It has been called one of the world's crookedest rivers, and looking at a map of it will reveal why the Gasconade River of central Missouri earns that title. At 265 miles, it is the longest river flowing wholly with the state. The Gasconade forms in the Ozarks of Wright County, then flows northeast (and every other direction on the compass rose) to its Missouri River confluence near the Town of Gasconade in its namesake county between Jefferson City to the west and St. Louis to the east. From its headwaters the river lazily flows through a deep valley that is adorned with many large caves and springs along its upper half.
The Lower Gasconade River, between Bell Chute Access and its Missouri River confluence, flows about 85.2 miles through Maries, Osage and Gasconade Counties. It is a seldom-paddled but extremely beautiful reach of the river. Flowing through largely undeveloped, remote wilderness, this trip is rife with an abundance of wildlife, hills, feeder creeks, rock formations, trees, shrubs, wildflowers and everything that goes with it. Because of its remote nature and little use as a recreational stream this reach does not have outfitters and commercial campgrounds, which makes it all the more inviting for those who want to get away from the crowds and enjoy Mother Nature in her most natural state. Starting on a modest gradient of 2.2 fpm and flattening to an almost imperceptible 0.8 fpm, this section meanders on a gentle current.
The character of this stream is such that one can paddle a lot of miles without going very far away from where they started. At one point near its Missouri River confluence the Gasconade travels some 67 miles in a driving distance of roughly 23-24 miles, and the area where the outfitters are located is much the same. The river is a flatwater paddle without substantial danger from hazards to navigation. Surrounding scenery is awesome wilderness of trees, plants, wildlife, birds and numerous species of fish, smallmouth bass being the primary game fish found in its waters. While devoid of any whitewater, the Gasconade River offers a wealth of natural scenery and paddling enjoyment that most boaters will appreciate, regardless of experience or skill. This review will cover the last 85.2 miles of the river where commercial outfitters and campgrounds are not located, but which can be paddled by self-reliant boaters providing their own boats, gear and shuttles.
Wright, Laclede, Pulaski, Maries, Osage and Gasconade Counties of southcentral and central Missouri, beginning southeast of Springfield and ending at the Missouri River between Jefferson City and St. Louis.
St. Louis 195 miles; Joplin 132 miles; Springfield 60 miles; Kansas City 229 miles; Oklahoma City 348 miles; Little Rock 230 miles; Dallas 580 miles; Austin 770 miles; San Antonio 850 miles; Houston 825 miles; Albuquerque 890 miles; Phoenix 1,329 miles; Denver 973 miles; Salt Lake City 1,449 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)
The spring-fed waters of the Gasconade River usually flow clean, clear and cool at almost year-round navigable levels. The modest gradient produces a gentle, but usually steady current that is suitable for tubing, as well as canoeing, kayaking and rafting. Boiling Spring, just below the Big Piney River confluence on the reach above, kicks in about 42 million gallons per hour, and Blue Spring (Shanghai Spring) on the Big Piney River above the confluence adds another 10 million gallons per hour. Additional springs on this reach contribute even more flow to the river, helping to keep it at navigable levels most of the time.
Just any time, weather permitting, is a good time to paddle the Gasconade River. Numerous springs feed water into the stream, maintaining its navigable levels. This reach of the Gasconade nearly always has adequate flow for good trips.
Many sharp bends and tree-lined banks combine to produce a sufficient quantity of dead-fall strainers and log jams, especially at higher flows. Low-hanging brush along the banks contributes to the potential for strainers. Paddlers should be vigilant along the banks and at riverbends, and during high flow conditions extra caution should be urged, especially where visibility ahead is limited. There are no major rapids or waterfall hazards along the course of the Gasconade River.
Bell Chute Access on CR 513 off Highway Y (concrete ramp) on river right at about 167.2 miles; Private access on river left at about 174.5 miles; Private access at Indian Ford at the SH 42 bridge; Paydown Access on river left (concrete ramp) at about 187.6 miles; Fish Hollow Access on river right on a county road south from Highway M near Summerfield at about 191.6 miles; Private access on river left on CR 636 at the railroad bridge just west of Gascondy at about 195.4 miles; Private access at Daggetts's Ford on CR 634 off US Highway 63 on river left at about 197.4 miles; Rollins Ferry Access on river left at the SH 89 bridge (concrete ramp) at about 203.4 miles; Pointers Creek Access on river left (concrete ramp) on Highway RA off Highway CC from US Highway 50/SH 89 near Linn at about 211.3 miles; Cooper Hill Access on river right off Highway D near Third Creek at about 216.6 miles; Mt. Sterling Bridge Access on US Highway 50 (mud bank under bridge) at about 219.8 miles; Helds Island Access on river right off Highway K (concrete ramp) at about 235.4 miles; Fredericksburg Ferry Access on river right on Old Ferry Road off Highway J (concrete ramp) at about 244.8 miles; Gasconade Park Access on river right (concrete ramp) on Oak Street in Gasconade at about 252.4 miles. Other access points are available at commercial outfitter locations - launch fees may apply unless renting from them.
The lower reaches, through Maries, Osage and Gasconade County, also flow through remote wilderness where numerous camping opportunities exist: Paydown Access, Rollins Ferry Access, Pointers Creek Access, Cooper Hill Access, Helds island Access, Fredericksburg Ferry Access and Gasconade Park Access all allow overnight camping along the river.
There are many commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information along the Gasconade River, though few, if any, are located on this reach of the river.
A boater could almost get drunk paddling this crooked river! A boater CAN paddle a long way without going very far from the starting point on this river. The Gasconade begins in the remote farming and ranching country of Wright County, then flows into and through Mark Twain National Forest in its middle reaches in Laclede and Pulaski Counties before cutting a path through Maries, Osage and Gasconade Counties to the Missouri River near the small Town of Gasconade. This run begins in a land of many large springs and caves, the former providing sufficient flow for boating almost year-round, weather and climate conditions permitting. While services are scarce on the upper and lower reaches, the middle 100 miles, or so, has several outfitters who can provide a place to camp, boat rentals and shuttles, information about riverside camping along the way and other helpful hints on how to enjoy this gorgeous river. Paddlers will find the river to be quite popular between SH 32 near Nebo and SH 42 east of Vienna, a reach where the river flows back and forth just north of IH 44. Access is good and the river is great. Be sure to pack the camera, because there is much to photograph along Missouri's Gasconade River. You might also want to pack the Marizene or Dramamine in case you get motion sickness from all the switching back and forth this very crooked river does as it meanders through the Ozarks.