Monday, January 13, 2020

Elk River (Cowskin) Float Trip

Elk River Noel, Missouri

Elk River is an extremely popular river for float trips in the Ozarks between Pineville and Noel, Missouri. I have floated "the Elk" many times (and it never gets old). The water is always just perfect on a hot summer day. You can bring your own canoe or kayak and put in at one of the public access points. You can also rent a canoe/kayak/raft from one of the many canoe outfitters and campgrounds along the river. (I borrowed my cousin's kayak). Elk River is what most would call a "floating" river. There really aren't any rapids or places where you have to paddle for dear life. Instead, you can just casually float down the river and enjoy a leisure time on the water. 

Unfortunately, the upper section of Elk River can get quite crowded in the summer, especially on weekends. I am not really a big fan of crowds when I am trying to enjoy nature. Luckily, I have discovered a quiet stretch of river with very few floaters. You might see an occasional canoe or fisherman, but not much else. You definitely see more wildlife than people! Plus, the water quality is excellent with fewer places that you have to drag your canoe or kayak. I will share this secret with you if you promise not to tell anyone else lol.  

Elk River

Before I get to my secret, I'd like to share a bit more about Elk River. Shortly after the opening of the Kansas City Southern, Noel, Missouri became a popular vacation spot. The beauty of the river and bluffs drew tens of thousands of vacationers to the small Ozarks community each summer. Sometime around 1920, the Empire Electric Company constructed a small dam on Elk River which forms Lake St. Clair. The lake is still a popular camping spot in Noel. Back when U.S. HYW 71 went through Noel, it was referred to as the "Prize Drive of the Ozarks" - because it offered motorists stunning views of towering bluffs on one side and the river on the other. In addition to the river, you can tour Bluff Dwellers Cave just south of Noel on HWY 59.


Lower Elk River Cowskin

The lower stretch of Elk River between the Noel dam and the Oklahoma state line is commonly referred to as Cowskin by locals. Cowskin is my favorite stretch of Elk River to float because it's like a secret that fewer floaters know about

I like to put in just below the dam at Noel. If you don't use a public access point, you must get permission from a property owner before crossing their land. The river banks are considered public access. However, you must respect the property along the river. Don't trespass on someone's land. Don't leave your trash behind. Just use good manners and be respectful to nature, and you will be rewarded with an awesome float trip. I love that this section of the Elk is less crowded.

The Lower Elk River flows out of the Ozark foothills into the Cowskin Prairie. You will see a lot more pasture land than the section between Pineville and Noel. Sometimes you will come across a herd of cows bathing in the water. Don't worry, cows will leave you alone as long as you don't bother them. No cow tipping! The Lower Elk River is deeper than the upper section. That means you will spend less time getting out of your canoe and dragging it over shallow water. There are also lots of really nice swimming holes along this float. 

I mentioned that the Lower Elk flows through the Cowskin Prairie. However, you will still see some very high bluffs just before you get to the HWY 43 bridge. These steep bluffs rival the ones on the way into Noel. The river gets very deep in this area. There is a public access area on the other side of the HWY 43 bridge that is about 3 miles east of the Oklahoma state line. Canoeing/kayaking from the Noel dam to the bridge makes a good float trip. 

You can continue floating past the HWY 43 bridge, but Elk River starts getting a lot deeper once you hit the state line where it flows into Grand Lake. Paddling becomes really tough once you get to the lake lol.

Kayak: My Preferred Mode of Travel on Elk River

Kayaking Elk River

When it comes to my Elk River float trips, I prefer a kayak over a canoe. I find kayaks much easier to handle on the river, and they travel faster. Also, they weigh a lot less than a canoe, so you (typically) don't have to drag it in shallow water. They are easier to haul up on the bank when you take a break or finish your float trip. I have also never tipped over in a kayak.

Elk River Fishing

Small mouth bass is the most common fish in Elk River. However, I have heard of fishermen catching catfish. The Noel dam has restricted the amount of fish on the upper Elk. Therefore, the lower Elk (Cowskin) offers better fishing. 

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