I first floated the North Fork of the White River in 1988. It was a marathon float trip, leaving home north of St. Louis and driving five hours just to get there, floating for eight hours and then driving five hours back home all in the same day.
Despite the exhausting day, I immediately fell in love with the North Fork. And who wouldn’t?
The stream is unique for Missouri because it is a freestone river, meaning that it has a rock base rather than a gravel base. Having a rock base allows for more structure in the stream and creates better habitat for fish.
There are several major springs that feed the North Fork, including “Rainbow Springs,” which is one of the larger springs in Missouri.
Because it is spring-fed and because it has a rock base, the North Fork has wild, self-breeding rainbow trout and sustainable hatchery brown trout for at least 15 miles downstream from Rainbow Springs.
In my opinion, it is the best trout stream in Missouri and is comparable to some of the more famous trout streams in the Rocky Mountains. It also supports a healthy population of smallmouth bass and google-eye in all sections of the river.
A good portion of the lower half of the stream flows through the “Devil’s Backbone Wilderness Area,” where development is prohibited both along the river and deep into the forests on both sides.
The scenery as you pass through the Devil’s Backbone has always been magnificent, with tall bluffs towering over the river and huge trees providing a shady canopy along the shoreline.