Homestead Road (County highway 263) in Webster county, and then flows generally north by northeast to its confluence with the Gasconade at Hazelgreen in Laclede County just south of IH 44, about 155 miles southwest of St. Louis. Don't be fooled by geography and names - this is NOT the Osage River into which flows the Niangua River, and which flows from Lake of the Ozarks to the Missouri River. "The Fork", as locals refer to it, is an absolutely gorgeous stream that is very well suited for fishing and canoeing in the central Ozarks of Missouri. At its top it is barely more than a creek, and for all practical purposes canoeing and kayaking are not recommended above Highway Dd because of the narrow, shallow channel. While most people would consider the lower 57 miles from Rader Public access near Highway Zz as the ideal reach to paddle there are potential access points along public roads above there, and if sufficient water exists trips above Rader would be quite scenic and remote flowing through a forested river bank and adjacent farmland between Marshfield to the west and Hartville to the east. The first practical access point is along Osage road just off Highway DD on river left below the bridge. The river is a Class I to II stream with a modest 5 fpm gradient that is characterized by many twists and turns (though nowhere NEAR as crooked as the Gasconade!), small rapids and riffles and frequent log jams and overhanging brush strainers, especially where the river bends sharply. These obstructions can be hazards to navigation any time, but especially during spring, when the usual flood season occurs.
The Osage Fork River is ideally suited for long, overnight canoe camping trips, with beautiful sand and gravel bars, and tree-lined banks that depict the remoteness of this wilderness river. Access is great, with many places to start or end trips. While this entire reach is about 75.5 miles the most popular section starts at the MDC Rader access at about 14.8 miles below Highway Dd, and continues for 60.7 miles to the MDC Hazelgreen Public Access on the Gasconade River about 1.1 miles below the confluence and just before the IH 44 Bridge. Dairy farms and cattle ranches border the river along much of its path. A break in an old mill dam near Orla, about 21.9 miles below Rader, provides the most excitement to be found on this river, which is mostly long, quiet pools of clean, clear water. Above Orla, the river is best paddled before mid-June, but below that point it is essentially a year-round stream, especially below the Highway B bridge about midway downriver between Rader and Hazelgreen. If you are into fishing, then this stream can be a bonanza for longear and green sunfish, bronzeback, largemouth, smallmouth and rock bass, channel catfish and other species. There are no outfitters or campgrounds located along the river, and it is not a popular recreational paddling stream, which makes it perfect for those who truly enjoy beautiful rivers without sharing them with a few million other paddlers. There are nearby services that can provide rentals and shuttles, as well as campground or conventional accommodations by pre-arrangement, though services are usually limited to the lower half of the river.
Webster and Laclede Counties, in the Ozarks of southcentral Missouri. Its mouth is about 65 miles northeast of Springfield, and about 155 miles southwest of St. Louis.
St. Louis 195 miles; Joplin 117 miles; Springfield 45 miles; Kansas City 205 miles; Oklahoma City 333 miles; Little Rock 260 miles; Dallas 469 miles; Austin 659 miles; San Antonio 739 miles; Houston 694 miles; Albuquerque 875 miles; Phoenix 1,315 miles; Denver 958 miles; Salt Lake City 1,434 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally very good to excellent except during drought periods when it degrades slightly, though it is mostly free of contaminants and pollution due to the remoteness of the surrounding area. Dead-fall debris piles are the most significant contributors to discoloration, and the river will become slightly muddy after signifiant rainfall. Above the Highway B bridge (28.7 miles downriver from Rader) the river is usually navigable from late-winter through mid-June. Below Highway B the river is usually boatable year-round other than during prolonged droughts. (NOTE: The USGS gauge linked at the right is actually on the Gasconade River at Hazelgreen, below the end of this river. Use readings advisedly!)
Depending upon your desired length of time on the river and the period when you are coming to the river, the upper half of the Osage Fork River is best paddled from February through mid-June, and possibly as early as November or December with sufficient late-fall and early winter rains. Below Highway B, the river can be paddled just about any time of the year except in drought periods.
Dead-fall strainers and overhanding brush are the major obstacles to navigation on the Osage Fork, especially in high water conditions, when the current increases, making control more important and more difficult simultaneously. Rapids are mainly Class I riffles and easy shoals. The river earns its Class I to II rating because of the potential for log jams at sharp bends, where they are often hard to see until you are upon them. Beware the river in flood stage conditions. Low-water bridges at 2.7 and 4.5 miles below Rader can be a problem any time, and especially in high water. A dam (N 37° 32' 21.46" / W 092° 32' 28.53") near Orla, at about 36.7 miles below Highway Dd (and about 21.9 miles below the MDC Rader access) will require a portage, probably on river left, unless there is sufficient flow and you are prepared to run the dam in the right boat.
Webster County Highway Dd Bridge (N 37° 20' 18.35" / W 092° 50'03.30") on river left at 0.0 miles; Valley View Road at Highway M (N37° 22' 53.63" / W 092° 47' 02.60") on river left at about 4.9 miles; Highway F Bridge (N 37° 24' 38.41" / W 092° 45' 14.93") on river left at about 8.6 miles (may be private property); Kilburn Bridge Road (N 37° 26' 13.25" / W 092° 46'08.15") on river left at about 11.2 miles; MDC Rader Access (N 37° 27' 36.10" / W 092° 43' 25.61") at the Highway Zz bridge on river left at about 14.8 miles; Auburn Road Low-water Bridge (N 37° 29' 02.22" / W 092° 42' 17.49") on river left at about 17.5 miles; Orchid Drive Low-water Bridge (N 37° 29' 04.66" / W 092° 41' 13.29") on river right at about 19.3 miles; Highway J Bridge (N 37° 29'51.91" / W 092° 37' 47.16") off Omaha Road on river left at about 24.0 miles; Atlanta Road Low-water Bridge (N 37° 31' 27.34" / W 092° 37' 00.00") on river left at about 29.4 miles; SH 5 Bridge (N 37° 32' 10.73" / W 092° 35' 21.21") on either side of the river at about 32.2 miles (see warning note below); Skyline Drive / Highway V-440 (N 37° 32' 26.60" / W 092° 32' 18.95") on river left at about 36.9 miles; Cobblestone Road (N 37° 33' 40.23" / W 092° 31' 53.85") on river left at about 40.9 miles (possibly private property); Long Ford Public Access (N 37° 35' 18.24" / W 092° 30' 51.87") below Highway B Bridge on river right at about 44.5 miles; Tulsa Road / CR 32-449 (N 37° 34' 32.12" / W 092° 28' 31.30") on river left at about 47.8 miles; MDC Drynob Access (N 37° 38' 00.99" / W 092° 27' 08.78") just below the Highway 32 Bridge on rifver left at about 55.1 miles; MDC Davis Ford Access (N 37° 39' 30.74" / W 092° 29' 09.15") at Highway AC Bridge on river left at about 60.5 miles; Garrett Road Access (N 37° 41' 48.79" / W 092° 29' 11.58") on river right at about 68.3 miles; MDC Hull Ford Access (N 37° 42' 15.72" / W 092° 29' 02.00") on river left at about 68.9 miles; Gasconade River confluence (N 37° 45' 05.67" / W 092° 26' 18.85") - no access - at about 74.5 miles; MDC Hazelgreen Access (N 37° 45' 33.77" / W 092° 27' 08.73") on the Gasconade River just before the IH 44 Bridge on river left at about 75.5 miles.
(NOTE: The SH 5 bridge at about 32.2 miles is not a recommended access because of potential problems with a landdowner who has posted the property adjacent to the river. For the record, access may be protected by the Federal Commercial Navigable Waterways Act, but enforcement of your rights would be a time-consuming and costly matter that can be avoided by not using the SH 5 bridge as an access point until this matter is challenged in court and adjudicated in favor of the general public.)
There are no campgrounds located along the Osage Fork River. However, abundant natural primitive campsites can be found on riverbanks and sand or gravel bars all along the river. Be careful about camping on private property, and always obtain landowner permission before doing so. There is at least one commercial campground with resort accommodations located near the Gasconade River confluence, as well as several others located along the Gasconade River in near proximity to the Osage Fork River.
There are no liveries, outfitters or shuttle services located on or near the Osage Fork River. Several commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles and/or river information on the nearby Gasconade River.
It is always a pleasure to meet new friends and paddle a river with them, but there is something very special about paddling where few others are, or ever will be, and getting to see a gorgeous river that most will never experience. The Osage Fork is one of those gems that will probably never be really popular due to its remoteness and the lack of nearby services, which is a blessing to those who enjoy wilderness paddling away from development, signs of civilization and other things that remind us that we are really just parts of the rat race. If you are one of those fortunate enough to find your way here, then this river will treat you to a very special adventure. Boaters should be aware of the many bends in the river, and the potential for dangerous strainers and log jams that collect in them, especially after floods or during high water conditions. If you are an angler, then bring a valid Missouri fishing license and get ready to have a good time fishing for many species, though I personally prefer to just say "Hello" to them as I paddle downriver on my way to camp, where my friends and I will feast on venison-stuffed porkloin, Porterhouse steaks, or any number of other great meals we enjoy preparing after a day on a gorgeous river. The Alamo City Rivermen (of San Antonio, Texas) claim to be an eating club that loves to paddle, and I heartily agree with their sentiments - no packages of stuff poured into a cup of hot water for us! This is a river that makes you WANT to camp on a gravel bar, cook a meal over an open fire and enjoy the beauty of this magic Missouri stream.