Let's Go: Canoeing the Scenic Eleven Point River in Alton, Missouri
If you've canoed the Wolf River and want more of a challenge, put the beautiful Eleven Point National Scenic River on your list. Situated in the picturesque Ozark hills of southern Missouri, this winding river offers lush scenery, enchanting springs, and Class I & II rapids.
Thanks to a nearly pristine shoreline, a 44-mile stretch of the Eleven Point (from Thomasville, Missouri, to the Highway 142 bridge) was named to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system back in 1968, making it among the first of eight units and the only river in Missouri to attain this protected status.
I'd never heard of the Eleven Point before this trip, but judging from how few people we saw on the river, I'm not alone. That's part of its beauty. There are 11 public access points, and eight float camps, so paddlers can do a day-long float or spend overnights on the river. It does help to have some experience canoeing or kayaking, as you'll have to navigate rapids, but our group included two beginners who fully enjoyed their experience, despite tumping over several times.
We leave Memphis on a Friday afternoon and drive to Alton, Missouri, (3.5 hours/170 mls. northwest) where my friend has rented boats from Hufstedler's Canoe Rental ($35/per person, $5/camp fee) for a two-night, 20-mile float. The plan is for the four of us to canoe all day Saturday, camp on the river Saturday night, and paddle Sunday to the take-out point at Riverton (just steps away from the outfitter).
After camping on-site Friday night, we load up our gear Saturday morning and Hufstedler's driver whisks us along winding country roads to our put-in point at Greer Spring Branch. While it is a warm June morning, the water here feels icy cold, owing to Greer Spring just a mile upriver. This is the case for much of the Eleven Point, since its water comes from the 30-plus springs that feed it as it meanders southward through Oregon County. This keeps the water level higher in summer than other rivers that are largely dependent on runoff as a water source.
Once we begin paddling, the river's majesty slowly unfolds. We marvel at the grey, dolomite cliffs that frequently loom either side of the river, soaring hundreds of feet above the shoreline and pock-marked with caves.
Other times, chunks of rock that have been wrenched free sit nestled in the marshes, creating Zen-like sculptures.
Here, we spot clutches of ducklings and turtles basking in the sun. The swift-moving current is often a beautiful aquamarine and so clear that we can see rainbow trout and minnows darting past our boat. Not surprisingly, this is also a popular destination for fishermen.
The river's complexion changes as we encounter its numerous rapids. The water suddenly flows with more urgency, and we find ourselves snapping to attention. "Do you see the rocks up ahead?" Sonja calls out from the bow. The white water riffles, a telltale sign. "Yep, I've got it," I reply, pulling my oar close to the stern so we'll steer clear of danger. The canoe picks up speed and we surge through the frothy chute, narrowly dodging an overturned rootball.
The afternoon nearly spent, we finally pull up to a sandy stretch just downriver from the Whitten Access, and make camp for the night. Since this beach sits slightly above a set of rapids, we are perfectly situated for birdwatching and are treated to a Great Blue heron, a Green Heron, and a rare summer resident, the elegant Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, foraging along the shore.
We think we spot a bald eagle here, too; a paddler we encounter says he saw a pair. A call later to the Forest Wildlife Manager Theresa Davidson with the Mark Twain National Forest, confirms that bald eagles make their home here.
We finally head to bed, only to be awoken by brisk winds and flashes of lighting at 3 a.m. Sonja calls out urgently, "Arun, Laura, wake up! We've got to secure the canoes!" The storm takes us all by surprise. But we get our gear situated just minutes ahead of the rain. It serves as a reminder to always tie up canoes and keep rain tarps at the ready.
The next morning dawns bright, so after breakfast we load back onto the river. The highlights between Whitten and Riverton include a stop at the picturesque Boze Mill Spring. The trail winds past the remains of the old flour mill, as well as blackberry brambles heavy with fruit. Well, a little less heavy after our passing.
Laura is the first to brave these frigid waters (57 degrees year-round), followed by Arun. Another paddler shares his goggles so we can peer into the mysterious deep. It is amazing. We swim until we're refreshed, if slightly frozen.
Our final adventure takes place off river. Late in the afternoon, Arun drives us several miles to Greer Spring, a breathtaking hike down a series of hollows that reminds me of Shelby Forest. We tramp through the woods, following the roar of the spring. At the verdant bottom, ferns, mosses, and wild hydrangeas grow, giving this place a primordial feel. It is a perfect ending to a weekend none of us will soon forget.
There are a number of outfitters in the Alton area that provide boats, guides, and camping privaleges. Camp sites available in Mark Twain National Forest.
- Dry bags
- Sleeping bag & mat
- Small cooler, ice
- Wood sticks & matches (for starting a fire)
- Personal items: toilet paper, sunscreen, bug repellant
- Long-sleeved shirt, hat, water shoes
- Cooking pot, utensils, plate
- Water (1 gallon per person)
- River map
- Most importantly, good company
What is your favorite paddle destination, and what makes it special?