The park was created by an Act of Congress in 1964 to protect the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, and it was formally dedicated in 1971. The park's 80,000 acres (324 km2) are used for many forms of recreation and are home to abundant animal and plant species. Canoeing is the most popular activity, with some 1.3 million visitors coming to the area each year. Other activities include horseback riding, hunting, hiking, fishing, camping and sightseeing.
The park service touts the Current River as one of the midwest's best float streams, in part due to the contributions of some of the nation's largest springs. The headwaters of the Current River begin at the confluence of Pigeon Creek and Montauk Springs in Montauk State Park. Other notable springs along its course include Welch Spring, Cave Spring, Pulltite Spring, Round Spring, Fire Hydrant Spring, Ebb and Flow Spring, Blue Spring, Big Spring, and Gravel Spring. The park contains the United States' largest concentration of first magnitude springs, (which are defined as having average flow of more than 100 ft³/s (3 m³/s)) in dolomite rock. The only comparable spring collections are the limestone springs of North Florida near Gainesville and the igneous-based springs of Idaho's Snake River^.
The park is also notable for its many caves, including Round Spring Caverns, which offers ranger-led tours in the summer. Other notable caves include the Devils Well sink and Jam-Up Cave.
Facilities include campgrounds along the two rivers at Alley Spring, Round Spring, Pulltite and Big Spring. There are also a number of less developed primitive campsites, and there are group sites at Akers and Pulltite. Park rangers present campfire programs and nature hikes at the bigger campgrounds during the summer. There are also traditional craft demonstrations and free bluegrass concerts.
The park is located mostly in Shannon County with parts extending into Carter, Dent, and Texas counties. Communities surrounding the Ozark National Scenic Riverways include Eminence, Licking, Salem, Van Buren, Ellington, Bunker, and Mountain View, Missouri. Administrative offices are located in Van Buren.
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways are in red. The Eleven Point National Scenic River is in Green.
The Current River forms in the southeastern portion of the Ozarks of Missouri and becomes a 7th order stream  as it flows southeasterly out of the Ozarks into northeastern Arkansas where it becomes a tributary of the Black River, which is a tributary of the White River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. The Current River is approximately 184 miles (296 km) long and drains about 2,641 square miles (6,840 km2) of land mostly in Missouri and a small portion of land in northeastern Arkansas. The headwaters of the Current River are nearly 900 feet (270 m) above sea level, while the mouth of the river lies around 280 feet (85 m) above sea level. The basin drains a rural area that is dominated by karst topography, underlain by limestone bedrock with a small area of igneous rock southeast of Eminence, Missouri. The annual daily mean discharge of the river near Doniphan, Missouri is 2,815 cubic feet (79.7 m3) per second. In 1964, over 134 mi (160 km) of the upper course of the river and its tributaries were federally protected as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park in America to protect a river system.
The Current River begins in Montauk State Park located in the southwestern corner of Dent County in southeastern Missouri. The confluence of Pigeon Creek and Montauk Spring form the headwaters of the river. Montauk Spring makes up most of the consistent flow of the headwaters, providing ideal conditions for trout fishing. After leaving Montauk State Park the river enters the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The uppermost reaches of the river are swift with numerous riffles broken by deep pools of crystal clear water, further downstream the riffles continue but get further apart. Hardwood trees, rock ledges, caves, springs, gravel bars, and towering limestone bluffs line the banks of the river. Welch Spring, a first magnitude spring, enters the river approximately 14 miles (23 km) downstream from the headwaters, nearly doubling the flow of the river. Other notable springs to add to the river include Cave Spring, Pulltite Spring, and Round Spring. Downstream from the headwaters approximately 52 miles (84 km) the Current River receives its largest tributary the Jacks Fork River from the west near the small town of Eminence, Missouri. Blue Spring, another first magnitude spring, empties into the river, 9 miles (14 km) downstream from the confluence with the Jacks Fork River. The Current river is approximately 86 miles (138 km) long when it passes by the town of Van Buren, Missouri and under U.S. Highway 60. South of Van Buren a few miles the Current River receives the largest spring in the Ozarks and one of the largest single spring outlets known in the world. Big Spring empties into the river providing nearly 465 cubic feet (13.2 m3) of water per second. From Big Spring the river continues southeasterly leaving the Ozark National Scenic Riverways 105 miles (169 km) from the headwaters. The river then flows through Mark Twain National Forest until reaching Doniphan, Missouri and passes under U.S. Highway 160. From here the river slows as it exits the Ozark Highlands, the river continues its slow silt laden path into Arkansas where it receives the Little Black River from the northeast before it joins the Black River near Pocahontas, Arkansas.
Canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, and camping are very popular activities along the Current River. The river is fairly gentle and is considered to have mostly class 1 rapids, and a couple class 2.
Some of the points of interest along the course of the river include: Montauk State Park (trout park), Welch Spring and Hospital, Aker's Ferry, Cave Spring, Devil's Well, Rock House Cave, Pulltite Spring, Round Spring, Jacks Fork River, Blue Spring, Rocky Falls (on small tributary), and Big Spring.
Starting in Texas county,
this spring-fed river flows some 44 miles in a general east to
direction through the heart of the geological area known as the Lower Ozark Natural Division. It is the major tributary of the Current River, ending at its confluence near Eminence, Missouri.
The first 25 miles from the Prongs to Bay Creek is deep valley and in the springtime provides Class II water. Due to lack of access, it is the most primitive of the Rivers in the region. From Alley Spring to its confluence with the Current River it is a Class I River and is floatable year around with warm water.
The Jacks Fork provides some of the most natural conditions in the region with many caves and natural springs. It is a popular recreation destination for canoeists and kayakers and is generally considered a Class I-II difficulty river.
It has 1,396 acres (5.65 km2) and was acquired in 1926. The normal trout season runs from March 1 to October 31, with an additional weekends-only catch and release season running from mid-November until mid-February. The park features trout fishing, cabins, lodge, store, cabins and a campground with hook-ups.