by Brent Frazee The Kansas City Star

Towering bluffs, gurgling riffles, timbered hillsides, pools where schools of fish scatter at the sight of an advancing canoe — that’s the Ozarks at its best.

Each year, thousands of people launch their canoes and paddle into the most beautiful scenery southern Missouri offers. A more peaceful, get-back-to-nature experience is more likely found floating midweek. Weekends offer plenty of company and a party atmosphere.

Here are 10 options in southern Missouri.

1. CURRENT RIVER: The Current is protected from development because of its designation as a National Scenic Riverway. Good thing. The river is an Ozarks jewel, with towering bluffs, springs, caves and swift current. One of the most-popular float streams in Missouri. Canoe rental available in Eminence, Salem, Van Buren, Jadwin, Doniphan and Akers Ferry.

2. JACKS FORK RIVER: The Jacks Fork is the Current River’s sister in the National Scenic Riverways Park. Actually a tributary of the Current, it has a face of its own. It is recognized as one of the Ozarks’ most scenic rivers. The first 25 miles are set in a deep valley. Canoe rental in Salem, Van Buren and Eminence.

3. ELEVEN POINT RIVER: Another National Scenic River, the Eleven Point is fed by Greer Spring, the second largest spring in Missouri. Below Greer Spring, the cold water that rushes in supports an impressive population of trout. Canoe rental in Alton and Riverton.

4. BLACK RIVER: The Black provides some of the most stunning scenery in the state. Floaters can get a close look at Taum Sauk Mountain, the tallest peak in Missouri and enjoy outstanding smallmouth bass fishing in the upper stretches. Canoe rental in Lesterville.

5. ST. FRANCIS RIVER: This river looks more like something out West rather than in the Ozarks. With its steep gradient, it’s one of the few places in Missouri where you’ll find whitewater — and challenging whitewater at that. It’s narrow, boulder-strewn bed excites even the most experienced canoeists and kayakers. Canoe rental in Patterson.

6. NIANGUA RIVER: The Niangua is two rivers in one. Above Bennett Spring, it is a warm-water stream with good smallmouth-bass fishing under a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Below Bennett Spring, it becomes a cold-water stream with plenty of trout available. Numerous canoe rental businesses can be found in the Bennett Spring area.

7. GASCONADE RIVER: The Gasconade is known as the most crooked riverway in the state. It has a slower current, so it’s not one of the favorites with canoeists. But what’s bad for canoeists is good for fishermen. The Gasconade is an excellent smallmouth-bass river. Canoe rental in Richland, Dixon, Devil’s Elbow and St. Robert.

8. BIG PINEY RIVER: The Big Pine is known for its scenery — its spectacular bluffs, steep, timbered hillsides and wildlife. Canoe rental in Licking, Duke, Dixon, St. Robert and Devil’s Elbow.

9. NORTH FORK OF THE WHITE RIVER: This river is known for its large springs, which provide some exciting whitewater in stretches. Its upper part is in the Mark Twain National Forest and has a wilderness feel to it. Canoe rental in Caulfield, Dora, Tecumseh and West Plains.

10. ELK RIVER: This river is across the border from Northwest Arkansas. Pineville is a center for canoe rentals, and the stretch below offers good smallmouth fishing. Canoe rentals in Pineville, Noel and Anderson.