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Kayaking In Missouri – All You Need To Know About Paddling The “Show-Me State”

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in Missouri can let you discover the state’s remarkable landscapes, from caves and bluffs to forests and natural springs. The Show-Me State is filled with rivers and tributaries, making it a fantastic paddling destination. It’s also known for its great fishing.

Whether you want to camp, fish, or just enjoy a relaxing paddle, check out our top picks.

A view on the kayaks on the river bankPin

9 Best Places To Kayak In Missouri

1: Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Charlie Llewellin on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Eleven Point River features a 44-mile section between Thomasville and Gatewood that’s a designated National Wild and Scenic River – the only one in the state.

You can launch in Thomasville and paddle the scenic stretch through the Irish Wilderness and Mark Twain National Forest to the take-out at the Narrows, just before the CR-142 bridge.

There are several float camps along the route, for convenient riverside camping on your three-day trip. Along the way, you’ll pass Greer Spring, the 10th largest in the world. The section of the river from Greer to Turner Mill is a blue-ribbon trout fishery – great if you like kayak fishing (soft plastics and bait are banned).

There are kayak outfitters around Alton.

Class of Rapids rating:

Up to Class II (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Thomasville River Access, County Road 422, Birch Tree, MO 65438.

2: Current River

Canoeing on the Current riverPin
Courtesy: Jamin Gray on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Current River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and can be ideal for multi-day trips, with plenty of places to camp along gravel bars, as well as designated campgrounds.

Launching at Pulltite, you can embark on a two-day trip to Round Spring. This takes you past bluffs, caves, and springs, with chances to spot wildlife, such as deer, birds, and endangered bats. The route also passes through Current River State Park.

Many outfitters operate in the area, offering rentals and shuttles. There are also lots of options for paddling trips, spanning from a few hours to several days.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Pulltite Canoe Access, County Road EE-356, Salem, MO 65560.

3: St. Francis River

The St. Francis River can be an easy paddle for beginners, with the option of extra river miles for seasoned paddlers. A good place to launch is at Sam A. Baker State Park, where you can rent kayaks and canoes from the Park Store.

There’s a boat ramp at Campground 1 for easy launching.

This Class I river can be a quiet place to paddle, through forests and wildlife areas. A four-mile trip can take you to the 34 Bridge Recreation Area. Or you can continue another 17 miles to Greenville or beyond to Lake Wappapello.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Campground 1 Boat Ramp, MO-143, Des Arc, MO 63636.

4: Meramec River

Two women canoeing on the river on a foggy dayPin
Courtesy: Jim Rhodes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Meramec River is a gentle river that flows through some awesome scenery, with huge bluffs and spectacular caves. If you stop in at Meramec State Park, you can even take a free guided tour inside Fisher Cave. Nearby, you’ll also find the Meramec Caverns.

There are several places you can launch and rent kayaks, including inside the state park. From the state park to the Meramec Caverns, it’s a six-mile paddle, taking out at the caverns or Sand Ford. But you can launch at Sappington Bridge to add an extra five miles to your trip.

This can sometimes be busy with other paddlers, as well as tubing and river cruises.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Sappington Bridge Access, Sappington Bridge Road, Sullivan, MO 63080.

5: Big River

The Big River is just an hour’s drive from St. Louis. It’s a calm, slow-moving river that can be ideal for short or long trips, with options for both beginners and experienced paddlers.

There are several access points along the 83-mile stretch between Turkey Creek and the confluence of the Meramec River. You can launch at many access points in St. Francois State Park, although there is no dedicated ramp. It can be a 20-mile paddle to Washington State Park, but there are a couple of access points and gravel bars for stopping.

Washington State Park can also be a good spot to launch if you’re looking for a shorter trip or if you want to rent a kayak.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

St. Francois State Park, 8920 US Highway 67 North, Bonne Terre, MO 63628.

6: Lake Of The Ozarks

Not too far from Kansas City, the Lake of the Ozarks can be an interesting place to paddle, with over 1,100 miles of shoreline. This serpentine-shaped lake can be a popular place for vacationers and recreational boating but there are plenty of quiet coves and inlets to explore.

The southeast portion of the lake can be a quieter spot and less developed. The Lake of the Ozarks State Park surrounds this section, with several places to launch, camp and stop for a picnic. You can also rent kayaks from the state park marina.

An aquatic trail runs from the Pa He Tsi launch to the state park marina.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Pa He Tsi Boat Launch, Honey Bau Road, Osage Beach, MO 65065.

7: Big Lake

Big Lake is the biggest oxbow lake in Missouri and can be great for kayak fishing. The water is flat and shallow, so ideal for all skill levels. The 400-acre Big Lake State Park features a boat ramp, as well as restrooms, camping, cabins, and picnic areas.

The lake is almost surrounded by lakefront homes and cabins, but there are still fantastic opportunities to see wildlife. The lake and the surrounding wetlands are home to many different species of animals, birds, and plants. Being close to the Missouri River and the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, it can be an important habitat for migratory birds.

You can rent kayaks and canoes from the state park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

204 Lakeshore Drive, Craig, MO 64437. The boat ramp is at the north side of the park.

8: North Fork River

The North Fork of the White River runs through the Mark Twain National Forest and can offer stunning scenery and fun on mild Class II rapids. There are several options for various trip lengths, with camping opportunities for multi-day trips through the Devils Backbone Wilderness.

A good spot to launch is at Twin Bridges, where you’ll also find canoe and kayak rentals, plus a campground. A five-mile paddle will take you to the North Fork Recreation Area near Hammond Mill. Just past this is Blue Spring, which you can paddle into to see the clear blue water beneath your boat.

The river is also known for its excellent trout fishing.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I and II (easy to moderate)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Twin Bridges, State Highway 14, West Plains, MO 65775.

9: Big Piney River

The Big Piney River can be a peaceful float trip through scenic wilderness, with bluffs and forests lining the route.

This mostly Class I river flows generally northeast for 114 miles through Mark Twain National Forest until it reaches the Gasconade River. Around 90 miles are navigable and there are several access points for trips of varying lengths.

The ramp at Dog’s Bluff can be a good place to launch. From here to Mason Bridge is around 22 miles, with the choice to take-out beforehand or continue to the confluence with the Gasconade (roughly another 60 miles). Shorter trips are also possible. Kayak rentals are available near the Ross Access.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II (easy)

Where to Launch & How to get there:

Dog’s Bluff Piney River Access, 7621 MO-17, Houston, MO 65483.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around MO

If you don’t have your own, there are a few places where you can rent a kayak to explore some of these amazing Missouri waterways. Some also offer a shuttle service.

Before you hit the water, you might want to check out our article on Missouri kayak laws.

Final Words

As you can see, there are lots of beautiful spots to kayak in Missouri.

Many options can be found around the Ozarks and Mark Twain National Forest, offering wildlife-viewing opportunities in natural surroundings.

Maybe you’ve found a better place on your travels around Missouri? Tell us about it. Help others to discover these great spots by sharing this article.

1 thought on “Kayaking In Missouri – All You Need To Know About Paddling The “Show-Me State””

  1. Have you heard of a spot in Missouri that the Oxbow is so big you can park in a parking lot float 3 miles and get back to the same parking lot?
    I know it sounds crazy but I am certain I read about it.


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