You’ve probably passed by one of the area’s best-kept secrets hundreds of times, traveling on U.S. 67 in the northern part of St. Francois County. But the owner of Cherokee Landing, a campground and canoe outfitter located at 8344 Berry Road in Bonne Terre, says people eventually find this jewel for local floating and camping and are impressed by its amenities.
Chrissie Bruner, who has been running the Big River “camp-fish-and-float” with Steve Anderson since 2007, said they love hearing their guests’ surprise upon “discovering” Cherokee Landing. It’s a feeling they once experienced themselves.
“We kept driving by on 67, seeing the billboard by the highway and we thought, ‘where is this place?’” she said. “And just like everyone else, once we got here, we were amazed we had passed by all these years and never stopped.”
Cherokee Landing is accessed by taking the Bonne Terre exit and heading west on Highway 47, then heading north on Berry Road for about two miles. Camping is open Friday through Sunday, with 6- and 2-mile canoe trips offered Saturday and Sunday. In addition to camping, fishing and canoeing on the Big River, Cherokee has a 2-acre lake stocked with bass, catfish, crappie and bluegill.
“We’ve seen people pull some sizable fish out of our lake,” she said. “It’s the most fun to see kids get excited about their first catch.”
The campgrounds have electrical sites and dump stations for RVs, and primitive campgrounds for individuals and groups like the Boy Scouts, who come almost every year, she said.
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“Time goes by so fast. We’ve had all the droughts, the floods, even those dang locusts that only come every 117 years or whatever, we’ve had it all. Had it all,” she said. “Life has a way of throwing you curveballs, and you just make lemonade out of the lemons you’re handed.”
And sometimes the lemons are thrown fast and hard. Bruner said her house, a sweet little chalet, has been flooded twice by Big River, and the heavy, frequent rains took a bite out of business earlier this summer.
“June is always my busiest month, but this year was so rainy, we lost a lot of business,” she said. “But I come from insurance, and if the river’s too high, say, six feet on my flood wall, I won’t send people out. Safety first. Most people aren’t going to want to go out anyway, when it’s raining or when it has rained that hard.”
For the most part, though, Big River is a tame waterway, she said. According to the Cherokee Landing website, when the St. Louis or Steelville areas have floods, Cherokee Landing often has an excellent float. It’s a tributary of Meramec River with its beginnings in the Council Bluffs area. It empties into the Meramec south of Eureka.
“It’s a pretty slow river, nice and peaceful, so parents feel safer with the kids,” she said. “I don’t get to float much at all, but I love it when I do. Recently I was able to take my grandson out on the water, and it was so much fun. He was so excited.”