By Len Stagoski
Enjoy camping out? Missouri is a wonderful state for camping… Missouri State Parks for tent or camping trailers and RVs, commercial RV and tent camping facilities, US Forest Service sites, and beautiful locations for primitive camping.
In this article perhaps I can acquaint you with some new camping adventures.
The camping opportunities I would like to share with you are located within the Eleven Point National Scenic River system.
According to the USDA Forest Service, the system was established in 1968 as a 44 mile scenic river, free of impoundments with a largely undeveloped shoreline and watershed.
This portion of the river between Thomasville, Missouri, and the Highway 142 bridge is near Gatewood, Missouri. It became one of the 8 initial units of the National Wild and Scenic River system in 1968.
The Eleven Point River meanders through the picturesque Ozark hills of southern Missouri. Its course is cut in the shadows of steep bluffs, through sloping forested valleys, and low lying riparian ecosystems.
Barely more than a small stream at its upper reaches near Thomasville, it gains considerable width and depth as its proceeds southeast.
Springs pouring from dolomite bluffs or rushing up from a vast network of underground flow systems provide a continuous source of water and beauty.
Alternating stretches of rapids and deep clear pools wind around moss-covered boulders and shading bottomland hardwood trees.
Greer Crossing Recreation Area
Greer Crossing Recreation Area is the only public campground located on the shoreline of the Eleven Point River system.
The campground is located off Missouri Highway 19, between the towns of Winona and Alton, just north of the bridge over the Eleven Point River.
Here is a good description of the Greer Crossing Campground provided by an organization which is dedicated to providing nationwide information on camping sites — the US National Forest Campground Guide:
“Within the Greer Crossing Recreation Area, there is one large loop road through a stand of mature deciduous trees including oak and hickory. A dense under and middlestory gives the campground a jungle or wilderness feel and excellent privacy between campsites.
“The towering overstory provides ample shade. The mix of trees suggests great fall color. The campsites are large and level; some are suitable for multiple tents and have covered picnic tables.” [Source: National Forest Campground Guide ]
In the Greer Crossing Recreation Area, there are 19 individual camp units (16 single and 3 double). The campground is set back away from the water’s edge, however, the boat ramp is only a short walk away.
Activities at Greer Crossing include hiking, canoeing, wading, and fishing. There is a picnic area near the boat ramp access area. The picnic area has 4 individual sites, each with a grill and one or more tables.
The following is more useful information extracted from a US Forest Service inventory type document of the site:
“The campground area is a loop gravel road that junctions off of the paved road entrance. There is a gate to close off the area. Camping units are located along the campground loop and all units have parking for two vehicles.
“Each camp unit has a lantern pole, a picnic table, fire ring/grill and tent pad. Toilet facilities and water stations are within easy walking distance of all camping units.
“The host site has sewage waste disposal with a tank and drainfield, electric and water hook-ups, and private telephone line available. The fee station is lighted for convenience of night users.
“The paved main entrance road that loops around the boat access is also used by 3 canoe outfitters that are authorized to launch canoes (mainly) at the boat access ramp. The Ozark Trail goes through this developed area.” [Source: “Appendix 2, Greer Crossing Recreation Area,” prepared by Eleven Point Unit of the Doniphan/ Eleven Point Ranger District, US Forest Service]
There are currently three canoe, rafts or kayak outfitters for rental and shuttle services:
• Eleven Point Canoe Rental, Alton, Mo.; 417-778-6497.
• Hufstedler’s Canoe Rental & Guide Service, Riverton, Mo.; 417-778-6116.
• Richard’s Canoe Rental, 2 miles south of Eleven Point River Bridge, Mo.; 417-778- 6168.
Directions to Greer Crossing Recreation Area
From Winona, Mo., take Highway 19 south 17 miles to Forest Road 3188, just north of the bridge crossing over the Eleven Point River; a paved road leads to the recreation area.
From Alton, take Highway 19 north 9 miles to Forest Road 3188, then just north of the bridge over the Eleven Point River.
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Points of Interest
• Greer Spring — Head 1.5 miles south of Greer Crossing (Highway 19 south toward Alton, Mo.), look for the sign to the trailhead to Greer Spring.
The one-mile trail to the third largest spring in Missouri has some rather steep grades, but the trail has been well-maintained by the US Forest Service, with guard-railed steps and rest stop benches along the way.
While walking the trail, the roar of the daily average flow of 222 million gallons of spring water gushing from the bottom of dolomite bluffs, then rushing over large boulders toward the Eleven Point, beckon you on.
On reaching the spring’s valley, the sights and sounds you will encounter are nothing short of spectacular!
• Greer Mill —The old mill was built in 1899 and is located off of Highway 19 just south of the river at the top a riverside hill.
The mill is also .75 miles up a steep hill from the Greer Spring branch and was operated by a cable running from the spring branch up the hill to the mill, which is very unique for its time.
Friends of the Eleven Point River is a non-profit group that was set up to work in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture and US Forest Service to help fund projects beneficial to the Eleven Point River, Missouri’s only National Wild and Scenic River.
The group has completed a very significant restoration of the mill. In the 1990s the land was purchased by The Nature Conservancy for preservation of wilderness. This historic gem is well worth seeing.
• McCormack Lake — From Greer Crossing campground, there is a trail available for hikers; a 4-mile trail following the river and through typical Ozark hills up to McCormack Lake, where the trail circles back for a 2 mile walk back to Greer.
The site has semi-developed picnic and camping facilities. The 15-acre lake is stocked annually with panfish and bass. The lake is a non-motorized area; boat motors are not allowed. An electric trolling motor is permitted. There is ample parking for picnickers and fishermen.
Eleven Point River Float Camps
Do you enjoy recreational canoeing on an Ozark stream to take in the beauty and serenity of the experience, or perhaps because the canoe is ideal for float fishing?
Well, perhaps a “float camp” experience would be worth trying… overnight on a cleared gravel bar of a spring-fed crystal clear stream; listening to the night sounds of the Ozark hills, waking to see mist enveloping the stream, the sun releasing the mist to be then replaced by sun sparkles on the surface of the stream, being serenaded by bird songs, against the background sounds from the likes of cicadas and other sound-producing insects.
It would be tent camping raised to another level. Planning would be a key element… everything you need for survival and a modicum of comfort would need to fit in a canoe.
By definition, this would be what the US Forest Service defines as “dispersed camping”:
“Many people enjoy the solitude and peaceful experience of camping away from large groups of people. ‘Dispersed camping’ is the term used by the US Forest Service for free camping anywhere in a National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground and at least 100 feet from any administrative site to in-clude trails, buildings and designated recreational areas.
“Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no structures, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates. There are extra responsibilities required for this type of camp. It’s a must to educate yourself before you try it.” Do these words arouse the adventurist sprit within you?
Float camps are essentially “primitive camping” sites maintained by the US Forest Service. Within the 19 river miles of the Eleven Point River, from Green Crossing access to the Riverton access at Highway 160 bridge, there are 7 float camps; available on a first-come, first-choice basis.
The first of the float camps, 5.7 river miles from Greer Crossing access, is Sinking Pond Float Camp. Refer to the map “Float Camps in Mark Twain National Forest.”
The US Forest Service provides a brief description of the site: “Sinking Pond is located on the left side of the Eleven Point River at 22.3 miles, near a 200 foot bluff about a mile below Turner Mill River Access.
“This access is located 5.7 miles below Greer Crossing. The campsites are accessible only from the river with a pit toilet (outhouse) centrally located.”
River milage information for each float camp can be found in the publication, “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri” — Eleven Point River; available from the River Hills Traveler’s website at www.riverhillstraveler.com.
The following web address can be accessed to obtain information on each float camp: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/mtnf/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=21644&actid=34
“Far from the luxuries of home, camp life forces a slower, more thoughtful approach to living. Mornings are savored. Coffee is sipped rather than drained.
“Making meals is less a chore and more an event. An evening with the stars replaces the nightly TV hypnosis.
“In short, for a few fleeting days, we are briefly, blissfully, beautifully human again.” — Mark Kenyon, “That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America’s Public Lands.”
(Len Stagoski can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.