Kayaks are banked near the Pulltite Spring Trail on the Current River. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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 

A paddler navigates the upper Current River, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

The Pulltite Spring trail, accessible while floating the Current River, is less than a mile downriver from the Pulltite Campground access. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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!)

This bridge on the Pulltite Spring trail, accessible while floating the Current River, leads to the Pulltite Spring and historic Pulltite Cabin. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

A short trail, accessible while floating the Current River, leads to the pretty Pulltite Spring. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

The Pulltite Spring trail, accessible while floating the Current River, leads also to the historic Pulltite Cabin. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

A swimming hole, bluff and gravel bar area along the Current River between Pulltite and Round Spring is a popular stop for cooling off. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

This shallow float-through cave, as viewed from the downriver side, is a visual treat while floating the Current River between Pulltite and Round Spring. It’s known by several names including Otter Cave. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

Floaters on the Current River pass Sinking Creek, a fun place to stop and wade, while paddling between Pulltite and Round Spring access points. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

Recommended outfitter (at Round Spring): Carr’s Canoe Rental

Springfield to Round Spring Access: 2.5 hours

Akers Ferry to Pulltite

Cave Spring on the Current River, large enough to paddle into, is located about halfway along the stretch between Akers Ferry and Pulltite campgrounds. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

Recommended outfitter (at Akers Ferry): Akers Ferry Canoe Rental

Springfield to Akers Ferry Access: 2.5 hours

Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry

Stopping at Welch Spring is the highlight of floating the Current River between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry access points. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

Medlock Spring, a hidden gem in a river alcove, is a pretty stop for paddlers on the Current River between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry access points. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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. 

A paddler approaches the stop to visit Welch Spring and the Welch Hospital ruins. Floaters pull off onto the dirt bank, just ahead of the spring branch flow. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Pull off on the left bank before the spring flow. (On busy days, space might be tight!) 

Welch Spring is accessible while floating the Current River between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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 Welch Hospital ruins and Welch Spring are photo-worthy stops while floating the Current River between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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.

Ruins of the Welch Hospital are found next to Welch Spring, a point of interest while floating the Current River between Cedar Grove and Akers Ferry. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Recommended outfitter (in Jadwin, Mo.): Jadwin Canoe Rental

Springfield to Jadwin: 2.33 hours


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Take the Current River Challenge

Paddlers approach a tall bluff near the Round Spring access in early fall on the Current River. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

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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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.

Nearby: Round Spring, Alley Mill and Spring, Echo Bluff State Park, Eminence, Mo.

Not too far: Greer Spring trail and Greer Spring Mill, Rocky Falls and Klepzig Mill, Blue Spring, Falling Spring and Mill, Montauk State Park

Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander