Big Spring in the Ozarks is one of the largest springs, not only in the United States, but in the world. Located in Carter County, about four miles downstream from Van Buren, it is within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Springs can be classified by the volume of the water they discharge. “First-magnitude springs” are the largest springs and are defined as springs that discharge water at a rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet of water per second.
Big Spring is an enormous first magnitude spring with an average flow of 470 cubic feet of water per second, making it the second largest tributary of the Current River.
It also the largest spring in the Ozark Plateau region by far. It rises at the base of a bluff on the west side of the Current River valley.
The spring flows from three outlets at high flow. Churning out beautiful aqua-blue water from the base of a limestone bluff, the water creates white caps initially but quickly calms itself into a crystal clear channel. The cool 58-degree water then travels about 1,000 feet to where it adds itself to the Current River.
With an elevation of 433 feet above mean sea level, Big Spring is the lowest of Missouri's large springs. It is submerged by the Current River during high flow, which once threatened to permanently engulf the spring in the 1930's. The Civilian Conservation Corps solved this issue by building dikes for the excess water to flow into.
As groundwater continues to dissolve the limestone, Big Spring keeps increasing in size, and in amount of stream capture. Part of a vast karst system, the spring dissolves and removes as much as 175 tons of limestone during an average day.
After a year, the amounts of limestone dissolved and removed by the spring would equal a one-mile-long cave 30 feet high 50 feet wide! It doesn’t appear as massive in its current incarnation because those amounts are distributed throughout the system and not in just one place.
The spring was first reported in 1803 by Pocahontas Rudolf. He followed Indian reports of "a spring that roars." The site remained relatively unexplored for many years because of the rugged terrain.
Purchased in 1913 by a man named Henry Sawyer, no roads were built until 1925 when the spring site was made one of the first Missouri State Parks.
Big Spring has been owned by the National Park Service since 1971. In 1972, The Ozark National Scenic Riverways were christened by Tricia Nixon Cox throwing a bouquet of flowers into the waters of Big Spring.
The Big Spring State Park is also home to a historic 1930’s lodge. The stone and wood lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a seasonal restaurant on-site serving traditional American fare. The beautiful stone dining room overlooks Big Spring and the Current River.
The lodge also offers 14 rustic cabins to rent featuring private bathrooms, kitchenettes and porches or decks. Most of the cabins have fireplaces, and one even has a river view. Other lodge activities include kayak and tube rental and fishing.
Check out this video by See Current River!
Big Spring, surrounded by the well maintained park, steep valley hillside and hardwood forest, is a beautiful sight to see. It would make for the perfect getaway from the craziness of life.