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Big Creek, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Hwy K Bridge to Sam A. Baker State Park
~ 19.2 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The St. Francis River, or Saint, as it is popularly known among paddlers, originates in St. Francois County Missouri, flows down through the Mark Twain National Forest through Iron, Madison, Wayne, Stoddard, New Madrid and Dunklin Counties before leaving Missouri to form the partial borders between Arkansas and Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee and Arkansas and Mississippi. The river ends at its mouth on the Mississippi River in Lee County, Arkansas in the St. Francis National Forest. The Saint is almost like two different rivers separated by Lake Wappapello, which divides the high-relief Ozark Plateau above the lake from the low-relief Mississippi Alluvial Plain below it. The headwaters are characterized by igneous rock in the Ozark uplift of the St. Francois Mountains, followed downstream by sandstone and dolomites. Impervious rock formations on the Upper St. Francis prevent ground seepage and contribute to heavy runoff during rains, making the river run fast and furious. Frequent flooding is an issue of concern, and paddlers need to check the weather before going to and watch it while on the Saint.

Big Creek is a Class I to II tributary of the St. Francis river flowing about 19.2 miles between the Highway K bridge just west of Annapolis through Sam A. Baker State Park to its confluence with the Saint. Starting in Iron County, Big Creek ends in Wayne County near Lodi and US Highway 67. This narrow "crick" can be a docile lamb at normal to low water levels or a roaring lion in high water conditions. Its rapids are exciting, especially considering the tight nature of the creek and the control necessary to avoid creekbanks, trees, brush and obstacles that may occasionally find their way into the streambed. It is a canoe and kayak only stream - rafts would be just too bulky and awkward for this small waterway. It is gorgeous with a capital "G", so bring your camera and take a lot of photos (send some to me for inclusion on this web site!)


Iron and Wayne Counties in southeastern Missouri near the Mark Twain National Forest. St. Louis is about 2 hours to the northeast.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 120 miles; Joplin 307 miles; Springfield 235 miles; Kansas City 404 miles; Memphis 240 miles; Little Rock 280 miles; Oklahoma City 523 miles; Dallas 605 miles; Austin 800 miles; San Antonio 843 miles; Houston 714 miles; Albuquerque 1,161 miles; Phoenix 1,605 miles; Grand Junction 1,426 miles; Denver 1,221 miles; Salt Lake City 1,718 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Big Creek water quality is generally good to very good, flowing clean and clear except in hot, summer months when it will rate good. Flows are nearly always adequate for boating, weather permitting, except during summer months of drought years. Winter days will be very cool to cold. Summer days will be hot and steamy.

Best time to go

Except during periods of drought, Big Creek can usually be paddled much of the year. Waters tend to run low in summer, and may occasionally be too low to paddle between July and September in below average rainfall years.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards to navigation along Big Creek other than the tight, techncal nature of the stream and difficulties that may result from high flows and strong currents.

River Access Points

Put in at the Hwy K bridge west of Annapolis at 0.0 miles; SH 34 bridge at Des Arc at about8.5 miles; Sam A. Baker State Park on the St. Francis River at about 19.2 miles. There are no other public access points for Big Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Sam A. Baker State Park, at the end of this reach and the St. Francis River confluence, offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. Nearby campgrounds include Coldwater State Park, off SH 34 east of Lodi, offering excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities, and Silver Mines Campground (USFS) off SH 72 near Roselle on the St. Francis river, offering excellent campsites with amenities in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters located along or near this reach of Big Creek. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

If you are coming to Missouri to paddle the Saint, or any of the other great rivers in this vicinity of the state, then you owe it to yourself to check out Big Creek. It is not really all THAT big, but it is all that beautiful, and the easy Class I to II rating means that even paddlers with modest whitewater experience can have fun without risking life and limb unless the creek is in flood stage, then WATCH OUT! Typical of creek boating, this one has some tight, technical turns that can make trees and bushes jump out and bite you when the creek flows high and strong currents develop. However, paddlers with competent boating skills should be able to navigate the "hazards" without a lot of difficulty. The short run gives an all-day experience that ends in the very scenic Sam A. Baker State Park, a perfect place to camp when you are finished with your run. If you did not get enough paddling there is always the option of waking up the next day and putting in on the Saint for a run of about 21 miles down to US Highway 67 at Greenville on Class I flatwater, or going upriver on the Saint to paddle either or both sections of Class II to III whitewater.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 19.2 miles (accessible)
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Hwy K bridge west of Annapolis
Lat/Long 37.3583984 / -90.705101
Last Take-out Sam A. Baker State Park
Lat/Long 37.2602997 / -90.5058975
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: Des Arc
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Missouri Whitewater Association - promoting whitewater paddling in the Ozarks

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

Kansas City Whitewater Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

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

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

[ St. Francis River Homepage ] [ Highway H Bridge to Silver Mines Campground ] [ Silver Mines Campground to US Highway 67 ]

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