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. Ozark NSR was the nation's first "scenic riverways" - a forerunner to the Wild and Scenic River Act by four years.The clean, clear waters of the two beautiful rivers provide excellent opportunities for johnboating, canoeing, swimming, fishing, tubing, hiking and bird watching. Hunting is also allowed within the Riverways' boundaries, except around developed areas. The landscape is predominantly rural with oak-pine forests and occasional open fields.
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 recorded caves within the boundaries. Several caves have been identified as having critical habitat for the endangered Indiana and Gray bats. Some caves are gated or signed to protect bat habitat.
Over sixty percent of the rivers' flow comes from seven major and hundreds of other 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 species of birds, and 58 species of mammals found in the park. There are also 26 species of 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 of the year. Winters are generally cool with variable precipitation.
About 1.5 million people a year visit Ozark NSR. Visitation is heaviest during the summer months, especially during weekends and holidays.
The rivers are considered to be Class 1 streams. Class 1 is the least difficult of the classifications used. Horsepower limitations on outboard motors are in effect above the Big Spring boat landing (Current River) and on the entire Jacks Fork River within the park.
Fishing, hunting, and johnboating continue to gain in popularity. However, camping, canoeing, floating in tubes and sightseeing are the most popular recreation activities at Ozark NSR. Horseback riding, picnicking and hiking are also popular activities. Most hiking is done in the spring and fall seasons.
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 both the Current and the Jacks Fork Rivers. State Highway 19 and US Highway 60 provide the primary road access into the area. There are 14 miles of designated horse trails and 48 miles of foot trails 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 some day go from St. Louis into Arkansas. Several long sections of this trail have already been completed.