Check off your summertime bucket list of outdoor activities

By Bill Cooper
    Summertime is here in a big, hot, dry way. School is out and tourists seem to be everywhere. Our Ozark region is busy, to say the least. Not to be left out, consider these outdoor activities to check off your bucket list this summer.

    Cold water and hot weather go together like peanut butter and jelly. Water is bountiful, although low, in the south-central Ozarks. Throw the proverbial dart at a map of the area and you will strike near a water source.
    If cold, spring-fed rivers are your ticket, you are in luck. The region is home to an abundance of float and fishing streams. One of my personal favorites is the Meramec River, because I live 15 minutes from it.
    The Highway 8 Access, owned and beautifully operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation, is six miles southeast of St. James. The first two miles can hold skinny water in the summer but is floatable. Plan on dragging your canoe or kayak a few times.
    The next six miles, below Meramec Spring Park carries far more water. Trout fishing is excellent, and there are plenty of gravel bars to enjoy lunch, or a swim.
    The Courtois and Huzzah are about 15 miles east of Steelville. Gorgeous small streams, they may run a bit low in summer, but offer good fishing, swimming, and gravel bar stops.
    The Current River, south of Salem, is one of the most popular float streams. Administered by the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, it can be very crowded on weekends. Weekdays see far less traffic. The water is ice cold and will take your breath away when you plunge into this spring fed river.
    The Big Piney and Gasconade rivers lie west of Rolla and are two of the best smallmouth fishing streams in the state. For a smallmouth fishing adventure of a lifetime, consider hiring fishing guide Tommy Bench. He often takes an old jon boat far up on the Gasconade, where jet boats can’t run. The bass are big, however. Follow Tommy on Facebook at Gasconade Guide service. His photos will make you drool.
    Hot weather sometimes keeps people at bay during the day, but there are great nighttime outdoor activities to enjoy as well. Frog gigging is a great adventure. All you need is a small boat, or canoe, if your balance is good, a couple of gigs, lights, and a sack for frogs. Plan on eating some bugs, but the grand taste of frog legs later will take care of the buggy taste.
    Bowfishing is a growing sport in the Ozarks, thanks to Cpt. Bryan Wilson of Stained Water Bowfishing out of Jerome. Cpt. Wilson has decades of experience running area rivers and lakes at night. He runs two big boats, covered with lights. It is an incredible experience to fling arrows at big carp, buffalo, and gar at nighttime. Check Stained Water Bowfishing on Facebook. You will not be able to resist booking a trip. Bowfishing is an absolute blast.
    Go underground to escape the heat. Missouri is the Cave State, with about 7,500 wild caves now registered. It may be brutally hot outside, but you’ll need a long sleeved shirt or light jacket once you go underground.
    If you are new to caving, go with an experienced group first, or join one of the caving organizations in the state, such as the Missouri Caves Association, or the American Cave Conservation Association.
    Both Onondaga Cave State Park and Meramec State Park offer cave tours and programs. Trained naturalists lead wonderful tours and explain the unusual ecosystems found underground.
    Commercial caves are abundant as well. Meramec Caverns at Stanton features incredible cave formations and has been in business for decades. I recently visited Bridal Cave at Camdenton on Lake of the Ozarks. The flowstone features are breathtaking.
    Wade and fish opportunities abound in the Ozarks, too. Combining wading and fishing in the summertime is one of my favorite activities. Practically every stream in the region has portions that are suitable to wading and fishing. Some streams have deeper areas that cannot be waded, but I often drag a short kayak along and wade when I can, and paddle through the deeper areas.
    Three put-and-take trout fisheries exist in the region. Maramec Spring Park, Montauk State Park, and Bennett Spring State Park offer excellent trout fishing opportunities. All three trout parks have major springs that provide a constant flow of clear, cold spring water for the trout fisheries. The Missouri Department of Conservation oversees the trout programs.
    The spring branches are cold, usually 56 to 57 degrees where they bubble up from underground cave systems. The water warms as it flows downstream.
    Most trout fishermen wear waders to protect them from the cold, but if you want a refreshing trout fishing experience during the heat of summer, forgo the waders and wear a pair of long pants, or shorts. It will take a few minutes to adjust, but it feels wonderful while fishing. When I can’t feel my toes anymore, I know it’s time to get out.
    Camping is another fun time in the outdoors in the Ozarks. Opportunities abound in the region. State parks, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the U.S. Forest Service, and Corps of Engineers all offer camping opportunities from basic campsites to elaborate campgrounds with all the modern amenities.
    Private campgrounds dot the landscape as well and offer a wide variety of services often not found in the public campgrounds. Some cater to horseback riders, while other cater to ATV people. Regardless, with a little on-line research, you can find a private campground to suit your personal needs.
    The bucket list of outdoor activities in the south-central region of the Missouri Ozarks is long. Bike trails, hiking trails, outdoor music festivals and more await the adventurous. If you need help planning your adventures visit the St. James Tourist and Information Center.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at outsidealways.