Rivers shape Missouri’s landscape as well as its legends. These bodies have long been the life blood of the state — so much so that the word “Missouri” roughly translates to “the people of the wooden canoes.” For many Missourians, experiencing a float trip is a rite of passage and a sacrosanct part of the summer season.

The Crown Jewels

So spectacular are some of Missouri’s rivers that three have the distinct honor of being among the first in the country to be federally protected: The Current and Jacks Fork rivers in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the Eleven Point National Wild and Scenic River.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Two of America’s clearest, most beautiful, spring-fed rivers make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park area to protect a wild river system. The 138-mile Current River and 44-mile Jacks Fork River wind through a landscape of rugged hills and towering bluffs, showcasing the astounding natural beauty of Missouri’s Ozarks. In addition to these two famous rivers, this area is home to hundreds of freshwater springs, caves, trails, and historic sites such as Welch Spring, Pulltite Spring, and Alley Mill. Paddlers can also camp overnight along the gravel bars fora truly memorable Ozark experience.

Eminence, Missouri, is the best place to start for making arrangements to float both the upper Current and/or Jacks Fork. Carr’s Canoe Rental (next to Round Spring), Windy’s Floats, and Harvey’s Alley Spring Canoe Rental (both in downtown Eminence)can take care of anyone’s floating needs. Stay overnight at Echo Bluff State Park, Shady Lane Cabins and Motel, and Alley Spring Campground, all in or near Eminence.

Pultite Spring in Missouri
Pultite Spring
The Narrows in Missouri
The Narrows
The Current River in Missouri
The Current River

Along the middle section of the Current, The Landing in Van Buren is the must-see Big Spring, which is the largest spring in the state and widely considered the largest in America.

For the lower section of the Current near Doniphan, KC’s on the Current offers tube, raft, canoe, and kayak rentals for a day on the water. Current Situation at Southern Comfort Cabins and RV Park offers guests camping along with four rustic log cabins all overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the Current. In addition to Current Situation’s four rustic log cabins, they also offer 31 RV rental sites.

The Eleven Point National Wild & Scenic River consists of 44 miles of breathtaking natural beauty and some of the loveliest wild springs in the state. Highlights of the Eleven Point include Greer Spring,Turner Mill, Boze Mill Float Camp, and The Narrows. The Eleven Point has several gravel bars for camping and seven designated float camps managed by the Mark Twain National Forest. Additionally, over six miles of this cold, fast river border the famed Irish Wilderness, which is the state’s largest protected wilderness area. For floating the Eleven Point, Hufstedler’s Canoe Rental near Alton, Missouri is the best game in town.

The North Fork of the White River is another gem of an Ozark stream. While not federally protected, the North Fork is nationally renowned for its wild population of rainbow trout. The North Fork is a large, freestone river similar to what you’d find in the Rocky Mountains. It begins near Mountain Grove and flows to Norfork, Arkansas, Sunburst Ranch near Caulfield, Missouri, and Dawt Mill Resort near Tecumseh. Both offer float trips and a wide array of lodging options for their guests.

If you decide to go…

PLANNING: Once the destination is determined, call one of the local outfitters. They walkthrough what to expect, best times to be on the water, and provide much appreciated guidance. They also provide boats, paddles, lifejackets, mesh trash bags, and shuttle services. Many also have camp stores for necessary items.

WHAT TO BRING: Sun protection is critical, so pack (and wear) sunscreen, a brimmed hat, and long sleeves — unless your idea of a good time is looking like a lobster. Also include drinking water, swimwear, water shoes, a good cooler, and snacks (NOTE: No glass containers are allowed on any Missouri rivers), and a dry bag or box for phones and keys. If kids are joining, goggles and a snorkel are a great addition.

THE RULEOF THE RIVER: Always leave a stream better than before. In other words, be sure to pack out more than what was packed in.

Closer to Home

The Big Piney is a highly regarded fishing and recreation river. The 85-mile stretch of the Big Piney features Ozark hallmarks like limestone bluffs and beautiful natural springs. Peck’s Last Resort in Duke provides multiple float trip options as well as camping and cabins. Devil’s Elbow River Safari, in the town of Devil’s Elbow, offers a 5.5-mile float that is about as pleasant of a float as one could imagine.

The Gasconade River is affectionately known by locals as “the most crooked river in the world” and runs for nearly 300 miles, all within the confines of Missouri’s border. The most popular floating section of the Gasconade lies largely within Pulaski County. Boiling Spring Resort in Dixon, Missouri and Gasconade Hills Resort in Richland, Missouri offer multiple float options as well as camping spots and charming cabins.

The Meramec River runs for nearly 200 miles and provides fantastic floating water from just above Meramec Spring Park in St. James to Meramec Caverns in Stanton. This 66-mile stretch runs along Meramec Spring Park, Meramec State Park, and the famous Meramec Caverns. The most popular stretch is likely the 5.5 miles between the state park and Meramec Caverns. Both Meramec State Park, near Sullivan, and Meramec Caverns provide float trips for their guests as well as over-night lodging in cabins, motels, or campgrounds with onsite restaurants.

The Niangua River is a spring-fed river that stretches roughly 80 miles from Buffalo to Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camdenton. The 30 miles of river between theMoon Valley Access and Leadmine Conservation Area receive the most float traffic and flows along the periphery of Bennett Spring State Park. Many paddlers appreciate the one-stop convenience of Hidden Valley Outfitters, Niangua River Oasis (NRO), and Big Bear River Resort, which all provide multiple float options as well as camping and cabins.