North Fork float trip guide: Float trip options on the North Fork River provide summer fun for locals and tourists alike
Floating season is in full swing, and the cold, clear, spring-fed water of the North Fork of the White River is just the place to be on a hot, sunny day. This comprehensive list of Ozark County-area access options on the North Fork has been assembled to provide an overview of this summer’s available options. Note that the estimated float times given here will vary, depending on how much time is spent in stops for swimming, water play and gravel bar visits.
All private resorts listed in this article offer bus shuttles free as part of a canoe, kayak or raft rental.
Hebron/Steel Bridge Access (public)
Missouri Department of Conservation’s Hebron access, known locally as Steel Bridge, is at mile marker 18.7 and 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 here.
Trip options: A trip from Hebron/Steel Bridge to Twin Bridges is 5.4 river miles, which takes about four hours of float time.
Twin Bridges Canoe outfitter offers float trips from Hebron back to its campground (see information below).
Location: From Dora, travel north on Highway 181, turning right at the junction with Highway 14 to stay on Highway 181. Continue for 1.5 miles then turn left onto County Road 279 at the Hebron access sign. Continue for 2 miles to the bridge and river access.
Twin Bridges Canoe and Campground
The name “Twin Bridges” refers to the identical bridges that tower over the North Fork River and nearby Spring Creek. The privately owned resort, Twin Bridges Canoe and Campground, is located on a scenic stretch of riverbank alongside the North Fork just east of the bridge.
The resort offers float trip options with canoes and kayaks. Cabin lodging and a campground with tent and RV sites with full hookups are available for guests staying the night. Guest bathrooms and showers are conveniently located for guests who are camping.
An on-site camp store sells packaged beer, soda, snacks, T-shirts and souvenirs, and a full-service restaurant, Twin Bridges Bar & Grill, is next door. The restaurant, which has a full menu, local draft beers and a porch overlooking the river, is open Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.
Trip options: This outfitter’s two most popular floats are an upstream trip from Hebron to Twin Bridges (a 5.4-mile float that takes approximately four hours of float time) and a downstream option that takes floaters from Twin Bridges to the North Fork Recreation Area (known locally as Hammond access), a 5-mile float that also takes approximately four hours of float time.
Departures for those two float trips are between 9 a.m. and noon. Those floating the downstream option must arrive at the North Fork Recreation Area by 6 p.m. to be picked up and transported back to the resort by staff. Cost for either of these two trips is $45 for canoes and $35 for kayaks.
Two other longer float trip options include a float from Hale’s Crossing to Twin Bridges and a trip from Twin Bridges to Blair Bridge. Cost for those floats are $55 for canoes and $45 for kayaks. Call the resort for more information.
Guests can use the Twin Bridges landing areas to put in or take out personal watercraft by checking into the resort’s store and purchasing a permit for $15 per watercraft.
Location/information: From Dora, travel 4 miles north on Highway 181, turning right to stay on Highway 181 at its intersection with Highway 14. Continue for 5 miles to Twin Bridges.
More information: 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.
North Fork Recreation Area (public)
(also known as Hammond access)
The North Fork Recreation Area is a river access within the Mark Twain National Forest that is heavily used by both river outfitters and those shuttling their own boats. Many locals know the access as “Hammond access” or “Hammond bridge.”
Visitors enter the area on a paved drive that branches in different directions, with one road leading to a primitive campground and access to the Blue Spring Trail, and the other leading to a parking lot for the water play/swimming area and a separate canoe, kayak and a boat launch area.
The access’s gate is opened and the day-use area (swim area, boat launch and parking lot) is ready for public enjoyment March 1, and the campground area is fully accessible beginning May 15 each year. The gate is closed to vehicle traffic from Nov. 30 through March 1, but visitors can park by the gate and access the area by foot the rest of the year.
Those using the area for launching boats or other “day use” activities are required to pay a small day-use fee and are allowed to use the area from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The campground offers 20 campsites with a table, fire ring and tent pad. Drinking water, vault toilets and garbage collection receptacles are centrally located. Most sites are suitable for small travel trailers, but some sites can accommodate up to 34-foot RVs. Only one site, other than the camp host’s site, has electricity (30 amp and 110 outlet). There are no sewer or water hookups at any of the sites. Campground fees are $10 nightly for non-electric and $15 nightly for the one electric site. Sites are non-reservable and are available on a first come, first served basis. The campground area is for campers only, and quiet hours are enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Fishermen can float, wade or bank fish to catch bass, sunfish and trout in the North Fork River.
Those who visit can enjoy the short, half-mile trail to Blue Spring, a beautiful oval-shaped spring that is a popular swimming area for those brave enough to test the frigid waters.
A $2 per vehicle day-use fee is required for those swimming, launching boats or parking shuttle vehicles. Annual day-use passes can be purchased for $20 from the Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs branch of the MTNF by calling 417-683-4428 during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Trip options: For those renting boats, four of the five Ozark County river outfitters (River of Life Farm, Twin Bridges Canoe and Campground, Pettit’s Canoe and Campground, and Sunburst Ranch) offer trip options. See each resort’s entry for further details on those trips.
For floaters who wish to use public accesses and their own boat, float trip options include floating from NFRA to Blair Bridge, a 10.2-mile float with an estimated float time of five to six hours and from NFRA to Patrick Bridge, a 12.9-mile float that will take six to seven hours.
Location/information: From Dora, travel east on CC Highway from Highway 181. The NFRA entrance is just east of the Cudworth Memorial Bridge over the North Fork. For more information, call District Ranger Cody Lunsford at the Ava MTNF office, 417-683-4428.
River of Life Farm
River of Life Farm (ROLF), at mile marker 35, is a 500-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. ROLF’s remote location provides the perfect setting for hiking the many trails that lead guests from the peaceful resort to explore the adjoining “Ozarks paradise,” as owner Myron McKee describes it. A three-quarter-mile hike to Inspiration Point provides an amazing view of the river.
River of Life offers float trips with rentals for canoes, kayaks and rafts to the general public and to cabin guests.
The Falls, a 2- to 3-foot rock ledge, juts across the North Fork in front of the resort, creating a tricky but fun passage. The chute in the Falls 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: The privately-owned McKee Bridge, located near the resort, sometimes creates an obstacle to floaters when the river is high; floaters may need to portage their watercraft around the structure.
Trip options: A longer, upstream float-trip option drops guests at Twin Bridges so they can float downstream 12 river miles back to ROLF. The float takes five to six hours, and trips leave at 10 a.m. daily. Canoe rental is $57, and single kayak rental is $44. Raft rental is $145 for a four-person raft and $165 for a six-person raft.
A shorter, upstream float-trip option drops guests at the North Fork Recreation Area (also known as Hammond access) for a 7-river-mile float back to ROLF. The float takes three to four hours; those trips also leave at 10 a.m. daily. Canoe rental for the shorter trip is $52, kayak rental is $39 and raft rental ranges from $140 to $160.
Tube rental for floating in front of the resort and shooting the falls is $8 a day.
Guests who use their own boats can take advantage of ROLF’s group shuttles and boat hauling for $52 per canoe and $39 per kayak. A $10 shuttle fee is also charged if the guest is the only person being shuttled at that time.
Location/information: From Dora, travel south on Highway 181 for 7 miles. Turn left (east), onto County Road 365 at the junction of Highways H and 181. Continue just over a half-mile until the road splits. Stay right and continue on County Road 365 for 2.1 miles to River of Life Farm. For more information, visit www.riveroflifefarm.com, the River of Life Farms Facebook page or call 417-261-777.
Pettit’s Canoe Rental
Those heading to Blair Bridge will pass by Pettit’s Canoe Rental, located on County Road 354 about a half mile before the public river access. Pettit’s sprawling campground and canoe launch site are located right at the bridge, on the opposite (west) side of the river from the public access.
The outfitter provides canoe, kayak and five-person raft and tube rentals as well as tent and RV camping alongside the North Fork of the White River. Campground amenities include flush toilets, hot showers, RV sites with electric and water hookups, fire pits, picnic tables and complementary firewood.
Four cabins on the property, each sleeping six to eight people, are also available for rent.
Trip options: The resort’s most popular float trip is from Hammond access (also known as North Fork Recreation Area) to Pettit’s campground, a trip that takes about five hours of float time and can be extended to an all-day float with stops on gravel bars along the way.
A downstream trip allows floaters to experience the lower part of the North Fork River by launching at Pettit’s campground and floating downstream to Dawt Mill, a 7-mile float that takes approximately four to five hours. Staff from Pettit’s will pick up guests at Dawt Mill and bus them back to Pettit’s campground when the float ends. Rental prices for this trip are $40 per canoe, $30 per kayak or $120 per five-person raft.
Inner tube rental is $15 per tube for floaters who are shuttling themselves, or $20 per tube for a shuttled trip that allows tubists to put in at Pettit’s campground and float down to Patrick Bridge, a 2-mile float that takes approximately two hours in a tube.
Location / information: Turn onto County Road 354 off H Highway, south of Dora. Continue for about a half mile to the Pettit’s Canoe Rental office. The campground is another half mile down County Road 354 just before you cross Blair Bridge.
More information: For more information, visit www.pettitscanoerental.com, search for “Pettit’s Canoe Rental, LLC” on Facebook or call the resort at 417-284-3290.
Blair Bridge Access (public)
Missouri Department of Conservation’s Blair Bridge access is one of the most popular accesses on the North Fork River, giving both river outfitters and floaters using their own boats a place to easily put in or take out.
MDC lists “public use” hours of the 7.1-acre access area as 4 a.m. through 10 p.m.; however, the MDC website says those using the access to fish, camp or launch boats are permitted to be there 24 hours a day.
Three primitive campsites are available on a first come, first served basis. Camping is limited to 14 consecutive days within any 30-day period, and groups of 10 people or more must obtain a special use permit. Quiet hours are in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, and visitors who are not occupying the campsite are required to leave the campground by 10 p.m. Only two camping or sleeping units are permitted at each campsite.
A privy is located above the boat launch area across from one of the campsites, and a decent amount of paved parking is available in an area near the water. Vehicles can also be parked along the circular drive within the access.
Trip options: For those interested in renting boats, Twin Bridges Canoe and Campground offers a trip from that resort to Blair Bridge, a 15-mile float that takes all day (see the previous Twin Bridges entry). Dawt Mill Resort also offers a float trip option from Blair Bridge to that resort, a 7.6-mile float that takes five to six hours.
Public access options for those with their own boats include an upstream float trip from the North Fork Recreation Area/Hammond access back to Blair Bridge, a 10.2-mile float with an estimated float time of five to six hours. Those choosing to shuttle their own boats can also pay a $15 fee per boat to park and use the access at Twin Bridges and float from there for an all-day float.
A public downstream option is floating from Blair Bridge to Patrick Bridge, a 2.7-mile float that is estimated to take two to three hours.
Location/ information: Turn onto County Road 354 off H Highway south of Dora. Continue for a little over a mile. The access is on the right just past Blair Bridge itself.
The entrance to Sunburst Ranch is located off H Highway just up the hill from the public campground on the north side of Patrick Bridge. The resort features a mile of river frontage, several cabins and lodges, a large campground, a canoe launch and an onsite office/camp store.
A second plot of land owned by Sunburst, known as “The Landing,” is located 7 miles downstream from the main campground, about a mile below James Bridge.
A large, flat-and-grassy area beside the North Fork River forms the Sunburst campground, which features primitive campsites, electric canpsites and RV sites with full electric and water hookups.
Guests who are visiting the property but not staying the night at the campground pay a $5 day-use fee.
For those who aren’t interested in camping, several structures, cabins and a renovated airplane hangar provide nice lodging options for eight to 16 people.
Sunburst Ranch offers rental of canoes ($40), single-person kayaks ($35), tubes ($20) and six-person rafts ($135). Shuttling for trips, life vests and paddles are included in the rental price. Canoe pricing is for two people, and raft pricing is for six people. Additional riders cost extra.
The resort will haul guests’ personal boats for $40 per canoe or $35 per single-person kayak. Sunburst does not offer vehicle shuttling, due to insurance restrictions.
Those who wish to put in their own boats or tubes upstream and take out at Sunburst are required to pay $10. Floaters who are not using Sunburst’s canoe/kayak rental service are not allowed to take out at The Landing.
Experienced fly fishing guides are available, and guests can book fly fishing trips through Sunburst Ranch.
Reservations should be made by phone or online for floating, camping or lodging.
Trip options: Sunburst Ranch offers two main float trip options. The most popular float trip takes floaters on a shuttle service at 8:30 or 10 a.m. to the North Fork Recreation Area/Hammond Access and allows them to float the 12-mile trip back to the campground. The trip typically averages five to seven hours. The second option has floaters putting in at Sunburst Ranch and floating downstream to The Landing, a 7-mile trip that takes approximately three to four hours in canoes or kayaks and four to six hours in rafts or tubes. Floaters interested in this trip must leave Sunburst no later than 2 p.m. The Sunburst bus retrieves floaters from The Landing every hour, on the hour. Customers can relax at a gravel bar and pavilion at The Landing while waiting for the next bus to arrive.
Location / information: Sunburst Ranch is on County Road 352 off H Highway about a quarter-mile north of Patrick Bridge. For more information, visit sunburstranchcanoe.com, call the resort at 417-284-3443 or find Sunburst Ranch on Facebook and Instagram.
Patrick Bridge Access (public)
Patrick Bridge is a low-water concrete-slab bridge that crosses the North Fork on H Highway. Like Blair Bridge, it’s a Missouri Department of Conservation public river access that is heavily used during the summer.
The MDC access incorporates 161 acres of land, but the most heavily used areas include the boat launch area on the south side of the bridge and the campground on the north side.
The boat launch area includes a parking lot that will accommodate a dozen or so vehicles. The riverbank at the boat launch area is a popular summertime hangout and is often lined with lawn chairs and those using the access for swimming and water play. A large overflow parking lot for floaters, swimmers and campers is located north of the bridge at the entry to campground.
The campground area on the north / east side of the bridge features 13 campsites along a gravel drive; the campsites are available to campers on a first come, first served basis. The campground is fairly flat and well shaded. Each campsite has a concrete picnic table, fire ring and trash-hanging pole. There are two pit toilets, one at either end of the campground. Campers can park at their campsite.
A large white gate at the back of the parking lot on the opposite side of the bridge from the campground marks a gravel path that pedestrians can use to visit Althea Spring, the 23rd largest spring in Missouri. It’s a short walk to the MDC sign perched at an offshoot trail that leads down to the spring itself. The sign says the spring was named for the daughter of Dr. Paul Patrick, an early owner of the land.
From 1958 to 1977, Karl W. Schmidt and his sister Willa K. Schmidt lived at the site, and Karl used the spring’s flow to power a domestic power plant that he designed. Follow the main trail beyond the sign to reach an appealing waterfall created where the spring water flows over the old mill dam. For many river-goers, it’s a favorite place to play on hot summer days.
The MDC website lists hours of operation for the Patrick Bridge access and campground as 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Trip options: Floaters with their own boats who are interested in using the Patrick Bridge Access have a couple of popular choices. An upstream float from Blair Bridge to Patrick Bridge is 2.7 miles and will take one to two hours. A trip from the North Fork Recreation Area to Patrick Bridge is a 12.9-mile float that will take five to seven hours.
The only downstream option for those who want to use their own watercraft is from Patrick Bridge to Tecumseh access, a 7.4 mile-trip that will likely take six to seven hours. The final 2 miles of this float will be in lake water with no current, so paddling is required.
Also, floaters should be aware that on this float they will pass Dawt Mill, which allows only its own customers (and those of outfitters with whom it has an agreement) to take out at its access. Another thing to consider is the water level under the bridge on County Road 318 at Dawt, which may be too high to allow passage beneath the bridge.
Directions: Patrick Bridge is on H Highway about 4 miles north on Highway 160 near Caulfield.
Dawt Mill Resort
Dawt Mill, the southernmost resort on the North Fork River, offers camping, lodging, dining, live entertainment and float trips in canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes.
The resort’s open-air Beach Bar, overlooking the river, operates from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, offering specialty drinks and frozen cocktails, while an onsite food truck gives river-goers a casual dining option including burgers, brats, fries and other fare. The Beach Bar and food truck are open from 3 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
A fine-dining option, the Chef’s Table, features imaginative dishes prepared by Chef Brandy Barstow in a unique and intimate kitchen/bartop dining setup. The meals at the Chef’s Table use mostly locally sourced ingredients, including many herbs and vegetables grown in gardens on the property. The Chef’s Table has formerly been available only by reservation; however, staff members say this year Dawt Mill is offering walk-in dining availability at 5 and 7 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night at the Chef’s Table through Labor Day. Reservations can also be made by calling Chef Brandy at 417-257-4927.
An on-site general store is open seven days a week, offering hand-dipped ice cream, sodas, packaged beer, snacks, candies, supplies, ice, T-shirts and other souvenirs and supplies.
Several lodging options are available for guests, including rooms in the resort’s Cotton Gin Inn.
The Dawt Grist Mill building and former “gravel bar” area, which featured an open-air porch and bar, is currently undergoing construction that will add five luxury suites to the resort’s lodging options. Each suite will feature a private, screened porch overlooking the river, according to Dawt’s manager, Ryan VanWinkle.
Trip options: Dawt Mill offers canoe ($45), kayak ($35), four-person raft ($120) and tube ($20) rentals for the 8-mile float from Blair Bridge back to Dawt. The rental fee includes the boat/tube and shuttle ride to Blair Bridge on the resort’s buses. The float trip takes approximately four to six hours, but river-goers can stretch the 8-mile length for an all-day adventure if they stop to swim in the river’s deeper holes or relax on the gravel bars. Boats are launched every hour, on the hour, from 9 a.m. to noon seven days a week. Those wishing to float are asked to call ahead to make reservations and arrive at the resort’s general store 30 to 45 minutes before the reserved float trip time to fill out a waiver and load items onto the bus.
Private boat policy: Insurance requirements changed after the historic flood of 2017, and the resort’s policy now prevents it from allowing non-resort guests to use the shuttle service for their private-boat float or to park at the resort and use the private-boat take-out.
The resort’s insurance policy does allow those who are registered guests, either camping or staying in a cabin or lodge at the resort, to use their private boats instead of the rental vessels if they prefer them. For a $20 per boat shuttle fee, Dawt will haul the private boat and registered guest to Blair and allow them to take out back at Dawt. If registered guests shuttle themselves and their private boats to various put-in locations, they can check in at the General Store to take out at the Dawt boat ramp. This service only applies to registered guests at the resort.
Directions/information: From Tecumseh, travel 1.5 miles east on Highway 160. Turn left (north) onto PP Highway, continue 1.2 miles and turn onto County Road 318 at the large Dawt Mill sign. Travel 3/4-mile to the resort. For more information, call 417-284-3540, visit dawtmill.com or find Dawt Mill on Facebook.
Tecumseh access (public)
The North Fork of the White River and Bryant Creek converge at what is known locally as “The Forks,” located at mile marker 49.1, where both streams flow into Norfork Lake near the Tecumseh bridge on Highway 160. The US Army Corps of Engineers access at Tecumseh, located at mile marker 49.5, was heavily damaged in the 2017 flood. The access was rebuilt and opened earlier this spring. However, currently Norfork Lake is high enough to cover the access, and the area is again gated off and closed to vehicles. When the lake level recedes and the access is opened again, floaters can take advantage of the access’s new canoe and kayak ramp and nearby parking lot.
Until then, those wishing to use Tecumseh as a take-out point can do so by parking on the shoulders alongside Highway 160 and carrying their boats from the water up to their vehicles. With the lake level high, as it is currently, it’s not too bad of a walk, but when the lake drops to its more normal level, it can be a task to haul a boat up and down the hill.
Trip options: A float from Patrick Bridge to Tecumseh is a 7.4-mile trip that would take six or seven hours. The lower half of the float will be in lake water rather than the flowing river and will require floaters to paddle. Also, be aware that high water levels will make it impossible to float under the bridge at Dawt, and portaging will be required.
Those who aren’t afraid to paddle may also consider putting in at Tecumseh and paddling down Norfork Lake to Bridges Creek, also known 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 at Bridges Creek/Stump Hole are submerged beneath the higher-than-normal waters of Norfork Lake, but those using the access can park alongside the roadway.
Directions: Tecumseh Park is located on Highway 160 in Tecumseh, about 9 miles east of Gainesville.