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Spring River, Misouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

SH 97 Bridge to Highway P Bridge
~ 67.2 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Missouri's Spring River rises in far southcentral Lawrence County near Aurora, and the intersection of SH 39 and US Highway 60, then flows north by northwest under IH 44 a few miles west of Springfield before bending west and flowing into Jasper County north of Joplin. Just west of SH 43, the river bends southwest, flowing across the far southeastern corner of Kansas, then down into Oklahoma where it again flows under IH 44 on its way to its end at Grand Lake of the Cherokees at Twin Bridges State Park in Ottawa County of extreme northeastern Oklahoma. A popular reach extends about 67.2 miles from SH 97 to a bridge at Highway P west of Belleville, a northside suburb of Joplin. This reach is an easy, Class I flatwater run with numerous access points that make it suitable for recreational paddlers with limited experience if running shorter trips, but is best suited for wilderness paddlers who enjoy longer trips where there are few, if any, services.


Lawrence and Jasper Counties of southwestern Missouri, near the Kansas and Oklahoma State Lines. The river begins near Springfield, then flows just north of Joplin before entering Kansas on its way to Grand Lake of the Cherokees in northeastern Oklahoma.

Distance from major cities

Joplin 30 miles; Springfield 42 miles; Kansas City 180 miles; St. Louis 252 miles; Little Rock 293 miles; Oklahoma City 246 miles; Dallas 451 miles; Austin 641 miles; San Antonio 721 miles; Houston 707 miles; Albuquerque 788 miles; Phoenix 1,227 miles; Denver 871 miles; Salt Lake City 1,347 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 good to very good, declining slightly as the river approaches and passes by Joplin due to industrial, commercial and municipal pollution that is typical of developed areas. Flows are usually adequate for paddle trips most of the time, but will be lower during summer and early-fall months, with the river being too low to paddle during periods of drought.

Best times to go

The best time to paddle the Spring River (the one in southwestern Missouri, not the one that flows into Mammoth Springs on the Arkansas border) is usually in late-winter through late-spring, or in late-fall, if there has been sufficient rainfall to raise the flow after summer lows.

Hazards to navigation

The Spring River is generally free of significant hazards to navigation other than potential dangers at low-water crossings, especially in high-water conditions. Most competent boaters will encounter no dangers on the river at normal levels.

River access points

SH 97 bridge about 3 miles north of IH 44 at 0.0 miles; SH 37 bridge about 3 miles north of IH 44 at about 16.0 miles; US Highway 71 Alternate bridge about 4 miles north of IH 44 at about 30.0 miles; Jasper County Highway H bridge at about 39.0 miles; SH 43 bridge north of Joplin at about 51.0 miles; SH 71 bridge northwest of Joplin at about 62.0 miles; Jasper County Highway P bridge west of Belleville at about 67.2 miles. Other access points may be available.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no known campgrounds located along the Spring River. Much adjoining land is privately owned, and camping should only be done there with advance permission of the landowners. Battle of Carthage State Park is located just northeast of Joplin, near the interesection of SH 96 and US Highway 71, but riverside camping is not indicated. Check with local authorities for possible campsites along the river.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known outfitters located along or serving the Spring River in Jasper County, though it is posisble that at least one can be found in Joplin or Springfield. Plan on taking your own boats and gear, then running your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

This reach of the Spring River flows through southwestern Missouri farmland where there is very little development. The river is crossed in many places by north-to-south roads, most connecting to IH 44 between Joplin and Springfield. While not a wildly popular place to paddle, and it has been many years since I was last here, this river offers a trip that can be taken all the way into Oklahoma, crossing the far southeastern corner of Kansas, to Grand Lake of the Cherokees, where it joins the waters of the Elk River from southwestern Missouri and he Neosho River from southeastern Kansas. The river diverges north as it nears Joplin, and while some outskirts developement will be found in that area, the river mostly bypasses the city proper in favor of a path through more remote countryside in the three states through which it flows. Long trips are not recommended for casual recreational paddlers, though shorter trips between access points can be taken, but is a great trip for wilderness paddlers who enjoy "roughing it" for a few days where services are few and far between. The scenery is not as pretty as that of the Elk River and its tributaries, but (to my way of thinking) any navigable river is a beautiful place to paddle.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 67.2 miles
Minimum Stage feet
Optimum Stage feet
Maximum Stage feet
First Put-in SH 97 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Highway P bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Carthage
Web: Waco
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

Kansas City Whitewater Club

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

Missouri Whitewater Association - promoting whitewater paddling in the Ozarks

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

Southwest Paddler
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Last updated June 3, 2021

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