Bryant Creek Access Answers: Not as easy as it used to be, but still worth the effort
Editor’s note: Floating Ozark County’s cold, clear streams is a favorite summertime activity for both local residents and tourists, but accessing Bryant Creek and the North Fork of the White River takes more effort now than it did before the historic 2017 flood heavily damaged or destroyed many put-in and take-out points. Ozark County outfitters still offer convenient services for their float-focused patrons, but floaters who prefer to use their own canoes or kayaks must navigate rough terrain and reduced parking in several former official or popular access points. This story, focusing on Bryant Creek, is the first part of a three-part series that will share updated information about the access points and outfitters on the two streams. Next week, we’ll profile the upper section of the North Fork of the White River, and in the June 5 edition, we’ll focus on the lower section of the North Fork.
River lovers from near and far revere Bryant Creek for its pristine water quality and lack of “traffic.” While accessing this small river as it flows through Ozark County can be a challenge, it’s well worth the effort for those who are looking for a peaceful time on the water. “The Bryant,” as it’s known locally, is a small but scenic stream that runs more or less parallel to the larger, more-spring-fed North Fork of the White River. The Bryant is popular with locals as well as out-of-towners who are looking for a quieter, nature-focused experience rather than a sometimes-crowded “party” float.
With two of Ozark County’s Bryant Creek accesses officially closed due to flood damage, those interested in exploring the Bryant may have to paddle, drive and tote gear a little farther than usual this floating season. Area outfitters generally do not serve the Bryant, although some may do so through special arrangement. That means most river-goers who float the Bryant are on their own when it comes to hauling gear and shuttling vehicles. According to Missouri Department of Conservation area manager Tyler Trantham, the MDC accesses at Warren Bridge and Florence C. Cook are both “officially closed” until flood damage to the parking areas and boat launches can be repaired. Of course, official closures and assorted challenges won’t stop determined floaters from hitting the water and using those areas, finding a way to put in and take out despite less than ideal conditions. But floaters are always reminded to obey all laws and be respectful of private property along the river and county roads.
The Highway 95 Bridge, sometimes called Bell Bridge or Bell School, is generally the uppermost put-in for floating the Bryant. There are several public access points above Highway 95 in Douglas County, but low water and frequent obstacles can make for challenging floating. The Highway 95 Bridge is a few miles east of N Highway near Rockbridge. While not an official public access, there is a concrete boat ramp, and it is generally accepted that floaters can park on the gravel bar upstream of the bridge or off the highway on the south side. Of course, drivers do so at their own risk.
It’s about 9 river miles to the next takeout, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Sycamore Access on Highway 181. While doable as a one-day float, those who prefer a slower pace may want to consider camping overnight, especially as summer brings lower and slower water.
Most Bryant Creek floaters either put in or take out at the Sycamore Access, often referred to as “Hodgson” since historic Hodgson Mill and the beautiful spring that powered it are just north of the Highway 181 Bridge. The access is located just downstream of the bridge. Drivers should be cautious of driving into areas of loose sand and deep gravel at this access. For this reason, many people choose to put in at the bridge then park their vehicles in the Sycamore Access parking lot. However, that, too has its challenges, as recent flooding has washed out the banks along the road, making it difficult to pull close to the water.
Warren Bridge, on County Road 328, is about 7 river miles downstream from Hodgson/Sycamore. This is normally the most popular float on the Bryant, but that may change now that the Warren Bridge access is officially closed until MDC is able to repair flood damage to the parking lot and improve the takeout area. Warren Bridge can be accessed via FF Highway, off Highway 181, or from H Highway between Highways 181 and PP.
MDC’s Florence C. Cook Access Area, known locally as Cook’s Landing, is a little over 7 miles downstream from Warren Bridge, making it another excellent one-day float option. Unfortunately, this access is also officially closed until repairs can be made. “We are waiting to hear back about what to do [in order to effectively repair the access]. The river is really eroding the bank,” said MDC’s Trantham. To reach this access, head north on County Road 308 from Highways 160 and J; the access is at the end of the county road.
Bryant Creek flows into Norfork Lake 2.6 miles below Cook’s Landing. The North Fork of the White River also flows into the lake at this scenic spot, known as “The Forks.” Just downstream, floaters will reach Tecumseh Park at Highway 160. Like MDC’s Warren Bridge and Cook’s Landing, this Army Corps of Engineers access is currently closed following the April 2017 flood that left the Tecumseh campground and boat ramp unrecognizable. The area is open to foot traffic, however, so taking out at Tecumseh is technically an option, but not an easy one by any means. Adventurous floaters would need to park their vehicle on the shoulder of the Highway 160 approaches to the Tecumseh Bridge and carry their gear up the steep bank and across rugged terrain to reach the roadway.
Finally, those willing to do some extra paddling can continue down Norfork Lake to the Bridges Creek Access, known locally as “Stump Hole.” This popular fishing spot is located off of County Road 551, known locally as “Smoky Road,” from Highway 160 at Tecumseh. Bridges Creek is roughly 3 miles from Tecumseh Park by water, and it is much slower going without the river’s current, so attempting this stretch on a windy day would not be advised. Currently, the boat ramp and parking area are submerged beneath the above-normal waters of Norfork Lake, but determined fisherfolk are still launching watercraft there, and parking along the roadway (see photo, above).
A local joke is that floaters and other river-goers who abuse the river and leave their trash behind are advised to beware of snakes! The joke is related to another Bryant Creek tradition, circulated by those who love the stream for its solitude and beauty. The tradition says the Bryant is full of snakes to keep it from getting too crowded.
A Bryant Creek map and mileage information can be found at: https://www.missouricanoe.org/river-maps/northfork-bryant.html.