The St. Francis River, or Saint, as it is popularly known among paddlers, originates in St. Francois County Missouri, flows down through the Mark Twain National Forest through Iron, Madison, Wayne, Stoddard, New Madrid and Dunklin Counties before leaving Missouri to form the partial borders between Arkansas and Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee and Arkansas and Mississippi. The river ends at its mouth on the Mississippi River in Lee County, Arkansas in the St. Francis National Forest. The Saint is almost like two different rivers separated by Lake Wappapello, which divides the high-relief Ozark Plateau above the lake from the low-relief Mississippi Alluvial Plain below it. The headwaters are characterized by igneous rock in the Ozark uplift of the St. Francois Mountains, followed downstream by sandstone and dolomites. Impervious rock formations on the Upper St. Francis prevent ground seepage and contribute to heavy runoff during rains, making the river run fast and furious. Frequent flooding is an issue of concern, and paddlers need to check the weather before going to and watch it while on the Saint.
From Silver Mines Campground to US Highway 67 at Greenville, the St. Francis River flows about 55.4 miles in a generally south direction that has a straight line distance of only about 47-48 miles. Near the middle of the run it seems to have trouble deciding which direction it wants to flow, and covers several miles without going too far between access points, which total seven for this entire run on Class I flatwater. Almost any able-bodied paddler can enjoy this beautiful stream in canoes, kayaks and rafts, though in only one boat at a time. The run starts in the Mark Twain National Forest of Madison County, then flows through a non-park area of lower Madison County into upper Wayne County where it runs between Coldwater State Park to the east and Sam A. Baker State Park to the west on river right, both near Lodi about 2/3 of the way through this reach. Mudlick Mountain, at 1,223 feet, is located in Baker State Park, and the rest of the run passes through rolling foothills and small mountain forests. This reach ends at US Highway 67 at Greenville just above Lake Wappapello near the Duck Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Madison and Wayne Counties in the southeastern Missouri Ozarks west of Cape Girardeau and north of Poplar Bluff. Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas state borders are just a few miles away from the end of this run.
St. Louis 85 miles; Joplin 342 miles; Springfield 270 miles; Kansas City 300 miles; Memphis 234 miles; Little Rock 274 miles; Oklahoma City 554 miles; Dallas 600 miles; Austin 794 miles; San Antonio 874 miles; Houston 725 miles; Albuquerque 1,096 miles; Phoenix 1,535 miles; Denver 1,080 miles; Grand Junction 1,271 miles; Salt Lake City 1,573 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to very good, but may rate only good in the dead of summer, when flows are slower and less fresh water is coming downriver. The water is not drinkable without purification. Flows are almost always sustainable for navigation.
Generally, anytime of the year is a navigable season on the St. Francis River, weather permitting. Missouri winters are cold. Spring days are cool to cold and nightime temperatures may be in the low 40's to upper 30's. Summers are hot in daytime, and not as hot at night. Dress for the weather and climate conditions in which you will be paddling.
There are no serious hazards to navigation on this reach of the St. Francis River. This reach is generally safe for novice and beginner boaters, though they will probably want to pick a section between access points of only a few miles, rather than tackle the entire 55.4 mile reach. In high water conditions the river can overflow its banks causing the forests to come into play. Unless you are experienced in swiftwater paddling it is best to avoid this river at high flows, especially in below the middle of the run where it twists and turns sharply and frequently.
Silver Mines Campground ay the Highway D bridge below SH 72 near Roselle at 0.0 miles; Madison County Road below Silver Mines at about 6.0 miles; Madison County Highway N bridge at about 22.0 miles; Baker State Park Road off SH 49 east of Des Arc at about 28.0 miles; US Highway 67 bridge near Lodi at about 34.0 miles; SH 34 bridge west of US Highway 67 at about 42.0 miles; US Highway 67 bridge near Greenville at about 55.4 miles. There may be other access points along this reach of the St. Francis River.
Silver Mines Campground (USFS) on river right at the first access offers excellent campsites with amenities; Sam A. Baker State Park, on river right at US Highway 67 near Lodi about 34 miles downriver from Silver Mines offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities; Coldwater State Park, off SH 34 east of Lodi, offers excellent campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers and other amenities. Natural campsites are available all along this run through Mark Twain National Forest. Please do your part (and maybe somebody else's, too!) to keep our rivers and parks clean and beautiful. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
There are no known liveries or outfitters located along this reach of the St. Francis River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles.
For those into long paddle trips this reach of the St. Francis offers a run of 55.4 miles. For those wanting a great river trip, but not wanting to spend two or more days on the water there are several access points that allow for trips as short as 6, 8, 12, or 16 miles, as well as trips that combine two or more segments. The gentle flatwater is easy to paddle, and can usually be boated year-round if you are properly attired for the weather conditions you will encounter. Paddling through forested mountains, small though they may be, is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours or a few days on a gorgeous river that offers many places to visit off the river along the way, as well as nearby. This reach ends at the top of the very long Lake Wappapello, and unless you really enjoy paddling into headwinds and on lake currents it is recommended that you take out no lower than the US Highway 67 bridge at Greenville. This is a river trip to remember, so bring your camera and a group of your friends to share the experience. Missouri has much to offer its residents and visitors - the Saint is one of its premiere offerings.