Kayaking In Missouri – The James River

There are so many places to go kayaking in Missouri and the James River is a good place to start.

view of the Y-Bridge across the James river in Galena, Missouri

A Little History

The James River has an interesting past. It has many stories to tell. Some are glorious and some are down and dirty, literally.

While reading up on the James River, I learned that in its pre-dam days as a free-flowing river it was really well-known for its small-mouth bass fishing. From its starting point in Webster County, Missouri it winds its way approximately 130 miles, eventually dumping into the White River. Today it is encompassed by Table Rock Lake at the end of its trail.

The James was a pioneer for float-fishing in the Ozarks. According to my research there was a gentleman by the name of Jim Owens that operated a line of boats and guides on Missouri waters. From what I have read, there are still some remnants from those days in the early 20th century still lingering on the banks.

Camp Yocum, is one such remnant, it was started by a gentleman by the name of Tom Yocum, one of Jim Owens’ guides. On a bluff named “Horse Creek Bluff” there are still cabins from that camp, as of 2018, that represent the authentic Ozarks. Something to look for if you are floating in that area.

The Y-Bridge

The Y-Bridge in Galena, Missouri built in 1927 tells its own story of the James River. This three-way bridge is now closed to automobile traffic, but can be traversed on foot. It was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1991.

The bridge tells of a history in the Ozarks, but it also tells a bit of the possible future. The bridge holds a monitoring system maintained by the United States Geological Survey that records data, including data about the water levels. The monitoring system in Galena is the oldest system on the James River.

The data that has been collected over the past 93 years tells an incredible story of how climate change is affecting the river systems. For the first 85 years the James River only topped 30 feet only once. In 1993, it reached a staggering 33.46 feet. Astonishingly since 2008 the river has topped 30 feet 4 times. In 2008 and again in 2017 the river broke records reaching heights of 36 feet both times.

close-up view of the Y-Bridge in Galena, Missouri

This is very apparent when you visit the Y-Bridge and see the flood debris still clinging the concrete supports of the bridge.

The James River Basin Partnership

The James River Basin Partnership brings me to the down and dirty story of the James River.

The James River Basin Partnership is a grass-roots, non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning, improving and protecting the quality of the springs, streams, rivers and lakes in the James River watershed. The watershed consists of almost a million acres of land in portions of 8 counties.

About 22 years ago the James River experienced a major algae bloom that spanned bank to bank and stretched across 14 miles on the lower James into Table Rock Lake. It was caused by the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the river. This was the catalyst for forming this organization.

22 years ago the James was placed on the states list of impaired waters because of nutrient loading from all the usual suspects. Between the agriculture in the area, the municipal wastewater and storm water discharges, failing septic systems, etc., the river was in dire straits.

Since its formation they have led many river recovery initiatives. Everything from planting hundreds of trees on hundreds of acres, to working a plan to reduce the nutrient loading to the river basin. Over 2000 volunteers have removed over 83,250 pounds of litter and over 700 tires from the James and one of its largest tributaries the Finley since 2005.

an empty beer can in the weeds on the bank of the river

They say they are not done yet and probably never will be. Recovery is a slow process and is fragile. So, while we all enjoy kayaking and fishing in the James river, we should do our part to keep it healthy for the next generation. If you pack it in, then pack it out.

If you are interested, in doing more you can visit the website for the James River Basin Partnership and contribute that way as well. They seem to be a great cause to stand behind. Especially if you enjoy floating clean waters.

Access Points

The James has several access points, so that you can enjoy the river.

Some of the more popular places that I have heard of are Shelvin Rock, Hooten Town, H.L. Kerr and Y-Bridge in Galena. These are the access points that I hear the most about in the Branson area. I personally am looking forward to floating from these access points myself. Definitely on my bucket list for the near future.

There are a couple of outfitters in the area as well that offer rentals and shuttle services. They also offer pre-planned trips in varying lengths.

  • Hooten Town – offers canoe and kayak rentals as well as shuttle services and camping. You can check out their website for prices and services.
  • James River Outfitters in Galena – offers rentals, shuttles and camping. Click on the name to check out their website for more information.

What to Expect

Expect beautiful scenery, clear water, good fishing and an amazing adventure. The James River is considered a class I stream with very few hazards to navigate. That makes it a good one for beginners or those that just like to meander.

During season, I am sure you should expect people. While it is not the most popular river in Missouri for floating, it is gaining popularity. Water levels can vary due to lack of rains in the area. So, you may want to check levels before you plan your trip.

There are several apps you can download on your phone to check river levels. When I asked what everyone on my Facebook group used, the American Whitewater app was a popular one. There is also one called the River App. I will have to download one and let you know my thoughts.

You can also check on the NOAA-National Weather Service website.


The James River has a few tributaries along its path. As it makes its way from Webster County to Branson and the Table Rock Lake several rivers and creeks join it on its journey.

The major tributaries are Pierson Creek, Wilson Creek, Finley Creek, Crane Creek and Flat Creek.

Final Thoughts

Like I said earlier, I cannot wait to float the James. It is rich in history and has several options for floating. I have also been told that there are several eagles nest along the river. Definitely taking a camera with me when I go.

A lot of the locals here float the James and I have seen a ton of pictures and read a few stories. If you have any experiences on the James please share in the comments below. Join me on Facebook at Kayaking Adventures and share your pictures and fun.

Kayaking in Missouri can certainly be a grand adventure and there a lot of rivers to explore. The James is just one of many. Come back and check out my take on some of the others in the future.

Thanks for spending some time here and I hope to hear from you in the comments.

Until Next Time!

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8 thoughts on “Kayaking In Missouri – The James River”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing us an interesting and informative article. The main theme of this article is about Kayaking In Missouri – The James River. It is really laudable that you have illustrated this topic so well in your article. I have learned a lot by reading your article and gained a lot of cognition about it. Of the points mentioned in your article, I like The James River Basin Partnership. I traveled to James river last year which was an adventure experience for me. From my experience, I can say that the pleasure of traveling here cannot be overstated because the scenery and the murmur of clear water really captivated my mind.

    • Thank you for stopping in and enjoying my post. The Ozarks are a beautiful place and so full of adventure. That is awesome that you have actually been here and have been able to experiece this beautiful place in person.

  2. I used to really love Kayaking. I have been to a very few number of locations and the James River is one of my targets. Since I am not yet a pro and still not near ready to give it a shot. But I must say the James River is one of the best kayaking spots in the whole planet…thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

    • That is the beauty of the James. It is a suitable river for the beginner. If you can get a chance I urge you to give it a try. I am sure you will not be disappointed. Thank you for spending some time with me here and for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Beautiful! Not only the scenery but also your writing! I love the way that you started introducing the James River by its history, it makes me more interested in reading this article. Although I am not a fan of outdoor activities and never tried kayaking, I would love to try it because of your article. Just a quick question: which season will you consider the best time to visit there?

    • Thanks for stopping in Dawn. While the James is pretty floatable in all seasons, obviousely we would want to be fairly comfortable while floating. Fall is my favorite season in general. The colors just enhance the beauty of everything. The water is typically higher in the spring, so if you like faster moving rivers, spring is probably preferred. Summer here is hot, the water tends to be lower and slower and busier. But, it also provides a good time for swimming while out on the water. I guess there really isn’t a bad time to go, LOL.

  4. It is really really nice to read about this kayaking in Missouri. I didn’t know about this before. I have heard about the James River though and I have seen some cool pictures of this too before but I think it’d be nice to actually go there and do it. Unfortunately for me, I wouldn’t be able to do that right now. Nice post all the same.

    • Well Jay, I hope that someday you get to experience the James River and Missouri. The Ozarks are a beautiful piece of God’s work. 

      Thank you for stopping in and spending some time here. You are appreciated.


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