The Upper White River, the mother water of Branson’s Tri Lakes – Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals Lake

The Branson area is often referred to as the Tri Lakes Area because of its three lakes, Table Rock Lake, Lake Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals Lake, But long before these lakes there was the river whose impoundment created them, the mighty White River. Flowing from its headwaters in the Boston Mountains of northwestern Arkansas to the Mississippi River, over 760 serpentine miles away, the White River is the mother water for the lakes that provide the myriad of the outdoor water recreational activities in the Branson area.

In fact, it is the damming up, impoundment, of the White River, to form those and other lakes, that virtually changed what used to be the White River into the Upper White River, consisting of the White River headwaters and a series of lakes, including the Tri Lakes, that ends at the Bull Shoals Dam. Although maps still show the White River from Boston to Beaver Lake, for all practical purposes, when people are referring to the White River today they are referring to that portion of the White River starting at the tail waters of the Bull Shoals Dam.

The actual headwater of the White River is located about 92 road miles southwest of Branson and just west of Boston, Arkansas. It begins as a small mountain stream that, strangely, flows to the northwest generally following Highway 16. For about 37 miles, between the State Highway 16 Bridge in Pettigrew, Arkansas to the State Highway 74 bridge just south east of Fayetteville, the White provides excellent paddling opportunities for canoes and kayaks.

It is at this point that the White River encounters its first impoundment, the 395 acre Lake Sequoyah. Although in terms of flow, Lake Sequoyah is the first impoundment of the White River, in terms of time, it was the next to last. Completed in 1961, it is principal drinking-water reservoir for northwest Arkansas, and is presently owned and managed by the Department of Parks & Recreation of the City of Fayetteville, as a recreational fishing lake.

After leaving Lake Sequoyah the White flows in a more northerly direction and flows into the 28,000 acre Beaver Lake located near Eureka Springs, AR. Completed in 1966, Beaver Lake provides a full range of water recreational and fishing activities. Its tailwater, as do the tailwaters of Table Rock and Bull Shoals Lakes provide excellent Rainbow and Brown Trout fishing. For all practical purposes, as the White flows into Beaver Lake it disappears under a series of four lakes and loses its practical identity as a river until it flows out under the Bull Shoals Dam.

After its flow underneath Beaver Lake it begins a gradual flow to the north east as it forms the headwaters for the first of the Branson area’s “tri-lakes,” Table Rock Lake, a 51,000 acre plus impoundment with over 800 miles of shoreline. Completed in 1958, Table Rock Lake is the primary lake for the water recreational and fishing activities offered in the Branson area which includes just about every water recreational activity imaginable as well as some of the finest fresh water fishing available anywhere in the world. Especially neat is the fact that it is all within a “five minute drive” of all the other entertainment and activities that the Branson area has to offer.

As the White flows through Table Rock Dam, located at White River Mile Marker 529 it provides the headwater for Lake Taneycomo and flows through it for another 22 miles to the Power Site Dam located near Forsyth, Missouri at the White River Mile Marker 507. White River Mile Markers start at the junction of the White Rive with the Mississippi and work up toward its headwater.

Lake Taneycomo was created in 1913 when the White River was impounded by the completion of the “Power Site Dam” near Forsyth, Missouri. It was the first of what has become known as “the tri-lakes” and, unlike the Table Rock and Bull Shoals lakes and dams, which are owned by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Power Site Dam is privately owned by Empire Electric Company. Empire holds a license to continue operating the dam and its hydroelectric plant until 2022. Because of its cold water, particularly at its upper end, Lake Taneycomo’s primary water activity is boating and trout fishing although, the water warms up down stream and provides some excellent bass fishing not only on the main lake but back up its coves and creeks.

Interestingly, it is as the White runs underneath Lake Taneycomo that it reaches it most northerly point of flow near Long Beach, Missouri. At this point it has flowed approximately 253 river miles and 100 road miles north of where it began in Boston, Arkansas and begins a gradual 507 river mile south easterly flow down to its eventual junction with the Mississippi River.

As the White flows through the Power Site Dam it forms the headwaters for the third of the Branson areas “tri lakes,” Bull Shoals Lake. Formed by the completion of the Bull Shoals Dam at White River Mile Marker 419 in 1951, the 45, 000 thousand acre impoundment, with over 1050 miles of shoreline offers the same type of boating and fishing as does Table Rock Lake. Although one of the “tri Lakes,” Bull Shoals Lakes, probably because of the proximity of Table Rock Lake, has not played a particularly important part in the recent development of the Branson area and most visitors to the Branson area never see it although it is but 20 minutes away.

As the White remerges from under the Bull Shoals Dam, it becomes the practical headwaters of what most people refer to today as the White River. It is the White River of history and trout legend, winding south east past its junction with the Norfork River, Cotter, Calico Rock, Bateville, and on to Newport, Arkansas where it makes a sharp turn south for to its juncture with the Mississippi River, at the White River National Wildlife Refuge, about 257 miles south of Newport.