Better Than a 10
Where to find clear spring water, abundant wildlife, and fascinating side hikes year-round on Missouri's Eleven Point River.
By Larry Rice
FLOWING SOUTHEASTERLY THROUGH the Ozarks of south-central Missouri, the Eleven Point offers some of the finest river running and canoe camping in the Midwest. With clear water, forested banks, rocky bluffs, and countless springs, this National Wild and Scenic River snakes through a tunnel of sycamore and birch on a meandering 44-mile course through the Mark Twain National Forest.
Launching at Highway 99 near Thomasville, where the Eleven Point is barely more than a small stream, it gains width and depth as it proceeds southeast. Springs issuing from dolomite bluffs or rushing up from vast underground systems feed the river with a continuous source of water. Plan on three to four days of easy floating to reach the Highway 142 bridge take-out; though with several access points, you can also take shorter trips.
No matter how long you take, you’ll be immersed in nature at its best. The hills and hollows abutting the river abound in wildlife, everything from whitetail deer and beaver to mink, bobcat, and coyote. Pileated woodpeckers, kingfishers, red-shouldered hawks, great blue herons, and wild turkeys are a few of the more common bird species an eagle-eyed boater might observe.
For something different, consider taking a dive mask and snorkel during summer canoe floats when the spring-fed river warms up a bit. You’ll usually find underwater visibility excellent, and in the deep pools you’ll see a variety of fish, including large carp. However, if you would rather catch fish than watch them, you might want to know that the more common game fish include rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, and trout.
The Eleven Point valley also offers a fascinating human history. Along the river, you’ll encounter Civil War-era grist mills, old moonshiner stills, and boom holes where logs were taken from the river and loaded onto rail cars during the Ozark lumber rush between 1890 and 1910. Pick up a free, interpretive brochure from the U.S. Forest Service.
One of the best sections for stretching your legs lies in the section from Cane Bluff to Greer Crossing (miles 9 through 16 from the put-in). Several towering bluffs, rising as high as 250 sheer feet directly over the river, mark this stretch. At the top of the bluffs, hikers find commanding and lofty views.
More than 30 natural springs supply the Eleven Point with a continuous store of clear, chilled water. Many of them issue from limestone formations, where you’ll find numerous caves and sinkholes. You won’t have any trouble finding Greer Spring Branch, a watercress-laden tributary located at mile 16 (from Thomasville). Greer Spring, about a one-mile hike up the outlet, ranks as the second largest in Missouri with an outflow of 222 million gallons of water a day. The deep, aqua-blue discharge more than doubles the volume of the Eleven Point, ensuring ample water for canoeing even in the dry summer months.
Nighttime provides some of the best times on the Eleven Point. Float camps (equipped with table, latrine, tent pad, and fire ring) are staggered along the river. Stop for a night at Whites Creek Float Camp, on river left about 12 miles from Greer. There you can pick up foot trails through the Irish Wilderness and explore nearby Whites Creek Cave, a 1,600-foot-deep cavern full of wild formations (and bats after mid-September, at which time it’s closed). But if you prefer to “rough it,” like many people do, feel free to pitch your tent on one of the gravel bars or on wooded riverbanks.
THE ELEVEN POINT IN A NUTSHELL
Where: The Eleven Point is a 200-mile drive (4 hours) from St. Louis or a 500-mile drive (9 hours) from Chicago.
Prime time: You can run the river year-round. Early summer is most everyone’s favorite season when the water is still high and the afternoon sun is warm. Avoid summer crowds by visiting in spring and fall.
Difficulty: Easy for canoeists of intermediate skill. The water is generally smooth, though it can be fast flowing with twists, turns, and occasional logjams.
Contact: Mark Twain National Forest, 573-996-2153; www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/marktwain. Ask for a complete list of canoe-rental and shuttle-service concessionaires authorized to operate on the Eleven Point. A free brochure is available with a river map..