From there, I started thinking of rivers I have canoed. I quickly realized that I haven't set foot in a canoe since 1991. OK, so I have sent foot in a canoe since then, but it was always on a lake somewhere and I can't bring myself to count that. The following is my own personal canoe-ography in no particular order...
Buffalo River, Arkansas: By far my favorite. If you love canoeing and hiking, it provides the perfect combination of both...Lost Valley Cave, Big Bluff, Hemmed in Hollow, and several of the best caves you have EVER entered. It's also a national wildlife area, so there are lots of off-river camping areas as well as on-river camping, a full compliment of park ranger services (some of the best classes, etc. that I have ever attended, and guided hiking and canoeing trips.
I cut my teeth on this river at the age of twelve when my dad slapped me in a Grumman canoe with 16-yr-old Russel Smith. He knew how to handle a canoe and taught me a lot...including stark terror. You see, Russel had a habit of just jumping out of the boat into the water. Right before a big rapid. He was always looking at something or for something--this river is still crystal-clear and you can see the bottom no matter where you are. I understood diving in after his glasses, but the other things became ridiculous. So, I perfected the back-paddle-while-rotating-and-turning-the-bow-into-the-stern-of-the-boat maneuver. Russel hated the bow of the boat. Then there was the sibling rivalry between his brother and sister in the other boat.
We camped on sand bars (a misnomer) on the river for ten days and did the exciting stretch of the river (from Ponca to Kyle's Landing including all the amazing hiking before, after, and in between).
Ponca to Steel Creek is a short jaunt that can be fun in a tube if the water is high enough during the summer. Ponca (through Steel Creek) to Rusk is by far the most exciting stretch year round. Watch for cows. They like to masquerade as large, stupid obstacles...even stupider than trees. Trust me. Rusk to Kyle's landing will take you a couple of days plus an extra day if you want to hike. There's also a great stretch of river above Ponca from Boxley but you really have to be there when the river is at flood stage for that to be anything more than an exercise in professional portaging. The stretch to Buffalo Point and then on to Maumee is wider and flatter, but good for fishing OR jumping off rocks into the water. Not both for obvious reasons.
The real place to camp if you want to take advantage of all the park ranger action is Buffalo Point. The big hike up Indian Creek through the keyhole to Arkansas Cave originates there. Twice now, we have almost killed Booger on that hike. We went to lectures on all sorts of wildlife followed by hikes where we located said wildlife. My personal fave was the night hike for nocturnal animals...several species of owls made that very exciting. Oddly enough, I also enjoyed the emergency rescue they staged on one of the bluffs. They had one killer helicopter and all kinds of toys. The park rangers have a very high presence there and basically mill around and get to know you...sometimes they hang out and even join you on the river. They're a particularly great bunch of people.
Illinois River, Oklahoma: This was not the most fun I ever had, but within a day's drive of my house at the time. I've canoed it twice and all I have to say is "take the left fork!!!" You're actually supposed to take the right-hand fork at a certain point and we did not know that. Consequently, we had a LOT of fun on the left-hand side. We took the right-hand side on our second try and were sadly bored to tears.
Jack's Fork and Current Rivers, Missouri: Caution: Spring-fed river warning!!!! Yeah, we found out the hard way. We went to Alley Spring, Missouri on vacation and camped in one of the Ozark National Scenic River parks near the junction of these two rivers. The ranger there was leading a wildlife tubing class. She "neglected" to mention that we would be covering about a mile stretch of the Current river which is spring fed. So, we took off down the Jack's Fork, it dumped into the Current and immediately we all shot up out of our tubes 'cause the water hit a slightly chilly temp of 58 degrees. WOW!
Still, both rivers are beautiful. The current is wide and flat, but fast-moving. It makes for interesting fishing and is canoeable year-round because it doesn't freeze over or lose much water volume.
On a strange note, every seven or so years, this area falls victim to a major locust infestation. It literally looks like it snowed locusts. Our dog ran around eating them and you could hear them buzzing all the way down. They didn't bother us, it was just a tad, well, odd.
Mountain Fork River, Arkansas: Waterfalls, yes!!! This we loved!!! I think this is the river I discovered first because we used to pass it on the way to my grandmother's house and we'd pull onto the low-water bridge to watch boaters come over the falls (a minor four-footer). Any description of this river contains beautiful phrases like "cypress knee channels, " "abundant boulder gardens," "rock outcroppings," and "chutes." And last-but-not-least the "to-hell-with-it-we're-going-over waterfalls." A rollicking good time. For experienced paddlers. I would also advise wearing high-topped hiking boots for ankle support should you find your leg outside the boat...that river has the slipperiest bottom!
Mulberry River, Arkansas: This is a roller coaster for people who like canoeing and kayaking. At least 20 Class II-III rapids in a single day trip is average. Lash your gear in tight. Be in good shape, have extra clothes in a dry bag, and definitely be able to rescue your own bum--that's only if you can get your car in there to shuttle in your boat. Four-wheel with plenty of gas and a good check on the brakes is a good idea.
Cossatot River, Arkansas: This is like the death metal version of rivers. IF you try it in a canoe, add extra flotation and BUTTON IT UP! You are about to risk your life. For God's sake, wear a helmet!!! Paddle only with a partner you have worked with extensively and study the contours of the river and each rapid carefully. This river has some Class V rapids that seem to keep going and going and going. My personal preference is to take this one in a kayak...but now that I have children that need me to care for them I think I will not be returning. It was a "college thing."
Ouachita River, Arkansas: There are reasons that my little red Old Town canoe has scrape marks down the length of the bottom. I wish they were all there as war wounds of hazardous rapids, but that is sadly not the case. Many are there from running aground on this, the driest river ever to be attempted by human kind. Rapids? Somewhere. Canoeable? Maybe if it floods. Ever. My advice? Stay away.
I do miss the water.