Picture the Ozarks
This story is part of an ongoing series about photo-worthy destinations in and around Springfield. We’re calling it “Picture the Ozarks.”
When trails are too hot, buggy and overgrown for hiking, take to the water!
The Current River is one of the most scenic spring-fed rivers in Missouri. Not only is it fun to paddle (and easy enough for most skills), three upper sections feature a plethora of pretty springs and caves where floaters can stop, look, explore — and take photos.
That’s why this Current River float guide is the subject of our fourth “Picture the Ozarks,” a series that focuses on outdoor adventures in beautiful areas nearby. The upper Current is close enough for a day trip — or plan your float around a weekend getaway to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
This guide primarily explores the Pulltite to Round Spring section of the Current, followed by scenic tips when floating Akers Ferry to Pulltite and Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry. All three river sections feature memorable points of interest, making them worth floating again and again.
Ready to paddle? Here’s what to know.
Pulltite to Round Spring
This family-friendly 9-mile section of the Current River is a favorite float for many and our top choice on the upper Current for both ease and scenic interest. It tends to be wider than sections above it and, fed by many springs, retains a nice flow so it can be paddled year round. It’s also an easy shuttle: The distance by road from Pulltite to Round Spring is under 10 miles and takes roughly 15 minutes.
Best of all, besides multiple bluffs and plenty of gravel bars, it has great scenic points of interest, including a short hike to Pulltite Spring and a historic cabin, notable caves, Current River State Park and Sinking Creek.
Less than a mile after launching, watch for the Pulltite Spring Branch on your right. Pull off here to walk a short trail to the spring and historic Pulltite Cabin.
Tip: The trail follows the left side of the spring branch creek. Either paddle through rushing water to the beach near the trailhead or pull off just before the spring and wade over. (Yes, it’s cold!)
The easy trail passes interesting bluffs and offers picture-worthy views of the blue-green cascading spring creek. After crossing a wooden bridge, you’ll reach a fork in the trail.
Continue right to reach the serene turquoise pool. Its bubbling spring at the base of a tall bluff has a daily flow of 20-30 million gallons.
Go left at the fork to see Pulltite cabin, built in 1913 as a river retreat. Once the site of three different mills, the spring area has a rich history. (Trivia note: Spelled “Pulltite” now, it was originally “Pulltight,” so named because reins were pulled tight as teams of horses carried heavy loads downhill to a mill.)
Continuing your float, watch for more points of interest and little springs. For instance, just down river from Pulltite on the right is Fire Hydrant Spring, gushing out of a low cave.
Less than three miles into your float, there’s a nice wide gravel bar on the right with a scenic cave-pocked bluff across the river. A large rock near the bluff is a favorite jump spot for fun-seekers on hot summer days.
A little more than 4.5 miles along, watch for a shallow float-through cave on your right. According to conversations on the Missouri Scenic Rivers Facebook page, locals call it “Otter Cave.” Other posters call it Skull Cave or Mermaid’s Perch. Depending on water levels and the size of your boat, it may be possible to float in and out. Shortly after this cave, you’ll pass Current River State Park, built in the 1930s, on your left.
About a mile past the park is Merritt Cave (A.K.A. Little Gem Cave), a large cave opening several feet above river level. Easy to miss with summer vegetation, it’s located on your right as the river bends left.
It’s hard to miss Sinking Creek, a tributary of the Current that attracts summer splashers. If you want to stop, bank your boat on the gravel bar ahead of the creek flowing into the river. (Sinking Creek meanders also behind the lodge at Echo Bluff State Park.)
Your float ends at the Round Spring access, about 1.5 miles past Sinking Creek. Look for a big bluff on your right and the tall Missouri 19 bridge ahead.
Bonus stop: After your float, head south on Missouri 19 about half a mile to Round Spring, a pretty blue spring contained by a near-circular collapsed cavern. It’s reached via a short trail from the parking lot. The spring, which discharges 26 million gallons a day, flows through a natural tunnel under the cavern walls to its equally pretty spring branch.
Akers Ferry to Pulltite
If you’re game for a longer float (with a longer shuttle), Akers Ferry to Pulltite is a fun, nicely flowing section of the Current River that presents a unique spring experience.
Halfway along the 10-mile float, look for the aptly named Cave Spring along the left bank. It’s large enough that you can paddle inside — the highlight of this stretch. The cave is deep enough for more than one kayak, with shallow rock shelves lining portions of the cave walls. Near the end of your float, also look for the Rock House Cave on your right.
Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry
Another great float is the 8-mile Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry section. It starts narrower than lower stretches and has a few more twists and turns. Even so, it’s a beautiful, family-friendly float that nearly anyone can do. It also features several memorable scenic stops.
Nearly three miles along, a swimming hole, gravel bar and what’s known by some as the Flying W Bluff attracts cliff-jumpers and rope-swingers. If you don’t mind company, it’s a good place to stop for a snack break.
A hidden gem is Medlock Cave and Spring, tucked into a little alcove on the right side of the river, less than a mile after Flying W Bluff. The spring flows out of a cave at the top of a picturesque moss-covered rocky slope.
The highlight of this section is Welch Spring and the ruins of Welch Hospital, about 5+ miles into the float.
Pull off on the left bank before the spring flow. (On busy days, space might be tight!)
The deep blue spring emerges from a cave and cascades into the Current, adding a cold but refreshing pace to the current. The spring is named for Thomas Welch, who homesteaded the area in 1855.
The spring was purchased in 1913 by an Illinois doctor who believed the water and air could heal. He built a hospital and resort around the spring, which slowly deteriorated after he died in 1940, leaving the ruins.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR
What’s there to do in North Central Springfield? Find out in our latest edition of our Neighborhood Guide, exploring the area north of Kearney Street between Kansas Expressway and Glenstone Avenue.
Take the Current River Challenge
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways paired up with Missouri State Parks to issue a fun Current River Challenge you can do in sections over any period of time (not all at once). To complete the challenge, you must:
- Hike 4 miles from Round Spring to Echo Bluff State Park
- Hike 4 miles from Echo Bluff to Current River State Park
- Float 4 miles from Current River State Park to the Round Spring take out
Pick up your challenge cards at the Round Spring Visitor Center or Echo Bluff State Park to collect your stamps. For more information, call 573-323-8093 or 573-751-1224.
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This scenic spot with five gorgeous waterfalls at Falling Water Creek is the perfect locale for a day trip or weekend trip from Springfield, Mo.
Make a weekend of it
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways area has more to see and do than you can squeeze into a weekend. So plan to come back. Here are a few ideas to get you started.