Although it was still a holiday week, we moved to Hidden Valley Outfitters Campground (HVO) near Bennett Springs, MO. I have never been to this part of the state and looked forward to visiting the springs. However, due to the holiday, Barry was not able to book any appointments in Springfield or Joplin. Instead, we found time to visit with family and relax!!!
First though, the campground: a Good Sam campground and a discount! It has a funny little entrance to the area — they are currently in a little metal building and nearly finished with a new big building across the way. It looks like an old-style Old West building with a long front porch, but will include a water feature out front……worth returning to see the finished project. After you check in, you drive between the Niagua River and a big field before the campground comes into view. There are about 4 rows of campsites in this area with 50 amp, FHU’s, a campground, picnic shelter, river access and a nice shower house. Continuing along the road and over a low-water bridge into another campground for tents and smaller campers with 30 amp electric. In this area is also a little chapel and another nice playground and shower house. Up the hill is a third camp area for “extended stay” units — this is a huge property. We stayed here for 7 nights; but had to move from site #38 after 5 nights to site #37. Site #38 is the first site as you come into the campground and faces the river. It was a wonderful place to relax with the first shade every afternoon and the view of rafters floating down the river. And the fishermen…….everyone comes here to fish for the trout released just upstream at Bennett Springs State Park.
There is so much to see and do at the state park; fishing, shopping and eating in the lodge, trails, lots of wildflowers, multiple campgrounds (those reservations are as hard to get during Trout season as the ones in the Florida Keys!), pool, playground, even the Bennett Springs Church of God. We ate breakfast at the lodge one morning and it was delicious; the lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930 from stones and timber frames. The state introduced 40,000 mountain spring trout in 1900 and purchased the spring and surrounding property in 1924-25.
I was not always an outdoor person, we never camped as we grew up and I did not take my family camping……so these moments are all new to me. I have never been on a river float trip — until now! HVO offered float trips and we booked a Saturday morning time! Barry and I met other floaters at the picnic shelter and were picked up by their van driver. People brought coolers and float tubes and more coolers and sunscreen and music players and more coolers! It seems that loud music and drinking are major parts of floating on the river! We drove back up north of the state park for about 7 miles until we reached the drop off site. A couple of men were there with rows of rafts, canoes, and kayaks lined up along a gravel bar for us; one pointed to two kayaks, made sure we had paddles and life jackets and walked away while we loaded up our water bottles and sunscreen and pushed off. Poor Barry was a bit unsteady and fell right into the water as he tried to get into his kayak (!!). I was already paddling into the current and paused to just float until he caught up to me. Our trip was wonderful!!!! The water was comfortably warm and kept us from getting too hot. We saw wildflowers, huge trees, fish, turtles, snakes, lots of birds and many other floaters. We floated by tall old trees, towering cliffs, dead tree snags, with bird songs accompanying us. We stopped a couple of times to get out and swim in the warm water. We finally came up to the spot where Bennett Spring met the river……the water dropped from warm to so very cold! Then we came back to the HVO gravel bar and landed our kayaks there with the waiting boat team. We walked back to our coach, tired and hot and happy.
After a lovely week, we packed up and drove back to St. Louis for some family time.