This is a trip report for our June 28-30 adventure.
The weather was hot but the paddles were great. Sunburst Ranch is ok, but still recovering from the flood.
On Saturday, we did the section from Hammond Camp (N36° 45' 29.2" W92° 09' 16.2") down to Sunburst Ranch (N36° 39' 17.2" W92° 13' 01.4"). This is a 12 mile and very popular paddle. We started early in order to get ahead of the floating parties. If you get onto the river before 9:30 am you can typically avoid the crowd. The Federal Forest Service has blocked vehicle access between the parking lot and the water while a new launch area is being constructed. It's a headache for the commercial outfitters who must move a bunch of boats, but the ground was easy to traverse and with two men carrying a boat, it was not a problem for us. There is a $2 parking (day use) fee at the launch site.
On Saturday, we paddled Bryant Creek from Sycamore Access (N36° 42' 26.8" W92° 15' 54.3") to Warren Bridge ((N36° 40' 01.6" W92° 16' 52.5"). Bryant Creek has not been commercialized and the owners of Sunburst Ranch suggested it as another way to avoid the crowds. We literally had the creek to ourselves. The only people we encountered were three fisherman, non-paddlers, who had camped on the bank for several days and were breaking camp to head home. The distance is only about 7.5 miles, but we had been cautioned that the section included a series of pools that required actual paddling, not just a float. It was not a problem. The take-out was a bit of a challenge. Repairs following flood damage left a steep rocky bank between the water and our parked vehicle. However with care and two men per boat we managed without incident. There is a beach at the location and we could have avoided the steep bank in exchange for a longer carry.
On Monday we put-in at Sunburst Ranch and paddled to another location owned by the same couple. It’s on the left bank descending, just past the high bridge on highway PP (N36° 36' 32.6" W92° 15' 54.7"). This is a short paddle, only about 5.5 miles, but a good choice for the morning before heading home. There’s a fairly large cabin at the take-out and only a short shuttle from Sunburst Ranch. I believe it can be rented by those who don’t prefer camping. We were told that we could not use that take-out until Monday because a party had rented it for the weekend. Shuttling a vehicle to the take-out was a bit of a comedy which we covered by buying fuel during the first failed attempt. The water side had a nice sign, but on the road there was only a yellow mailbox. The GPS coordinates above should help find it in the future.
The owners of Sunburst Ranch are very friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, a flood wiped out the campground a couple of years back. They reopened last year with new bathrooms and showers. This year the number of RV (electrical) sites available has increased. The owners hope to replace/repair the RV dump station by the end of this season.
I spoke with the owner of the Sunburst Ranch about river stages. There’s a USGS gage near Tecumseh, MO. I’ve added a link to the gage under the PADDLING tab on our website. She told me that they consider anything between 500 and 1000 CFM floatable. During our paddles, the stage was high (750 - 850 CFM) compared to about 550 CFM history for the dates, but we found the levels fine. “The Falls” was a nonevent.
We prepared and ate all of our meals at the campsite. However, there is a bar and grill at Dawt Mill for those so inclined.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has prepared useful details about paddling this area. I’ve added links under the PADDLING tab on our website.
PS - Look for a repeat visit to the North Fork in the next month or so.