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EXPLORE THE JACKS FORK RIVER FROM YOUR KAYAK
Kayaking adventure on the Jacks Fork River from Alley Spring to Eminence, Missouri. Where and when to embark and tips for Ozark National Scenic Riverways!
A tributary of the Current River, the Jacks Fork River is a beautiful place for a float trip in Missouri. Shallow spots, deep spots with blue green water, bluffs, and caves all along the way provide an escape for nature lovers.
Like our favorite spot on Beaver Lake in Arkansas, the Jacks Fork proved to be yet another mesmerizing place to kayak, this time in my home state of Missouri, the Show Me State.
We planned a kayaking trip with both of my sisters, and off we went for an afternoon full of fun. I don’t think I’d laughed that much in a really long time.
If you decide to float the river, I highly recommending gathering a small group of family and friends and experience it together. You’ll create a lifetime of memories in just one afternoon of fun.
WHERE TO LAUNCH YOUR BOAT AT ALLEY SPRING
There are a couple of spots that are open to boat launch; however, closure of the pedestrian bridge has also closed the river underneath the bridge. Noone is allowed to float underneath the bridge.
In order to launch your kayak, you’ll need to drive to the Burr Oak day use area just downstream from the bridge, where you can drive out on the gravel, unload, then go park.
WHEN TO LAUNCH FOR A FLOAT FROM ALLEY SPRING TO EMINENCE
This stretch of the Jacks Fork River has a reputation as party central. Not to burst your nature loving bubble, though, because none of us that went on this float trip enjoy the party scene.
We do, however, love experiencing the quiet solitude of nature, and we hardly saw any party floaters ’til we got more toward the end of our float, closer to Eminence, MO.
Most other nature lovers and those who crave solitude will tell you if you’re floating on the weekend, to launch either early in the morning or mid-afternoon. They’ll also tell you weekdays are best.
We launched mid-afternoon on a Saturday, fearing that we’d be too late, but it turned out to the best time we could have floated.
If we’d launched just a few hours earlier, we would have been caught up in a HUGE band of noise makers and since I’ll try to be nice here, those who do not appreciate nature but would rather party it up.
Rule of thumb: Early morning or after 2pm, and you’ll be fine. It’s about a 4 hour float, so mid-afternoon still leaves plenty of time before it gets dark, at least in the summertime.
WHAT TO EXPECT AS YOU FLOAT FROM ALLEY SPRING TO EMINENCE, MISSOURI
When you get in the river at Alley Spring, the water will be quite shallow, and there are usually quite a few people enjoying the day use area. Paddle just around the bend, and you’ll likely find yourself alone on the river.
The river is spring-fed, so the Lower Jacks Fork is usually floatable year round. There were a few places where we had to push ourselves over the rocks, but I think I only had to get out of my kayak one time and that’s because I chose to go around the rapids (or maybe I should call them ripples).
Speaking of rapids, the Jacks Fork River is rated a Class I-II whitewater river. Most of the areas with rapids are fairly easy to maneuver through with your paddle.
There are a few areas where trees stick out over the water, or they stick up from under the water. You may need to duck down as you paddle through.
Scenery on the Jacks Fork River is just amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve kayaked so far.
Numerous bluffs and rock formations give plenty of opportunities for photos. You’ll also see a cave or two; at one point, we rounded a corner, looked up, and saw what appeared to be some sort of cavern or cave high up on the bluff overlooking the river.
YOU’LL COME TO A FORK IN THE RIVER
At one point about halfway through your float, you’ll see a small sign that points you left for the national park… While you may be tempted not to go that way because it looks tricky (and it is a little tricky), go left anyway.
Paddle, paddle, paddle, as you round the corner on a small set of rapids and keep following the river.
There are not many meadows along the banks, but toward the end of the float, you’ll see a few, along with a couple of homes and farms. Speaking of homes, there really is no development until you get closer to Eminence.
Missouri Canoe shares a Jacks Fork River map, also giving a good mile-by-mile description of the Jacks Fork River and sights to watch for, places like Horse Hollow and Mahan’s Creek.
WHAT THE WATER’S LIKE ON THE JACKS FORK RIVER
Being a spring-fed river, the Jacks Fork River is crystal clear and cool. Especially below Alley Spring, the temperature of the water is colder.
Parts of the river are deeper with that deep blue green color of deeper water. On shallower parts of the river and even some deeper parts, you can see clear to the bottom.
You can watch schools of fish swim by and look for unique rocks and pebbles.
PEOPLE YOU’LL MEET AS YOU FLOAT THE JACKS FORK RIVER
You’ll meet some interesting people along the way, and even if you’re craving solitude, it’s always interesting to meet others with a similar intention of getting out and exploring nature.
On our trip, there were a few guys floating with trash receptacles, for the sole purpose of keeping the waterway clean. There were extended families who do weekly or monthly float trips on Ozark rivers, enjoying quality time together.
You’ll likely see camping enthusiasts enjoying dispersed camping along the banks of the river.
Then, of course, toward the end, there are the partygoers whose sole purpose is floating on a tube and having a beer (ok, a few beers), loud music and all. When you really get to the end, you’ll likely see some silly stuff.
WILDLIFE TO WATCH FOR ON THE JACKS FORK RIVER
Whether you’re a fisherman, an avid birdwatcher, or a nature lover, there are all sorts of animals, birds, and fish to watch for as you float this beautiful part of the Missouri Ozarks.
- Bring your fishing pole (and license). There are 67 species of fish on the Jacks Fork River, including chain pickerel, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, shadow bass, and warmouth.
- Mussels and crayfish
- Oh the snakes you will see. Ducking under a tree branch? Watch out because there may just be a snake sunning itself on that low lying branch. Eek! Also, watch where you put your hands if you float up close to the banks of the river… Again, snakes love to sun themselves on outcropping rocks and boulders.
- With 198 species of birds, the Jacks Fork River is the perfect place to get out your binoculars and watch for new birds to add to your bird watching list. One of the most memorable birds we saw were what we believe were kingfishers.
- You may see whitetailed deer and wild turkey.
- There are also a wide variety of insects and arachnids. You may even encounter a tarantula or scorpion.
The thing to remember with animals is that if you respect their space, they will pretty much leave you alone. Remember: YOU are the one invading THEIR space. Respect that and you’ll be fine.
WHERE TO GET OUT OF THE RIVER IN EMINENCE, MISSOURI
We recommend parking one vehicle at Alley Spring and the other vehicle at Lions Ball Park in Eminence. You’ll take out on your right, about a quarter mile below the Highway 19 bridge.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A KAYAK? ARE THERE OUTFITTERS FOR THE JACKS FORK RIVER?
Yes, there are several outfitters that will set you up with what you need to float the river, including shuttle service. There are also several places to stay, including campgrounds and cabins.
Here is a listing of places that offer rentals:
WHAT TO PACK FOR KAYAKING THE LOWER JACKS FORK RIVER FROM ALLEY SPRING TO EMINENCE
Especially if you’re kayaking with kids, you’ll want to be sure to pack a few things for your paddle from Alley Spring to Eminence, Missouri.
- Sunscreen – On a sunny day and even an overcast day, you’ll burn very quickly. My friend, Lynsey from Moscato Mom, has shared her experience with basal cell carcinoma and why it’s so important to guard yourself against skin cancer.
- Life Jackets – Everyone needs a life jacket, but kids 7 and under have to wear one; it’s the law!
- First aid kit
- Toilet paper, swim diapers, and wipes (along with a trash bag)
- Find a dry bag to keep things dry, so you can pack all the gear you need.
- Bilge pump – to pump water out if needed.
- Soft case or a hard case for your phone – to keep it out of the water.
SAFETY TIPS FOR KAYAKING THE JACKS FORK RIVER
Check water levels and the weather forecast before floating or river kayaking. You want to make sure it’s safe and suitable for floating, especially if the area is experiencing drought or on the other hand, you’re floating after a heavy rainfall.
The National Park Service provides a ton of helpful information, including river levels, places to explore, and a whole lot more.
Watch out for other kayakers, tubes, and rafts. Make sure to give yourself and the people around you enough room to maneuver your kayaks, especially through areas where the water gets swift.
Trees can stick out over the water, and you may see trees and sunken logs sticking up out of the water. You may also come across huge boulders just under the water. Watch out for these things and do your best to paddle around them.
You’re very likely to see snakes, especially on low lying branches of trees sticking out over the water. When paddling close to shore, do your best to keep yourself away from the rocks and branches sticking out; snakes love to sun themselves, and we’ve had a few close calls.
Learn how to best use your paddle to maneuver through areas of swifter water. There was one really tricky part of the river where one of us ended up turned around backwards, then finally got turned around and ran smack into the bank of the river; the water can turn you around before you even know what’s happening.
In most areas, you’ll be just fine; but learning how to paddle yourself through these places can save you from experiencing any injuries or problems along the way.
Glass containers and styrofoam coolers are prohibited on rivers, trails, in caves, and within 50 feet of the river.
Speaking of caves, all caves in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways are closed, except Round Spring and Devils Well. Do not go into the caves.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Finally, leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. The more you practice this, the safer and more enjoyable kayaking will be for everyone, including paddlers who come after you.
If you’re considering kayaking in Missouri, the Jacks Fork River from Alley Spring to Eminence is a wonderful place to explore. It’s a great place, even for kayaking beginners to get your bearings, with the opportunity to learn how to maneuver your kayak through obstacles here and there.