St. Francis, Missouri, US
|Usual Difficulty||II (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||13 fpm|
|Max Gradient||29 fpm|
|St. Francis River near Roselle, MO|
|usgs-07034000||3.00 - 18.00 ft||II||260d01h06m||3.23 ft (running)|
|~150-1,000 cfs; 0-30" on D-bridge Level shown is from USGS gauge at the put-in.|
(Also see Gauge FAQ)
Look for ½" of rain within 6 hours at rain gages in upper watershed (Roselle and above). Dry ground takes more rain but intense rain at any upstream gage can bring a delayed rise in the river as much as 12-24 hrs later. The USGS Roselle gauge is accessible either on-line or by phone at 1-573-546-2502. The Roselle gauge is correlated with the paddler's gauge on the footbridge (old highway D bridge) at the takeout for the Lower St. Francis in Silver Mines Recreation Area. The paddler's gauge is on a bridge pier with marks from 0 to 42 inches (top of the bridge). For levels up to the top of the bridge, the approximate conversion is
D-bridge (inches) = 15 * (Roselle – 3)
Levels over the bridge are marked on the road in 1-foot intervals as the road goes up the hill. For levels that are over the bridge, the approximate conversion is
D-bridge (feet over the bridge) = (5/4) * (Roselle – 6)
Since it is pretty much the “only game in town” for regional paddlers, the Upper St. Francis is boated over a wide range of levels.
St. Francis @ Roselle
St. Francis @ Roselle
|D-bridge gauge||Upper St. Francis rating|
|3 - 4||150 - 500||0 - 15 in||II|
|4 - 5||500 - 1000||15 - 30 in||II+|
|5 - 6||1000 - 1700||30 - 45 in (top of bridge)||III-|
|6 - 8||1700 - 3800||top of bridge - 2.5 ft over||III|
|8 - 10||3800 - 6800||2.5 - 5 ft over bridge||III+|
|10 - 12||6800 - 11000||5 - 7.5 ft over bridge||IV-|
|12 - 14||11000 - 16500||7.5 - 10 ft over bridge||IV|
|14 - 18||16500 - 31000||10 - 15 ft over bridge||IV+|
|18 - 22||31000 - 52000||15 - 20 ft over bridge||V-|
The Upper St. Francis is frequently combined with the Lower St. Francis to make a 5 mile run. The Upper Saint has three drops, connected by long stretches of flatwater, and is considerably easier than the Lower. It is very scrapey when the USGS Roselle gauge is close to 3.0 and most paddlers with any experience will just paddle the Lower Saint at levels below 4.0.
These two sections of the St. Francis are Missouri's only semi-reliable whitewater, although paddlers might question the word “reliable”, particularly during periods of drought. The reason for the uniqueness is simply a matter of geology, i.e. the St. Francis River is the major drainage for the St. Francois Mountains, the highest part of Missouri's Ozark Plateau. The granite riverbed and mini-gorges, geologically termed “shut-ins,” of the St. Francis and its tributaries are in stark contrast to the gravel-bed float streams for which Missouri is famous. First-time paddlers, who may be familiar with the placid float streams, will be pleasantly surprised to find some real whitewater in Missouri. It's not the Rockies or the Appalachians but, hey, we're only 100 miles from St. Louis!
The put-in is where highway 72 crosses the river, west of Fredericktown. The USGS Roselle gauge is also located here. Downstream from the put-in, Stouts Creek comes in on the right, adding much clearer water and also adding volume (cfs) that is not recorded on the upstream USGS Roselle gauge. After a long pool and a bend to the left, Entrance Rapid is encountered. Entrance is a long, wide rapid with a series of ledges, steeper on the right, which provide good play at lower levels. At flood levels, the willows growing in Entrance Rapid form a hazard more challenging than the whitewater! Kitten’s Crossing is a series of 3 drops with the third having a primo surfing, wave/hole and service eddy on the left. Wintertime ice cream headaches usually begin here. Land of Oz has two back-to-back surfing waves on the left but beware the trashy drop just below that collects wood. (Land of Oz is named in honor of Oscar “Oz” Hawksley, an early exploratory paddler from Missouri and officer in the American Whitewater Affiliation.) After a series of pools, the river makes a bend to the right before a take-out at Fisherman’s Access in Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. There is another take-out downstream at Tiemann Shut-Ins, which is the standard put-in for the Lower St. Francis.
Access to both the upper and lower St. Francis is off highway 72 west of Fredericktown. At low to medium levels (0 to 20” on D bridge), most people just paddle the lower St. Francis. However, at higher levels (near or above bridge level), some will do both sections and some will do only the (easier) upper section.
The generally accepted meeting place for paddlers is a parking area adjacent to the low-water bridge in the Silver Mines Recreation Area. This parking area is the take-out for the lower run and is located on a spur road off highway D. Boaters meet here to check the gauge on the low-water bridge, to set up shuttle, and to socialize. The MWA Message Board frequently has posts about planned meeting dates and times for paddling.
To get to the paddler meeting place from Fredericktown, go west on highway 72 about 4½ miles past the highway 67 intersection and turn left (south) on highway D. After going about 2½ miles, you'll crest a hill and see the St. Francis floodplain and bridge in the distance. At the bottom of the hill, turn right on the spur road (identified by USFS camping signs) and go straight to the parking area. Two comments about this route are worthy of note: (1) Several boaters have gotten speeding tickets on highway 72. Set the cruise control on 55 mph to play it safe. (2) Highway D is narrow, curvy, and hilly, but it is also paved and, consequently, very tempting for excited paddlers to go too fast. Please drive reasonably on highway D and don't scare the hell out of the locals.
The take-out for the Upper St. Francis is in Millstream Gardens Conservation Area. To get there, take highway D back to highway 72 and turn left (west). Go 4 miles on highway 72 and turn left (south) at the sign for Millstream Gardens. Go about 1 mile, passing a left turn to handicapped parking area, to the next left turn and go ½ mile to the parking area and pavilion that overlooks the Tiemann Shut-Ins (Lower St. Francis). Going straight at the last turn would take you to an upstream access (Fishermans) that is at the top of a half-mile long pool.
The put-in for the Upper St. Francis is where highway 72 crosses the river, 6 miles west of the highway D intersection and 2 miles west of the Millstream Gardens turn. Use the Roselle Fishermans Access entrance, located west and south of the bridge.
Scheduled Whitewater Events:
The Missouri Whitewater Association (MWA) sponsors a slalom race on the St. Francis at Millstream Gardens every spring. Click on the Missouri Whitewater Championships for more information. The MWA also sponsors a beginner/intermediate whitewater clinic on the St. Francis in the spring. Students are taken in small groups down class II-III sections of the river and based upon their skill level, taught various skills including river-reading, playing and safety.
The River Gypsies’ Guide to North America by Leland & Andria Davis (Brushy Mountain Publishing, Inc) has an outstanding description of the run.
A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to the Ozarks by Tom Kennon (3rd edition, Menasha Ridge Press)is an older, but still good, resource.
Also see AW Journal Articles about the St. Francis.
Predicting the River Level:
When the river is dropping after a rain event, it is possible to predict the approximate level several days later assuming that no additional precipitation occurs in the watershed. There are at least two ways to do this:
"Multiply" method (simple, but limited in application): Several people have noted that when D-bridge level is less than about 36", the level each succeeding day is a fixed fraction of the level the previous day. If a 2/3 multiplier is used and the level is 30" one day, then it's projected to be (2/3)30 = 20" the next, (2/3)20 = 13" the next, etc.
"Hydrograph" method (greater applicability, but requires archived hydrographs): This method uses graphs and tables from the web page USGS Roselle gauge. In essence, one is predicting the future behavior of the river based on past hydrographs. After going to the web page, note that the default output format is "graph" for a "7-day" time period. Change that to 31 days to see if there have been any hydrograph peaks in the last month. We'll assume there has been at least one and that the level peaked and dropped in a smooth curve thereafter. Change the output format to "fixed-width table" to see tabular data for the level at different times of day. Using an Excel spreadsheet, you can archive the graph and the table so that after a future rain event you can predict the level based on how the river dropped in the past. For generally better results you'll need to archive several hydrographs for different rainfall patterns and ground moisture content.
1. The highway D bridge over the St. Francis is neither a low-water bridge nor is there a gauge on it. What gives?
The low-water bridge with the gauge is the old highway D bridge. In 1993, the highway department by-passed this bridge with a new, high bridge. The low-water bridge was blocked to vehicular traffic and left as a pedestrian walkway. Although technically incorrect, paddlers still refer to the old bridge with the gauge as "D-bridge."
2. How good are the conversion equations at giving actual (real-time) D-bridge values?
Generally within a few inches on D-bridge when Roselle range is 3 - 9 ft. and the river is not rapidly rising. For higher levels, the correlation is not as good but still works after a fashion. The gauge conversion seems to work best when there was general rainfall over the entire watershed.
3. Why don't D-bridge values as estimated from the conversion formulas agree better with actual values?
The Roselle gauge is at highway 72 bridge, more than 5 miles upstream from the paddler's gauge on D-bridge. In between the gauges are one major tributary (Stouts Creek) and two minor tributaries (Mud Creek and Turkey Creek). The correlation between the two gauges can be influenced by such things as a rapidly rising river, rainfall variance in the St. Francis and tributary watersheds, wintertime freezing conditions, summertime vegetation growth, and even a beaver dam in the downstream outflow of the pool where the Roselle gauge is located.
4. In the Gauge description section, it says that the top of D-bridge is 42 inches on the paddler's gauge but the table says 45 inches. So which is it?
The top of the bridge is actually 42 inches. It's given to be 45 inches in the table for simplicity since a one-foot change in the USGS gauge represents an approximate 15-inch change in the D-bridge gauge.
5. The conversion formula for “feet over the bridge” doesn't quite agree with the formula for “inches on the bridge.” Why is this?
Again, for simplicity. The “exact” formula should be (5/4)*(Roselle – 29/5). By using “6” instead of “29/5” we're underestimating the level by 3 inches. Precision isn't warranted here since both formulas were meant to give only approximate conversions anyway.