Paddling and Hiking Safety

paddles stacked against a building

Ozark National Scenic Riverways host many opportunities for hiking and paddling along the 134 mile stretch of the park. Follow these safety tips and regulations for a more rewarding experience.

River Safety:

Know before you go: Check both local weather forecast and river levels. Rivers are safer for novice paddlers when at or below average levels.

File an itinerary: A good practice is to file a float plan with a friend or loved one before departing.

Be aware of fast rising streams: Area streams rise rapidly to unsafe levels following moderate to heavy rains. Be mindful of rising streams and always have a secondary escape route.

Know your limits: Know your own limits and that of your equipment. If you feel unsafe, return to shore.

Remember the ABC's of River Safety!

Always Wear your PFD (Personal Flotation Device): The old saying is "it can't save you if you don't wear it", nothing can be more true. A well fitting Type-III PFD is recommended for all paddlers. It is required by law, children age 7 and under wear a PFD while on board a vessels.

Bottoms Down: If your vessel capsizes, calmly transition to floating on your back with your bottom down and feet up facing downstream, swim to shore.

Climb that rootwad: Avoid strainers and rootwads when at all possible. If you find your vessel being swept into a rootwad do not lean away from the rootwad. Leaning away from the rootwad could lead to your vessel being flooded and you being pinned underneath the rootwad. Instead grab hold of the rootwad and climb upwards and abandoning your vessel.

Better Skill = More Fun!

Ozark National Scenic Riverways offers several beginning basic paddling skills courses throughout the summer. Please visit our Facebook page to learn more.


Hiking Safety:

Know before you go: Check local weather forecast

File an itinerary: A good practice is to file a hiking plan with a friend or loved one before departing.

Be aware of fast rising streams: Area streams rise rapidly to unsafe levels following moderate to heavy rains. Be mindful of rising streams and always have a secondary escape route.

Know your limits: Know your own limits and don't over hike beyond your safe distance.

Stay on Trail: Deviating from the designated trail can lead to you becoming lost and can impact crucial park resources. Please stay on designated trails and stay off social or

Leave no Trace: "Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures" on park trails.

Wear Bug Spray: The park is host to numerous species of ticks, gnats, mosquitoes and chiggers. Some of these species can carry potentially dangerous diseases. You are encouraged to use an insect repellant while hiking area trails.

Pack it in, Pack it out: Please pack all trash you may produce on your hike off the trail. We thank those that actively pick up trash along area trails and mesh trash bags can be obtained at most park visitor centers.

Carry the "Ten Essentials"

a map and compass
NAVIGATION – Map, compass, and GPS system
Navigation systems are used when planning your route before your trip, and when you need help orienting yourself in your surroundings during your activity. Know how to use a topographical or relief map as well as your compass or GPS unit before going out.
hats and sunglasses
SUN PROTECTION – Sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat
Sun protection is necessary to protect your skin and eyes against harsh UV rays that are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer. Consider using sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats. Sun-protection clothing such as pants and long sleeve shirts can also help minimize your exposure to the sun.
an orange jacket and red gloves
INSULATION – Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear
Nature is unpredictable. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions. Pack an extra layer of clothing that reflects the most extreme conditions you could encounter.
red lantern and blue flashlight
ILLUMINATION – Flashlight, lanterns, and headlamp
Lighting is indispensable in the outdoors where no conventional light sources can be found. Items include flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps. Headlamps are the preferred light source because they are hands-free. Be sure to pack extra batteries.
first aid kit
Be prepared for emergencies by packing first-aid supplies with you. Start with a pre-made kit and modify it to fit your trip and your medical needs. Check the expiration date on all items and replace them as needed. Consider including an emergency guide in case you are faced with an unfamiliar medical emergency.
matches and lighter
FIRE – Matches, lighter and fire starters
Fire can be an emergency signal and a heat source for cooking and staying warm. Pack matches (preferably waterproof) and fire starters - items that catch fire quickly and sustain a flame (e.g. lighter). Familiarize yourself with the fire use regulations of your park before heading out.
survival knife and whistle
REPAIR KIT AND TOOLS – Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors
Carry a basic repair kit with you to help repair equipment. The kit should include items such as duct tape, a knife, and scissors. Consider packing a multi-tool, a compact version of many tools that can include a knife, screwdriver, can opener, etc. Be sure to bring any tools specific to your trip and your activity.
and apple and tree nuts
You should always be prepared for the possibility of changes to your trip plans. Pack an extra day's supply of food, preferably no-cook items that have good nutritional value in order to keep your energy high. Salty and easy to digest snacks (e.g. trail mix, nuts, and granola bars) work well for outdoor activities.
an orange tent
EMERGENCY SHELTER – Tent, space blanket, tarp, and bivy
Shelter is one of the most important elements during an emergency survival situation. It can protect you from severe weather conditions and exposure to the elements. A tent, tarp, bivy sack, or emergency space blanket are all light weight options for emergency shelter.
water bottle
HYDRATION – Water and water treatment supplies
Staying hydrated on your trip is of utmost importance! Physical activity increases your risk of dehydration (loss of water and salts from the body), which can lead to negative health consequences. If you’re active outdoors (hiking, biking, running, swimming, etc.), especially in hot weather, you should drink water often and before you feel thirsty. Prepare your water before you need it and do not allow yourself to become dehydrated. Before heading out on your trip, be sure to identify if there are any bodies of water at your destination that you could collect water from and treat using your water treatment supplies.

In case of an Emergency dial 911 or
Park dispatch at 844-460-3604

Last updated: January 15, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 490
Van Buren, MO 63965


(573) 323-4236

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