Watercress Recreation Area

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Watercress Campground has been re-opened.  Water is still unavailable and pavilions are still closed.

Watercress Recreation Area is located on the Current River in Van Buren MO. Recently renovated, Watercress Recreation Area is an ideal place to relax and enjoy a few hours, or a few days.

Watercress Campground lies on the banks one of the forest’s greatest treasures; the Current River. Floats on the river provide views of southeastern Missouri that otherwise can't be seen. The area is home to a variety of birds and wildlife and recreation opportunities are plentiful in the surrounding area. Located within the town of Van Buren, the campground and day use area are adjacent to the Current River, which flows past scenic bluffs, springs, caves as it meanders through the Mark Twain National Forest toward Doniphan, MO.

Boating and canoeing on the Current River, as well as on other nearby rivers, are popular activities. A boat ramp for both motorized and non-motorized boats is available on the east bank of the Current River. Anglers enjoy fishing for bass, walleye, sunfish and the occasional catfish. 

Big Spring, Missouri's largest spring, is just five miles from the campground. Hikers at Watercress area enjoy the Songbird Trail, a 1.2-mile loop that leads to Watercress Spring, passing remnants of Civil War-era earthwork that overlook the Current River.

The campground offers 17 campsites for tent or RV camping and the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each site is equipped with a table and campfire ring. Vault toilets and drinking water are provided. 

Two group picnic shelters which can accommodate up to 75 people each are located alongside the river. Each is equipped with tables and grills. A seasonal trash collection dumpster is also available between April 1 and October 1 at the campground entrance.

The campground is adjacent to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which is a series of protected rivers in the area managed by the National Park Service.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Watercress Campground has been re-opened. Water is still unavailable, but there are 16 first come-first serve sites available. The pavilions are still closed.
Operational Hours: Campground is open late April through October; day use area is open year-round, 6AM to 10 PM.
Reservations: Reservations for this site can be made on Recreation.gov. All reservations must be made at least 4 days in advance of arrival. Group picnic site can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. No reservations for camping sites, first coming first served only.
Rentals & Guides: There are no outfitters authorized to operate at this location.  Check with the VanBuren Chamber of Commerce or http://www.missouricanoe.org/ for information on rentals.
Fees Group Picnic Area: $25/day. If not reserved in advance, the pavilions may be used on a first come, first served basis for $25.00. Parking is free. Reservations are posted at each pavilion. Campsites $10-20 depending on site.  50% discount for anyone with a Golden Age or Golden Access Passport, Senior Pass, or an Access Pass.
Usage: Heavy
Restrictions: Activities must end by 9:00 p.m. and start no earlier than 7:00 a.m. No more than 8 people are permitted at any one site (16 for double sites). When fishing at Watercress Recreation Area, all limits apply and necessary permits are required. Drinking water and flush toilets are not available from 10/1 through 4/30. Maximum Stay Permitted (days): 14. Power boats are limited to 40 HP.
Closest Towns: Van Buren, MO
Water: Drinking Water; May 1 through October 1 only.
Restroom: Vault
Operated By: U.S. Forest Service
Information Center: Overnight camping in campsites in the campground only. Campground open May 1-October 1. Day Use Area open year-round Boat Ramp open year-round Drinking water and flush toilets are not available during winter months; flush toilets are available May 1- October 1. Accessible vault toilets are available year-round in Day Use Area Picnic Shelters are available year-round for reservations

General Information

Directions: Take Highway 60 to Van Buren. In Van Buren, proceed along US60/Main Street to the National Park Service Office on Watercress Road; follow the black-topped road past the Office; making a left turn to the bottom of the hill, approximately 1/3 mile. Directions to the Pavilions: Sycamore Pavilion is located closest to the boat launch (on the approach into the area). Old Hickory is located more towards the north or up river nearer the camping areas.

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Camping & Cabins

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Campground Camping

There are 15 single and 2 double sites. Amenities include: pressurized water system (no individual hookups), flush toilets, picnic tables, fire rings and lantern posts.

Fire InformationYes
No. of Sites17
Reservation InfoPavilion only
Sleeping ShelterNo
No. of Accessible sites6
Status: Closed
Difficulty Level: Easy

RV Camping

Can accommodate up to 40' RVs. No hookups available at this location.

Status: Closed


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Nature Viewing

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Water Activities

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Areas & Activities


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  Elevation : 
320 ft