Hammond is closed for construction, but other accesses provide float trip options
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 the upper stretch of the North Fork, is the second part of a three-part series that shares updated information about the access points and outfitters on the two streams. In the May 22, 2019, edition of the Times, we profiled Bryant Creek. Next week, we’ll profile the lower section of the North Fork River including accesses at Kelly Ford, Pettit’s Canoe Rental, Blair Bridge, Patrick Bridge/Althea Spring, Sunburst Ranch, Dawt Mill, The Forks and Tecumseh.
Memorial Day weekend kicked off the official start of floating season, and the cold, crisp, spring-fed water of the North Fork of the White River is just the place to be on a hot, sunny day.
With accesses at Hammond and Tecumseh closed while undergoing construction, some river goers aren’t sure what float trip options are currently available. Hoping to clear up some of the confusion and get floaters on the water, we’ve put together this comprehensive list of access options on the upper stretch of the North Fork of the White River to shed some light on current river access conditions.
Topaz Spring - mm 6.6
Downstream 6.6 miles from the North Fork River’s origin, Topaz Spring, located south of Cabool in Douglas County, pumps 10 million gallons of cold water a day into the river. A 22 mile drive from Twin Bridges, it’s quite a jaunt for most Ozark County residents and is only floatable in the spring months when rains keep the river well fed. Even then, with recent flooding, there are likely to be rootwads and limbs to navigate around; however, with other river accesses limited this year, the upper stretches of the river are being used more this spring, and Topaz is an option for those who want to take on the task. The extra work is well-rewarded with bluffs, small springs and caves, which provide beautiful surroundings on a rarely used stretch of water. When the river level is lower, expect to drag your boat on gravel bars most of the way. This stretch of river sports smallmouth, sunfish and google-eye for fishermen who are interested in bringing a fishing rod along.
Floaters and other visitors looking for an interesting side trip should take the time to explore the historic Topaz Mill and General Store located near the spring on the banks of the North Fork. The mill and store, a privately owned historic site, are the remnants of the once thriving town of Topaz. It is unclear when the current structure was built, but a sign left at the mill states that Topaz Mill was established in 1840 and a mill was built on the property in 1894. The mill has been extensively renovated and includes the original equipment from when it was operational. Billie O’Neal, who bought the property in 1957 with her husband and his parents, whom have all since died, still lives on the farm. Billie’s nephew Joe O’Neal and his wife Betsy also live on the property and are passionate about sharing the history, culture and beauty of the mill with visitors. Schedule a free tour of the mill and property by calling the O’Neals at 417-948-0154. Those who drop in can also receive a tour if the O’Neals are home. “Joe is always very happy to drop whatever he’s doing to come talk about the mill,” Betsy says. “He loves it.”
A non-profit group, Friends of Topaz Mill, Inc., accepts donations to help with restoration and maintenance costs involved with preserving the site. Find out more by searching for Friends of Topaz Mill on Facebook or visiting with the O’Neals at the phone number above.
Trip options: A float trip from Topaz to Hale’s Crossing is approximately 8 river miles, which can take 5 to 7 hours. River outfitter Twin Bridges does offer a two-day overnight float from Topaz to Twin Bridges, an 18-river mile float. They estimate the float time to be 9-10 hours and recommend the trip be done in two days with floaters camping overnight on a gravel bar.
Location: From Twin Bridges, head north on Highway 181 for 12.7 miles. Turn left onto Highway 181 North/Highway 76 West and drive for 4 miles. Turn left onto State Highway E. After about four miles the pavement ends just past Mt. Ararat Church. Continue on a gravel road for about 1.5 miles to Topaz Mill. is a good option in the spring and early summer months, but may not be as floatable in the hot summer months of July and August when water levels are lower. When water is low, floaters may have to drag their boats most of the way. The concrete slab bridge crosses the North Fork River about three miles down County Road 278 off Highway 181. A gravel bar and county road shoulders provide some parking opportunity.
Trip options: A trip from Hale’s Crossing to Twin Bridges is 9 river miles, which takes approximately 6 hours float time. Twin Bridges Canoe outfitter offers float trips, as well as paid parking for those with their own boats to shuttle. Lost Cabins Resort also offers float trip options for guests staying at their resort. See information about options at Twin Bridges Canoe and Lost Cabins Resort below.
Location: From Twin Bridges, head north on Highway 181 for six miles. Just past the Twin Bridges VFD building, turn left onto County Road 278. Continue down County Road 278 for three miles.
Hebron/Steel Bridge - mm 18.7
Missouri Department of Conservation’s Hebron access, known locally as Steel Bridge, is located about 4 river miles downstream of Hale’s Crossing at mile marker 18.7. The river access offers a designated gravel parking lot and a few primitive campsites. There have been reports of crime at the access, so floaters should be aware of their surroundings and should refrain from keeping any valuables in their vehicles parked at the access.
Trip options: A trip from Hebron/Steel Bridge to Twin Bridges is 5.4 river miles, which takes 3-4 hours of float time. Twin Bridges Canoe outfitter offers float trips, as well as paid parking for those with their own boats to shuttle. Lost Cabins Resort also offers float trip options for guests staying at their resort. See information about options at Twin Bridges and Lost Cabins Resort below.
Location: From Dora, travel north on Highway 181. Turn right to stay on Highway 181 and continue for 1.5 miles. Turn left onto County Road 279 at the Hebron access sign. Continue for two miles to the bridge and river access.
Twin Bridges - mm 24.1
Twin Bridges, a term which refers to the identical bridges that tower over the North Fork River and nearby Spring Creek, is located at mile marker 24.1. It is a popular location to put in boats to float downstream or a take out option for those floating from Hale’s Crossing and Hebron/Steel Bridge.
The privately owned resort, Twin Bridges Canoe and Campground, is located just east of the bridge. The resort offers float trip options with canoes, kayaks, rafts and inner tube rentals. Twin Bridges will shuttle private boats for customers, as well as provide car shuttles for those with their own boats. Customers who want to enjoy the cold North Fork waters on a smaller scale can ask for “tube time,” a service that allows the guest to use an inner tube to enjoy the North Fork River along banks of the Twin Bridges Canoe property for an entire day.
An on-site camp store, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, has packaged beer, snacks, Hunts Brothers pizza, t-shirts and souvenirs for sale. Twin Bridges is also offering a daily tie-dye activity for those who purchase a white t-shirt at the camp store. A full-service restaurant, Twin Bridges Bar & Grill, stands next to the camp store and is open 8 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The restaurant is closed on Mondays except for Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Monday after Fourth of July. It features a full menu, local draft beers and a porch overlooking the river.
A campground lies alongside the river, providing a nice, shady place for tent camping with or without electrical hookups. RV sites are also available, as well as large and small cabins. During their stay, guests of the resort can use a shower and bathhouse, located directly behind the camp store.
Trip options: Float trip options include Hale’s Crossing to Twin Bridges, a 9 river mile float that takes approximately 6 hours. Departure times are 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Rental prices for this trip are: $55 for canoe or kayak rental and $28 to shuttle a private boat. Twin Bridges staff can shuttle a guest in their own vehicle with their own boat to Hale’s Crossing and bring the vehicle back to Twin Bridges for $45.
Another upstream option is Hebron to Twin Bridges, a 5 mile float that takes 3-4 hours. Departure times are 10 a.m. noon and 2 p.m. Rental prices for this trip are: $44 for canoe or kayak rental and $17 to shuttle a private boat. Twin Bridges staff can shuttle a guest in their own vehicle with their own boat to Hebron and bring the vehicle back to Twin Bridges for $40.
A downstream option includes Twin Bridges to Blair Bridge, a 15-mile float that takes all day. Departure for this float must be at 9 a.m. with a strict pickup time at Blair Bridge of 5 p.m. Rental prices for this trip are: $66 for canoe or kayak rental and $50 to shuttle a private boat. Twin Bridges staff can shuttle a guest’s vehicle to Blair Bridge and leave it for the guest to take out there for $80.
When Hammond/North Fork Recreation Area (see below) reopens, Twin Bridges will also offer a float from Twin Bridges to Hammond, a 5 mile float that takes 3-4 hours.
Two-day, overnight float trips are offered from Twin Bridges to Tecumseh, a 25-mile float that takes 12 to 14 hours and Topaz to Twin Bridges, an 18-mile float that takes 9 to 10 hours. Call for more information.
Twin Bridges asks for a $5 per inner tube deposit for “tube time,” which allows a guest to use an inner tube in the river alongside the Twin Bridges property all day. If the inner tube is brought back, the guest receives $2 of the deposit back.
Guests can also park their vehicles in the Twin Bridges parking lot as part of their own shuttle arrangements for $3 per vehicle.
Location/Information: From Dora, travel 4 miles north on Highway 181 and turn right onto Highway 14/181. Continue for 5 miles to Twin Bridges. To make online reservations visit www.twinbridgescanoe.com. Search for “Twin Bridges RV park, campground and canoe rental” on Facebook or call 417-256-7507 for more information. Search for “Twin Bridges Bar & Grill on Facebook for information on the restaurant, which is open to the public.
Lost Cabins Resort - mm 26.5
Lost Cabins Resort, located at mile marker 26.5, is just downstream from where Spring Creek enters the North Fork. The property is a privately owned 22-acre resort that caters to nature lovers and a quieter, family-friendly crowd. The resort lost half of their cabins in the historic 2017 flood, and has since had to change their offerings. Lost Cabins previously rented boats to the public, but now they now only rent canoes, kayaks and tubes to guests who are staying in the campground or in the cabins onsite. Guests should make reservations if they are planning on staying at Lost Cabins Resort.
A large landing area in a calm area of the North Fork is the perfect place for families and small children to swim and enjoy the water or for fisherman to wade up or downstream. Trails lead off the property into the Mark Twain National Forest and provide guests with lots of area to explore including a nearby cave.
The resort offers primitive tent camping alongside the river. Campsites include a fire ring, and a shower house and restrooms are located nearby. One cabin and two cabin-rooms are also available for rent, providing sleeping arrangements for up to six people.
Trip options: Float trips are only available for registered guests of Lost Cabins Resort. Canoe rentals for guests are $45 per boat, single kayak rentals are $30 per boat and tube rental is $12 per inner tube. Guests can chose to float from Hebron to Lost Cabins, an 8 river mile float that takes approximately 5-6 hours, or from Lost Cabins Resort down to Blair Bridge, a 12 river mile float that takes a full day.
Location/Information: From Dora, head north on Highway 181, about 1 mile north of Roy’s Store. Turn right onto County Road 382. Continue to the end, about 4 miles. For more information or to make online reservations visit www.lostcabinsresort.com. The resort can also be reached at 417-261-1409, or through their Facebook page, “Lost Cabins Resort, LLC.”
North Fork Recreation Area/Hammond - mm 29.2
The North Fork Recreation Area, a river access within the Mark Twain National Forest known locally as Hammond, is currently closed due to the renovation of the water play area and the construction of a new boat ramp. The access, located at mile marker 29.2, has always been heavily used area by both river outfitters and those shuttling their own boats; so, its closure has put a kink in many float trip plans this spring.
Cody Lunsford, Mark Twain National Forest District Ranger, told the Times that it’s been a frustrating process trying to finish the renovations this spring with so much rain. Lunsford said he is unable to say when the access will reopen, but MTNF staff are hopeful it will be sometime later this summer.
Construction crews are currently waiting to lay pavement over the gravel parking lot, road and boat ramp, a task that requires a number of dry days before it can be done, Lunsford said. In addition to dry weather, crews must also have acceptable gravel aeration and compaction percentages before the asphalt can be poured.
“It just has to quit raining before we can finish,” Lunsford said. “We can’t control Mother Nature, and it’s a public health and safety concern at this point.”
The campground at the access is also closed, as crews continue to clean up debris from recent storms and work to get the campground’s water system operational again.
Although Mark Twain National Forest staff cannot stop people from parking at the gate, Lunsford said law enforcement officers may ask guests to leave if they are seen within the access area. A particular concern is vehicles that are parked blocking the roadway in and out of the access, Lunsford says, because construction crews need to be able to use the roadway. Nearby MTNF trails, such as the Devil’s Backbone Trail and the Ridgerunner Trail are currently open and accessible.
Updates on Hammond access will be published in the Ozark County Times, on the U.S. Forest Service - Mark Twain National Forest Facebook page and the Mark Twain National Forest website. A monthly district newsletter is also in the works, Lunsford said, which will give information on all MTNF recreation areas within the Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs district.
More information: Residents can call Lunsford at the ranger station at 417-683-4428 with any questions and concerns.
River of Life Farm
River of Life Farm (ROLF), located at mile marker 35, is a 350-acre resort known for excellent trout fishing and luxury stilted log cabin treehouses built over the North Fork River. Cabins range from cozy two-person structures to lodges big enough for extended families. Guests can cast their own line into the water in front of the resort, which has been dubbed the “miracle mile” by fishermen, or book a trip with an experienced fly fishing guide. The remote location of ROLF provides the perfect backdrop for hiking the many trails that lead guests from the peaceful resort to explore the 350 acres of land. A three-quarter mile hike to Inspiration Point provides an amazing view of the river.
The resort’s campground, which was severely damaged in the 2017 flood, has not been repaired and is closed.
River of Life offers float trips with rentals for canoes, kayaks and 6-man rafts to the general public and cabin guests.
The falls, a 2-3 foot rock ledge, juts across the North Fork in front of the resort, provides a tricky but fun passage downstream. The chute is generally handled best from the left, but it’s helpful to watch floaters ahead to see which areas they are successful in navigating.
River goers can also rent tubes to use in front of the ROLF property, soaking in the cold river or floating down the falls and walking the tube back upstream.
Note: McKee Bridge located near the resort is sometimes impassable due to high water and floaters may need to portage their watercraft around the structure.
Trip options: An upstream float trip option drops guests at Twin Bridges where they float downstream 12 river miles to the River of Life property. The float takes 5-6 hours and trips leave at 10 a.m. daily. Canoe rental is $48 and single kayak rental is $36. Raft rental $140 for 6 people. Tube rental for floating in front of the resort and chuting the falls is $8 a day.
Shuttle arrangements can be made ahead of time for River of Life employees to haul a private canoe or kayak for the same cost as renting a ROLF boat. A $10 shuttle fee is also charged if the guest is the only person being shuttled.
When Hammond/North Fork Recreation Area (see above) reopens, River of Life Farm will also offer a float from Hammond to the resort, a 7 river mile float that takes 3-4 hours.
Location/Information: From Dora, travel south on Highway 181 seven miles. Turn left, east, onto County Road 365 at Crossroads Store at the junction of Highways H and 181. Continue for just over a half mile until the road splits. Stay right onto County Road 365. Continue south for 2.1 miles to River of Life Farm.