Kayaking the Ozark’s Current River

4-minute read + 10-minute video

The Upper Current River, part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, is a super-scenic and friendly river for kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders of all abilities.

kayaker looks up into a deep cave on the river

Ken paddles through one of the Riverway’s 300+ recorded caves

The Current River is paddle-able all year long, with summers seeing most of the Riverway’s 1.5 million visitors.

Aqua Bound Ambassador Ken Whiting spent a few hours on the Upper Current with local paddle boarders and paddleshop owners Trey and John. They hit the river on an overcast day in early spring.

Paddling the Upper Current River

John and Trey take Ken on a stretch of the Upper Current from Aker’s Ferry to Pulltite Access, just under 10 miles total:

stretch of the Upper Current River circled in red, map of Ozark Nat'l Scenic Riverway

The stretch circled in red is the approximate area of Ken’s route

One of the reasons the flow is consistent on the Current (and Jacks Fork River, the other river in the park) is that these two rivers receive 60% of their flow from local natural springs. One of these springs, Big Spring, has an average flow of 276 million gallons of water a day!

Ken says, “The Current River is definitely what you’d call a friendly river. It has steady and consistent flow downstream. But anytime you have current there is potential for danger. The primary concern is fallen trees and logjams.”

So, on the Current, as on any river, it’s important to pay attention and be mindful of what’s coming up downstream. You won’t run into any large rapids on this stretch. There’s a section of Class I, which most paddlers should be able to handle easily.

Motorized boats like Jon boats (or johnboats: flat-bottomed boats favored by anglers and hunters for shallow water) are common further downstream where the river widens.   In this upper section though, paddlers normally can expect a quiet trip.

Watch Ken’s trip video below:

Kayaking in Caves

As you saw in the video, Ken got excited about being able to kayak through a cave on the river’s shoreline!

“Caves are hands-down some of the coolest environments you’ll find anywhere!” he says. “It’s like you’re seeing inside of Mother Earth. There’s a certain allure of caves—a hole into who-knows-where that just draws you in.”

He mentions the danger of “white-nose fungus”—a fungus that’s harming the bat population all over the US and Canada. This cold-habitat fungus grows in caves. While it hasn’t been shown to be harmful to people, most of the caves within the Riverways boundaries are currently closed. Bats are vital to our ecosystem, and people can inadvertently carry the fungus from one cave to another.

(Paddlers can find information about cave closures on the National Park Service website.)

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Ozark National Scenic Riverways protects 134 miles of two river systems: The Current and the Jacks Forks Rivers. Being largely spring-fed, these waterways are clear and cold—perfect for paddling, boating and swimming. Fishing, hunting, hiking and camping are also very popular within its boundaries, along with visiting local historical sites.

This national protected area is located in southeastern Missouri in what’s known as the Ozark Highlands. This is an extremely diverse area topographically and biologically. Peaks rise upwards of 2,500 feet with forests, bluffs, and rivers common. The Highlands is home to hundreds of plant species and a wide variety of fish, bird and animal life.

Trip Details

For this river trip, Ken paddled the Targa 100 sit-on-top kayak by Wilderness Systems. He used Aqua Bound’s Tango Fiberglass kayak paddle in Northern Lights.
Ken glides along the Current River on an overcast spring day

Ken’s guides were Trey Kerby and John McCart of Ozark River Walkers (ORW) Paddle Boards. ORW designs and sells paddle boards that excel on their local rivers. They also create custom local float adventures for their customers with complete outfitting. Find out more on their website.

“What a cool place the Current River is. Only a couple hours west of St. Louis. This has been a treat. A big thanks to Trey and John for showing me one of their favorite backyard runs,” Ken says at the video’s close.

If you’d like a guided trip within Ozark National Scenic Riverway, including this section of the Upper Current, there are several outfitters to choose from. There are campsites along the way for those inclined toward a multi-day kayak or canoe camping trip.

Much of the information for this post is from the National Park Service page for Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Photos courtesy of Ken Whiting and Paddle TV.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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