Two of America's clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park area to protect a wild river system. The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers wind through a landscape of rugged hills and towering bluffs.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways is perfect for canoeing, swimming, fishing, boating, and some of the most beautiful photographic opportunities you can imagine. 

More Than Just the Rivers

Ozark National Scenic Riverways was created by an Act of Congress on August 27, 1964, to protect 134 miles of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers in the Ozark Highlands of southeastern Missouri.

BY FOUR YEARS, Ozark NSR was the nation's first "scenic riverways" - a forerunner to the Wild and Scenic River Act. The clean, clear waters of the two beautiful rivers provide excellent opportunities for photographers and nature lovers.

The southeast Missouri Ozarks are typified by narrow steep-sided hollows, numerous streams, and bluffs. Much of the area is underlain by soluble dolomite, giving rise to sinkholes, caves, and springs of classical Karst topography.

There are over 300 documented caves within the boundaries. Several caves have been identified as having critical habitats for endangered Indiana and gray bats. Some caves are gated or signed to protect bat habitats.

Over sixty percent of the rivers' flow comes from seven primary and hundreds of smaller springs of various sizes within the park. Big Spring, one of the largest springs in the United States, has an average flow of 276 million gallons of water per day. The maximum recorded flow in one day was 840 million gallons in June 1928.

There are 112 species of fish, 197 birds, and 58 species of mammals found in the park. There are also 26 amphibians and 46 species of reptiles found in the park area, including four venomous snakes. The park is home to approximately 1,000 plant species.

Summers are hot and humid. Ticks, mosquitoes, and gnats are the most prevalent insect problems. The area is subject to severe thunderstorms, torrential rains, and flooding at any time. Winters are generally cool with variable precipitation.

About 2 million people a year visit Ozark NSR. Visitation is heaviest during the summer months, especially during weekends and holidays.

There are 318 miles of roads within the park, most of which are secondary public roads and backcountry roads or traces. There are numerous road access points along the Current and the Jacks Fork Rivers. State Highway 19 and US Highway 60 provide the primary road access into the area. Fourteen miles of designated horse trails and 48 miles of foot trails are located within the park. Trail conditions may vary considerably. Short hikes in the Big Spring and Alley Spring areas are popular. The park contains an 8.5-mile section of the Ozark Trail, which is planned to someday go from St. Louis into Arkansas. Several long sections of this trail have already been completed.

With a rich natural and cultural history, fascinating geologic formations, two of the country’s clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers, and outdoor recreation galore, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is an incredible resource loved by generations.


". . the time has also come to identify and preserve free-flowing stretches of our great rivers before growth and development make the beauty of the unspoiled waterway a memory." With these words, President Lyndon Johnson designated the Ozark National Scenic Riverways as the country’s first federally protected riverway in 1964.

Made up of over 80,000 acres along the spring-fed Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, the park welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors drawn by its scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and diverse natural and human history. For over 150 years, the area was home to many families who farmed the valleys and tamed small regions of a vast wilderness.

Missouri’s southeastern Ozarks were long isolated from outside influence due to the rugged landscape and lack of improved transportation routes. Scotch-Irish settlers began to filter in shortly after The Louisiana Purchase in 1804. Steady settlement occurred in the area following the addition of Missouri as a state in 1821. By the 1850s, most lands in the river valleys were occupied by subsistence farmers. The Civil War brought devastation to the region, and economic recovery was slow. Not until the 1880s did the significant change begin with the coming of railroads and lumber companies. The lumber companies established large mills producing millions of board feet of native pine lumber. At the same time, the railroads provided economical transportation for people and products in and out of the region. The timber boom brought an economic boom to the local economy, and many pioneering families took part in this new industry. However, excessive logging stripped the countryside bare. What the loggers didn’t take, wildfire did. Rains washed topsoil into the rivers and gorged them with gravel. The region grew poorer, and only sheer determination kept the Ozark people on their farmsteads eking out a meager living.

Amid this environmental ruin, a new conservation ethic was born amongst residents alongside business people from Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and beyond. As early as the 1870s, the region became known for its scenery and abundant wildlife. With the railroads came urban sportspeople eager to hunt and fish the area. In time, they grew concerned with preserving the area’s great natural resources, and in 1919 the Missouri State Fish and Game Commission was established. Visits by respected conservationists Aldo Leopold and Leonard Hall drew attention to the area while the newly popular automobile brought better roads and more tourists.

With growing interest in the region, in 1924, Missouri established state parks at Round Spring, Alley Spring, and Big Spring. But the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929 brought it all to a halt until President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in the Civilian Conservation Corps. CCC camps were established to promote conservation and recreation throughout the country, including the three state parks along the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. The 1930s saw the purchase of large tracts of land for designation as the Clark (now Mark Twain) National Forest. In 1936, the Missouri Department of Conservation was established to enforce fish and game laws better. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began studies on the damming of the Current River for hydroelectric power. Once again, international events stopped those plans as the U.S. government turned its focus to winning World War II.

After the war, plans to dam the river resurfaced, but an anti-dam conservation movement in the 1950s squelched any plans to harness the free-flowing Current. In 1956, the National Park Service called for the establishment of a corridor park along the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. Four years later, Congress appropriated funds for a feasibility study on establishing an "Ozark Rivers National Monument." Concerned about the loss of historic family farmland and tax revenue, residents and officials offered stiff resistance. But in 1962, President John F. Kennedy endorsed the formation of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, and in 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. The formal dedication ceremony was held at Big Spring in 1972, presided by Patricia Nixon Cox.