The 10 Best River Float Trips in Missouri

Missouri is one of the hidden gems of natural beauty in the midwest, and these float trips will help you understand why. From nature-focused trips through the Mark Twain National Forest, to party trips, and family-friendly floats, Missouri has a lot to offer.

There are many, many options for camping in Missouri. Or, take advantage of the many day trips available for a great time with the whole family. One reason that Missouri is so popular for float trips is the variety of options offered by the many rivers that snake across the state.

The good news is that there are float trip put-ins relatively close to every major city, including St. Louis, Springfield, and Kansas City. With locals and tourists alike flocking to the rivers in the summer, however, make sure to reserve trips early and be ready to share the river.

North fork American river

The North Fork of the White River is great for trout fishing.

Nature-Focused Missouri Float Trips

One of the main advantages of a float trip in comparison to a canoeing or kayaking experience is that it’s easier to appreciate the scenery when you have less to do. Kicking back and relaxing in some of the most beautiful places in the US can be incredibly fun and inspiring. Check out these float trips to see why Missouri is a float trip destination for many across the midwest. 

1. North Fork River

The North Fork River, which is most accessible from Springfield, MO is a tributary to the White River. While the White River, which originates in Arkansas, didn’t make this list, it’s also got some good canoeing and float trip options.

The North Fork River is also one of the best float trip destinations for fishers. Teeming with a variety of fish species and has been ranked as one of the best rivers for trout fishing in the US. So if you want to add some angling to your float trip, consider the beautiful North Fork River. 

2. Current River

Both the Current River and Jacks Fork River are protected as part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and are maintained by the National Parks system. The Current River in particular offers floaters some gorgeous scenery and is a popular route for multi-day canoeing and float trips.

If you want to camp somewhere beautiful, consider a float trip through the Current River State Park or Montauk State Park. The Current River passes through both and there are many primitive campgrounds available along the river. In particular, Alley Spring is a beautiful place to camp. 

3. Eleven Point River 

If you’re looking for peace and solitude, the Eleven Point River is the absolute best option out there. Many of the other float trip destinations in Missouri get quite busy, but the Eleven Point River is remote enough to remain pristine.

Of course, that makes it a little tricker for day trips since it’s three hours from the nearest big city. For those looking to camp, however, Eleven Point River is gorgeous, and it’s fed by the 10th largest freshwater spring in the world, Greer Spring. This is a great float trip to pair with primitive camping and an adventurous spirit. 

Best Party Float Trips

Not everyone wants a quiet and peaceful float though! For those who like to party, there are float trips in Missouri for you as well. The Meramec River in particular has a reputation for fun and you’ll find plenty of riverfront resorts along the Meramec with drinking, dining, and other attractions. Many of these are geared toward families and so offer attractions for kids and adults alike. Gravel bars 

4. Meramec River

The Meramec is one of the most popular rivers for float trips, kayaking, and canoeing, and it feeds many other Missouri rivers, such as the Huzzah River and Courtois River. It can be a great starting point for a longer trip or an awesome spot for a day float.

Really this river has everything you could want from a float trip. There are the “river resorts” which can be a great place to stay for a weekend getaway, and the stretch of the Meramec between Meramec Springs Park and Meramec State Park is considered the best tubing route in all of Missouri. 

The Meramec’s current popularity and beauty are a triumph over pollution. The river used to be one of Missouri’s most polluted, but it’s been cleaned up significantly by the local and state governments. It’s now even one of the most ecologically diverse rivers in Missouri. So, not only is the water safe to swim and float in now, but you might see some interesting animals and fish, including eagles who nest along the banks. 

5. Elk River

Elk River is another popular destination for locals and people taking weekend trips. Much like the Meramec, you’ll find a lot of amenities along the Elk River. From canoe rentals and kayak rentals to adventure tour companies, and resorts. In addition to camping, there are many hotels, resorts, and AirBnBs available, especially in the quaint town of Noel, Missouri, where most people put in to float the Elk River. 

6. Niangua River 

Another popular river for locals, the Niangua River offers a lot for those seeking outdoor adventure. There’s plenty of camping nearby, along with some really great spots for fishing, hiking, and swimming holes.

This Missouri river offers a nice balance between amenities and a party atmosphere on the one hand, and natural beauty and connection to nature on the other. This is a really great option for people who love the great outdoors, but also want to have some serious fun. 

Family-Friendly Float Trips in Missouri

There are also family-oriented float trips to accommodate even the littlest floaters. These rivers offer family-friendly fun and the amenities needed to make a trip with kids a bit easier. So if you’re looking for somewhere to take the whole family, consider one of these Missouri river float trips. 

Some are on the list because they’re more popular, while others offer extra fun or an easy float trip. Many of the other routes mentioned also have family-friendly tours and rentals. But if you’re looking for the best float trips for families, you should check out one of these destinations for swimming, rafting, kayaking, and more. 

7. Big Piney River

The Big Piney River is one of the more remote options on the list. It’s considered more family-friendly because the high water levels all year round make it an easy float. This is a really relaxing and fun trip that still has plenty of scenery to offer.

Not to mention the many surprise swimming holes you’ll find along the way. The Big Piney River is guarded by high bluffs that are beautiful to look at and make it one of the most popular kayak destinations in Missouri. 

8. Gasconade River

The next river on our list is fed by the Big Piney River! The Gasconade is one of the most interestingly shaped rivers in Missouri twisting back and forth through the mark twain national forest.

It’s considered one of the best places for canoeing in Missouri and has a lot to offer in terms of scenery and fun. While the Gasconade can get pretty fast in places, it’s still an easy to manage float. So it’s really perfect for keeping kids interested without getting dangerous or difficult.

The Black River flowing through Johnson Shut Ins State Park in Missouri.

Meandering down the Black River in a kayak or canoe is an unforgettable experience!

9. Black River

The Black River offers an amazing clear water float or raft experience, through sandstone bluffs and amazing Ozark scenery. Black River is great for adventures with the whole family and it’s packed with wildlife, so is great for educational trips as well. Swimming, fishing, and camping are all available nearby, and the river runs through part of Johnson Shut-Ins State Park. 

Float Trips Near St. Louis

Sometimes convenience is a factor. Whether you live in the St. Louis area, or are visiting the region, it’s nice to be able to take a day trip that’s full of adventure and exploration. Thankfully, there are some nice rafting and floating trips easily accessible from St. Louis. We only included one on this list, but there’s a lot to choose from depending on how far you’re willing to travel! 

10. Big River

The Big River offers a classic float trip. Like a slow-moving river, it’s a great relaxing day trip from the St. Louis area and is fun for kids and adults alike. Plus, there’s plenty of natural beauty on hand. The Big River flows through St. Francois State Park, Twin River Park, Cedar Hill Park, and Washington State Park.

So there’s lots of hiking available. One thing to note is that there are only two outfitters that provide rentals on the Big River, so it’s a bit quieter, but you should also be careful about booking in advance to make sure rentals are available if you need them. 

Preparing for Your Float Trip (200)

While the traditional Missourian way to do a float trip is in inflatable inner tubes or rafts, you can float in a kayak, canoe, or just about anything that can float. The first choice you’ll need to make is whether you want the river to provide all the power or you want to be paddling as well if you choose to.

Think about the number of people you have as well! Rafts can fit many people, but kayaks are generally one-seaters, so think about how much space you need. Most of these locations have outfitters you can rent from if you don’t have your own equipment. 

Next, you should plan for what length of trip you want to do and the amenities you want to have available. A multi-day primitive camping float trip is going to be very different from a party float for a few hours that ends at a riverfront resort.

Get an idea of how long your intended float will take as well. For a frame of reference, a lazy, no paddling five-mile float will take about four hours. After that, consult this list to find the perfect float trip for you and your family or friends. 

Once you’ve picked out your route and destination, research what’s nearby. From hiking trails to gambling, there’s something for everyone on the banks of Missouri’s rivers. It can be good to plan out stopping points along the float, especially if you’re going somewhere more remote and camping. But also look out for scenic stops, swimming holes, and other attractions! 

What to Wear

You’re going to want a swimsuit. Some people float in water-friendly hiking shorts and the like, but really a swimsuit is the way to go. It’s really the only way to fully enjoy the river. That said, if you’re camping, you want to make sure you have a way to keep your camp clothes dry!

No one wants to be wet 24/7. Still, keep a swimsuit on hand for quick dips, or exploring by wading. Other than that, sunglasses are a great idea, and if you’re going to be paddling, gloves might be a good idea. For footwear, you’re going to want water shoes.

Old sneakers or sandals can work in a pinch and may be okay for a day trip. If you’re spending significant time on the river though, you want some real water shoes to protect your feet and keep you comfortable. It would be a shame to have to end your trip early because you stepped on a rock.

Look for mesh shoes with solid soles. Some people also bring along sturdy sandals for when you’re at camp. But if you’re stepping into the river, especially if it’s not clear water, you want something solid on your feet.

first aid kit on gray background

A first aid kit is essential for any kind of trip.

What to Bring 

Some of the safety essentials, such as life jackets will be provided by the outfitters if you’re renting equipment. Still, you can bring a few things to help keep you and your family safe. A first aid kit and safety whistle is a great idea to have on hand, and if you’re on your own, you’ll also want an emergency throw line. 

Next, think about what you’ll need to keep dry. If you can’t leave your phone home, make sure you have a waterproof bag or case for it. You can double bag things in sandwich bags as a last resort, but this is far from foolproof. In general, dry bags are going to be your friend, especially if you’re doing a multi-day float and camping in between.

You’ll need a way to keep food, matches, and other essentials dry, so plan this out before you go. Finally, pack the food you’ll need and outdoor essentials like sunscreen and bug spray. Remember, if you want to bring alcohol, there may be regulations, so check with the local outfitters or authority first. Generally, glass is not allowed on the river. So the best (and greenest) option, is to put whatever you want to bring into a reusable plastic container. 

Final Verdict 

Missouri’s rivers offer tons of fun for the whole family. There’s something for just about every taste, and one of the great things about float trips is that you can really do whatever you want with it.

Since you don’t have to spend the whole time paddling or worrying about making time, it’s a great way to relax, explore, and just appreciate some amazing scenery without too much strain. Plus you’ll be near some of the best hiking trails in Missouri. So, consider what you want from your float trip getaway, consult the list, and get out on the river! 

 

Bonus tip: Check out this great video for blowing up floats with a hairdryer!

 

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.