A successful and fun float trip /takes a good deal of planning.
Floating season is here again. Floating one of our exquisite Ozarks streams is a favorite summertime activity in the Missouri Ozarks. Camping is equally popular. Combine the two activities and you have the ultimate Ozark summer time experience.
Deciding where to go for a float camp is the most difficult part of the planning process. Every major stream in southern Missouri lends itself to float camping. The best idea is to float and camp on a river with which you are familiar. Rivers such as the Current and Jacks Fork have a plentitude of gravel bars that make excellent overnight camping spots. On the other hand, the upper reaches of the Jack’s Fork and the Eleven Point do not have an abundance of good camping spots. Float them first and then plan a float-camp trip later, after you have scouted.
Mapping out your float course and having options for camp sites is wise. Floating the river of choice prior to floating and camping gives one the latest perspective on acceptable campsites, associated scenery, swimming holes, fishing sites and availability of escape routes in case of floods or emergencies. I always note the availability of fire wood as well. Canoe livery operators can be very helpful when planning a float camp trip. They are familiar with the rivers in their area and can make suggestions about camp sites and answer any questions.
One of the most common errors made by persons planning a camp and float trip is trying to float too far in the time allotted. It takes time to set up and tear down a comfortable camp. Besides, the idea of camping along the river is to enjoy the camp itself. A good rule of thumb is to make the same float on a two day float camp trip that you would normally make in a one day float.
One day float trips are generally a hurried affair. Canoers realize that they have to make the planned miles in one day. Inexperienced canoers often find that they have paddled so fast that a trip that should have been an all day affair is over far too soon.
Floaters traveling with a loaded canoe cannot travel as fast as they normally would. Too, float campers are generally interested in taking in the sights, sounds, smells and side adventures along the way. A relaxed, melancholy mood often pervades the drift downstream. Ideally, one should complete a float camp trip feeling energized rather than worn to a frazzle because of a helter-skelter pace.
Items needed on a float camp trip are highly debatable. The limited space in a 17-foot canoe puts finite parameters on the amount of stuff that can be packed. The essentials of food, shelter and clothing should be covered first. In my younger days, I slept under my canoe, ate what I caught and wore the same clothes the whole trip. Two fishing rods and tackle, a compact cook kit, first aid kit and water completed my list. For many years now, I have packed a small tent. It is more comfortable in the rain, but it sure separates one from the stars and the magic of the night.
These days Dian and I prefer a comfortable camp. We have perfected canoe packing and don’t waste an inch of space. In the bottom of our canoe go two aluminum cots, two folding stools and a small, folding aluminum table. On top of those, we pack water proof bags containing all extra clothing, including rain gear, dry food and cooking utensils. We take along a small cooler for perishable items. We freeze soda bottles with water beforehand. As the bottles of water thaw we use the contents for drinking and cooking. We toss in a lightweight tent to accommodate two cots. Fishing rods, lure box, camera bag and first aid kit ride on top.
Planning a menu is always fun. We love steaks cooked slowly over a bed of hardwood coals. We freeze them. They serve to cool other items but are thawed enough by the end of the first day to cook for dinner.
We precook baked potatoes at home, wrap them in foil and cover them with coals at camp. As soon as we start eating our sumptuous evening meal by camp and star light, I toss four apples into the coals. I core them, pour cinnamon down the middle and plug both ends with a dab of butter. Wrapped in foil, they are ready for the fire.
We eat two of the apples as an evening desert. The other two are used for breakfast. Hot pancakes, with warm syrup, whipped cream and sliced cinnamon apples. Add a cup of teaming coffee and river life has never been better. Other favorite meals include breakfast tortillas. Sausage, eggs, green peppers, onion and tomatoes are all added to a skillet as need. When the concoction is done, I toss a soft tortilla shell over the skillet for a few seconds to warm it up.
For those new to float camping, a good guide is “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri”. It is available from most Department of Conservation offices. Too, it can be ordered at www.conservation.state.mo.us.