Floating Missouri’s Crystal-clear Rivers

As a resident of Missouri for over 23 years, I was totally unaware of the state’s significant number of floatable waters. Can you believe there are almost 1,700 miles of scenic streams and rivers that have been floated, documented and evaluated? Throw in the Missouri River, and that number jumps to over 2,200 miles.

Some rivers have very long stretches, like the Bourbuese at 107 miles, the Meramec at 193 miles and the Gasconade at 253 miles. Of course, there are short venues like Little Sugar Creek at eight miles, Mineral Fork at 13 miles, and the Courtois or Huzzah rivers at 21 miles.

If you want to make a vacation floating one river, consider the Missouri and its 542 miles.

My wife and I are neophytes when it comes to floating, relying totally on outfitters for canoes, kayaks and inflatable rafts. Our first float was on the Meremec River near Steelville. Being novices, we chose to make our inaugural trip in an inflatable raft. The river was serene, gently flowing with plentiful wildlife and reasonably cooperative fish.

All we needed for the trip was a camera, a fishing rod with minimal tackle and two bottles of drinking water. It would be several years before our next float trip, which coincided with a pre-opening visit to Echo Bluff State Park. Again, we were impressed and amazed at the Ozark scenery from the gently flowing stream.

A few weeks later, we tried an amazing six-mile trip down the Gasconade in Pulaski County to Boiling Spring Campground. The flow was gentle enough to move us downstream at a comfortable pace while filling our camera’s media cards with photos of birds, lush scenery and limestone bluffs. Feisty smallmouth bass entertained the anglers in our small group.

A must-see is Boiling Spring near the campground’s take-out point to check out its 47,000 gallons per minute flow—an amount that significantly increases the river flow below the spring.

Owning expensive equipment is not required; outfitters supply canoes, kayaks or rafts, lifejackets and paddles. The only expense is the outfitter’s cost, and personal items like drinks and sandwiches. However, it’s wise to have sealable bags for personal items like wallets, cameras and cellphones. Other items could include float straps for sunglasses or other personal items that might sink.

Our most recent float included a stay in Pulaski County with a few days at a hotel in St. Robert. From there, we could easily reach float-trip outfitters and visit venues like the Blue Jay Farm, Bow and Barrel Sportsman’s Center, Trail of Tears Monument, Waynesville’s historic Old Stagecoach Stop (known as “Black Hotel” or “Pulaski House”), Historic Route 66, the Rigsby House, Talbot House and the Pulaski County Courthouse Museum.

While in Waynesville, check out Roubidoux Spring, a world-renowned cave scuba-diving adventure in Laughlin Park with its average daily flow of 37 million gallons.

On July 28 last year, the Waynesville Daily Guide posted an interview with Dan Dougan.

Dougan has paddled every major Ozark stream in Missouri, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about float trips.

“There are many rivers to choose from here in the Ozarks,” he said, in the interview.

An outdoor enthusiast, Dougan is the owner of Oz Cycles in Lake Ozark.

“Kayaks are more comfortable, faster and easier to turn,” he says.

However, if someone is with their kid who is young and needs lots of gear, Dougan opts for a canoe.

He adds the many locations and options to choose from.

“The Pulaski County area has several great areas to float including the Big Piney and the Gasconade. During the season, outfitters run floats on these rivers daily. You don’t have to go far to float if you don’t feel like leaving home.”

The website called Float Missouri (floatmissouri.com) features a wealth of information on 29 streams covering over 2,200 miles of floatable waters. This site is hosted by Will Hanke of Red Canoe Media and is loaded with details about streams including maps, checkpoints with trip miles, float planning, a blog and forum plus an extensive catalog, and is another reason to plan a visit this state’s streams and rivers.