There’s a new option for hiking and floating one of the Ozarks’ best rivers.
Called the Current River Challenge, it consists of hiking upstream along designated routes and then paddling back to your vehicle. You just need to make sure you have dropped off your canoe (with paddles and lifejackets) first or made arrangements with an outfitter to have a canoe ready when you arrive at the end of the hike.
A full day of hiking and canoeing begins by dropping everything needed for the float at Current River State Park and then driving back to Round Spring campground on the Current River, maintained by Ozark National Scenic Riverways. From there, it’s a 4-mile hike to Echo Bluff State Park, one of the state’s newest parks, with a lodge, cabins, store, camping, dining and other services. The park is actually on Sinking Creek, a tributary of the Current. Continue via trail 4 more miles upstream, to Current River State Park, the former retreat of the Alton Club, of Alton, Illinois, which again offers some visitor services, although more limited.
Once there, it’s time to jump in your canoe and paddle back to Round Spring, a distance by river of 4 miles.
This trip would be best suited for a canoe or kayak.
You can, if you want, just do the 4-mile hike from Round Spring to Echo Bluff State Park and float back from there. This would be better suited to inner tube floats or a kayak, but better not plan on a canoe because Sinking Creek is often too low to negotiate with a tandem canoe.
A third more ambitious option also exists, but it requires a few nights’ commitment.
Start at the trailhead at Powder Mill/Owls Bend and hike to Round Spring or Current River State Park, then return by river to Owls Bend. The hiking distance from Owls Bend to Round Spring is 32 miles, with a 25-mile float back. The distance from Owls Bend to Current River State Park is 40 miles, followed by a 29-mile float. Better plan on four or five nights to make all this happen.
As you contemplate whether it is worth the work, keep in mind a few facts:
• The first time the word “national” would ever be linked with the word “river,” it was in the context of conversations about the Current River, in the 1950s, following a fight to stop two dams proposed for the Current.
• In 1964, 134 miles of the Current and its main tributary, the Jack’s Fork, became a new type of park — Ozark National Scenic Riverways. It is, according to Tim Palmer, river conservationist and paddler, “America’s first explicitly protected river corridor.”
• Palmer, by the way, had a book out in 2018, “America’s Great River Journeys,” and he included the Buffalo in Arkansas as well as the Current among the country’s best, calling the Current, “arguably the finest Class I extended river journey in the nation.”
No argument here. First and finest — that’s the Current.
The only argument you’ll get from me is that it’s too hot this time of year for long hiking and certainly for a multiday hike, even if the reward is a dip in the spring-fed Current at trail’s end. But from late September through early November, the Current River Challenge ought to be just about right.
If you have questions, there is a visitor center at Round Spring.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.