The Current and Jacks Fork rivers flow quickly -- and coolly --

Sunday, July 28, 2002

There's nothing more relaxing and restful than a lazy afternoon spent in the summer sun beside a lake or river.

And there's hardly a better place to relax than on the rivers in the Missouri Ozarks. Currents can be strong, particularly after a heavy rain, but the clear water and natural beauty is spectacular nearly any time of the year.

My family planned a camping and canoe trip in June in the Ozarks. It was part vacation getaway and part Father's Day celebration with my dad, stepmom and brother.

We left Cape Girardeau County on Saturday morning for the drive along U.S. 60 to the Ozarks. And for a weekend getaway, it's just the right distance: only 185 miles.

The hills and valleys are the perfect place to enjoy the Ozarks view. Wildflowers of all colors and varieties dot the hillsides.

Once in Eminence, we decided to camp in the National Park Service campground near Alley Spring. We had arranged for a half-day float trip on the Jacks Fork River the following day from one of the canoe rental services.

Before the trip, I checked the Internet for some basic information and maps of the area. The National Park Service site -- www.nps.gov/ozar -- has all the information you need about campsites, lodges, rental services and when to plan your trip.

The site also links you to some of the major canoe and kayak rental services in the region. Most canoe rentals run around $30 per day on average, whether you take an all-day or half-day float. Additional canoes average $15 more.

The rental shops will offer transportation from their site to the rivers, and some even have their own campgrounds on the river. Others pick you up at the campground. Each canoe comes with paddles, life jackets and seat cushions. There's plenty of room for your coolers and fishing rods, too.

If you're not interested in camping, there are cabins and a resort as well. Bed and breakfasts also dot the highways around Eminence and Van Buren. Hotel rates vary depending on the number in the party and the time of year. Rates generally rise during the peak summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

We chose to camp and set up our tents at one of the few empty spots. Picnic tables and grills are available at each site. We ate lunch before heading to the river for a swim.

Our campsite was just a short trek from the river along a wooded trail. People in canoes were stopping at the gravel bar for a swim. Some pulled their canoes to the river's edge so they could climb atop a rock bluff and dive into the river. (It's actually prohibited, but that didn't stop them.)

The water runs clear and cold in the spring-fed Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, so it's a great respite on a hot, summer afternoon. There are dozens of gravel bars along the rivers that are perfect places to stop and soak up the sun or just wade into the water.

On our Sunday morning float, we headed out below Alley Spring, where the water temperature drops and the color turns a deeper aqua. The current moves quickly, so there's hardly any reason to paddle, except to keep your canoe away from upturned trees, called rootwads, or rock outcroppings. And floating lets you enjoy your surroundings more, which seemed to pass by us quickly on this trip.

Laura Johnston is the features editor for the Southeast Missourian.

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