The Elk River

Noel, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I are planning to spend June and most of July around southern Missouri. We are looking forward to spending some time with our friends and family, especially our granddaughter. But we are also very excited about spending time on the many beautiful rivers here.

We have been surprised how few beautiful, clear, floatable rivers we’ve encountered in our travels thus far. We can count them on one hand. The San Marcos, the Colorado River, the other Colorado in Texas, and the Chatoogo are the ones that spring to mind. There were some possible candidates in the state of Colorado but the water there was pretty high and very cold when we visited in May.

We have always taken the rivers of our home state for granted. Most of our lives we’ve lived within a few hours of dozens of beautiful floats. I can easily think of 6 rivers just in southern MO that are so clear you can easily see the bottom most of the time. I like to see what I am swimming in and what might be swimming with me.

The rivers in South Carolina’s lowcountry really brought this point home. They have blackwater rivers which are exactly what they sound like. The water is dark as night and you can’t see a foot into it. Not a place I’d want to stick a toe into, and I wasn’t too keen on kayaking them either. You have to assume there is always a possibility, however remote, that you are going into that water you are floating over.

I’m afraid if I went into the drink in a blackwater river I’d have a heart attack imagining what might be swimming around in there with me. Alligators are a very real possibility in SC. Even though the reasonable part of my brain knows they aren’t likely to attack a person, I don’t think that is the part of my brain that would be in control if I unexpectedly found myself immersed.

So while we are back in our home stomping grounds we hope to visit some of our favorite floats and share them here. I encourage anyone passing through, or near, southern MO to stop for a while and see what it has to offer. And if you are passing through this summer and need any ideas about what to visit or want to see if our paths are going to cross feel free to comment or email us.

Now I’ll tell you about a beautiful place that we only just discovered. Our friends asked us months ago if we wanted to join them on the Elk River in June for the Chicken Coop. Huh, the Chicken what?

It turns out that last year they stumbled upon an annual dart tournament that has taken place in Noel, Missouri for over 30 years. We have no real interest in darts but they promised us it was a redneck party that was not to be missed. So we said “what the heck, count us in.”

The people involved in this event take over Wayside Campground the first weekend of June. Our friends have visited this campground several times and claim that on normal weekends it is not terribly busy. But on this weekend we knew not to expect any privacy and we were right. We had tents pitched all around us.

The campground was $35 per night for water and electric. Like so many riverside campgrounds rustic is a nice way to describe it. It’s a gravel bar with water and electric and not much else. But the staff is super friendly and it’s in the perfect location. There is a small dam that makes the water in front of the campground lake-like and perfect for swimming. Here was the view from our camp. There is another campground across the river.

To get to the campground you have to drive along a road with this scary bluff sticking out. Even though the sign says there is a 13’10” clearance it is still nerve-racking to drive your rig under because it looks so much closer.

The dart tournament consisted of a large tent with maybe 30 dart boards being played all hours of the day and night. That is why we insisted on a campsite as far away as possible. People were driving in and out all the time but that didn’t bother us. We walked down each evening to see what was going on but didn’t spend a ton of time there. The tournament did host a good band on Saturday night and some fireworks that we saw from our site.

We had super neighbors. We shared their campfire Saturday night and were treated to a midnight snack of the best BBQ ribs I’ve ever eaten. Yes, we can’t believe we stayed awake ’till midnight either!

The river was the big surprise for me. I just didn’t have very high expectations for it. But it turned out to be very clear, clean water with some stunning scenery along the way. Since I didn’t expect it to be very scenic I didn’t take a camera, or even a phone, so I missed some really beautiful shots. I stole a few of my friends’ photos and took some later from the bank.

There were many beautiful bluffs.

The water was generally very calm. It flowed slowly but steadily. So there was plenty of time for visiting with friends.

This river does have a well-deserved reputation as a party river. We generally try to avoid crowds on rivers but every now and then we just embrace the crazy and go with it. This was one of the wildest river atmospheres we’ve encountered. I mean loud music, occasional public nudity, don’t bring your grandkids kind of crazy.

Jim had fun catching more than a dozen fish even though only one would have been large enough to keep. We did chat up some of our fellow floaters now and then and met a nice, young couple from Kansas among others. This would be a really beautiful, likely serene, weekday float which is how we hope to experience it next time we get a chance.

3 thoughts on “The Elk River

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