Adventure lives on the upper Courtois Creek

It was a cool and drizzly Sunday morning as we headed to Leasburg, Mo., to attend an Operation Clean Stream cleanup event, put on by the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region.

Every August, late in the month, they coordinate a massive Missouri Stream Team cleanup along the Meramec River watershed, and this was somewhat of a pre-cleanup, being a couple weeks before.

It was driven by Open Space, in partnership with Ozark Outdoors and Bass River Resort, two of the biggest campground/outfitters in Missouri. Three organizations that truly care about the well-being of precious natural places and promoting recreation in them.

We had signed up online a few weeks back, reserving a canoe for whatever section they were going to need us on, and found out at Ozark Outdoors that we needed to drive over to Bass River as we had been assigned to a section on the Courtois Creek. courtois-creek-8-14-2016-025

A short drive there, and we were in the parking lot getting our cooler and Stream Team supplies loaded into a van to take us to our put-in. We were floating the Berryman section, from where the Courtois flows under Route 8, and winds its way 13 miles or so back to Bass River Resort.

It was probably close to 10 a.m. when we got to our canoe, and before we set off we took a few moments to survey the water and the landscape as the steady sprinkling convinced us to put on our rain ponchos. It is a shallow creek, certainly not a place for rafts, and other than the handful of kayakers heading out in front of us, it seemed we were going to get the water to ourselves for the day.

So we set out, stopping here and there along our journey to remove trash from gravel bars and debris piles, filling our canoe with tires and garbage that don’t belong in or around such a pretty and lively creek.

The rain stopped for some of the trip, and we got to spend a lot of it marveling at the natural beauty we were immersed in, as it twisted through floodplain valleys and against tall bluffs, past massive trees and around sweeping curves.

Ultimately we only floated about seven miles, taking the option to end early as the day had been getting long and our canoe was filled to the gunwales with trash we had collected.

How to get there

Ozark Outdoors is off of Missouri Route H, right where it crosses the Meramec River, south of Leasburg, Mo. A sure bet is to take Interstate 44 to Route H, between Cuba and Sullivan, and go south for 15 minutes until you hit the river.

Onondaga Cave State Park is here also, as well as the Huzzah Conservation Area, both protected public land within which you can find all sorts of adventure and relaxing fun.courtois-creek-8-14-2016-042

Bass River Resort is south of the Huzzah Conservation Area, off of Route 8, about 10 miles east of Steelville, Mo. Take Route 8 to Butts Roa., and then it’s just a mile-and-a-half over the hill and down into the Courtois Creek valley to Bass River.

Both resorts offer float trips on all three waterways in the area, but something to consider is that the Courtois Creek goes right past Bass’River Resort, and Ozark Outdoors is on the Meramec River.

Huzzah Valley Resort is also in the area, just east of Steelville and right on the Huzzah River. Please check out all their websites for more details about the adventures they can take you on.

About the Courtois Creek

The first thing you have to get right is the pronunciation. It looks like you should say it “core-toe-is,” but it is actually pronounced “code-away.”

I don’t know the reason behind it, but I would guess that it is probably something from a couple hundred years back, along the line of French settlers’ name for it versus the Native American name. If anyone knows for sure, I would love to hear the story.

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This is NOT a rafting river. Even though it is deep and slow in spots, this is a creek. It is a winding, shallow, downed tree, tight curves, swift creek at times, and I would not recommend this upper section for anyone that has never been in a canoe or kayak before.

Not that it has a bunch of rapids, but there are spots that require some tricky and cautious maneuvering. Especially with a canoe full of tires and trash bags, there were a number of times we walked our boat in the water around the curve and over the submerged tree trunk to keep from possibly dumping the canoe.

If you are going on your first float ever, I would recommend one of the bigger rivers in the area.

Like all rivers, sometimes there are people who spend time along them that don’t make the most responsible decisions. We picked up a lot of trash, filling four big Stream Team bags, as well as removing five tires and a couple other metal and styrofoam items. It is a shame and I see a lot of it, going on cleanup floats all the time… but I think the one thing that drives me up a wall the most is when I find broken glass.

courtois-creek-8-14-2016-064There wasn’t a whole lot of it, but any glass just makes me think of some little kid having the time of his life playing in the creek, and ending up at the emergency room to get stitches in his foot. Please pick up after yourself wherever you go, and especially don’t take glass to the river.

Why I like this section of Courtois Creek

The conditions were right for us to have the creek to ourselves. It was a cloudy and drizzly Sunday morning, keeping most river-goers in the house, but I would imagine that this part of the creek doesn’t get too much traffic during even the best weather.

The sort of waterway that skirts around with twists and obstacles that give kayakers and canoers a fun day, but keeps the crowds downriver on some of the larger sections. I would think that if you want to go for some relative isolation, away from the majority of floaters in this part of Missouri, that the upper Courtois Creek is the place for you.

The topography and forest along it are very cool. You pass some immense bluffs at one point, float above deep pools that you can see all the way to the bottom of, and glide under forest tunnels of leaning trees.

There was definitely a feeling at times as though we were floating down some jungle river somewhere, and this turned out to be one of the prettiest sections of river I have ever floated. A place we will certainly be heading back to visit again.

What turned out to be of great benefit is that after seven miles, if you have been rained on most of the day and your canoe handles like a barge because of all the garbage you have filled it with, you can cut your 13 mile trip short just after the low water bridge at Blunt’s Slab.

There is a pay phone at a pavilion there, if you just don’t want to struggle through another six miles, and Bass River can send someone to come get you. We were lucky enough to flag down a bus driver who gave us a ride back to our car, as we would have probably been on the river until sometime past sundown, dragging our canoe through the shallower spots and around the half-submerged obstacles.

All in all it was a great float on a gorgeous section of Missouri waterway, but I think something I love the most about visiting these places are the great people that you get to interact with, especially when they are not so busy and have the time to share some of their river stories.

Truly a place filled with souls who have a love for the water they spend their time on, and a place you should get to know as well. We will definitely be heading back to the upper Courtois to play and relax on a little slice of some of the prettiest creek I have ever been fortunate enough to traverse.

A special thank you to all the people involved in setting up and carrying out the cleanup we were a part of. Stewardship and care for these Missouri rivers starts with us, the people who enjoy them.

For more information, go to to find out how you, too, can be a part of this great volunteer program.

(Gabe Cotton can be reached at

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