10 Best Float Trips in Missouri for Beautiful Views and Clear Waters

These scenic float trips in Missouri are perfect for a serene day trip or a days-long excursion.

Aerial view of people floating in Jacks Fork River
Photo: Courtesy of VisitMo.com

When it comes to choosing an outdoor adventure in their home state, Missourians are especially lucky. The Show-Me State is brimming with natural beauty — from caverns and mountains to rivers and waterfalls — and one of the best ways to get amongst it on a hot summer's day is with a float trip, a classic Midwestern warm-weather pastime.

A float trip is exactly as it sounds: You float down a river atop a tube, raft, kayak, or canoe, enjoying the scenery and perhaps knocking back a few beverages along the way (make sure you familiarize yourself with the law before bringing booze onboard, though). There are group float trips — generally alcohol-free — facilitated by outfitters that provide guidance and materials, or you can opt to do it yourself if you're willing to do some planning (the route, plus entry and exit points). Whichever way you decide to float, you won't want to put in without a swimsuit and water shoes, plenty of sun protection (including sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats), a quality life jacket, and a cooler loaded with water and snacks.

With countless miles of waterways across Missouri, there are options for any kind of outing, from easy day trips from St. Louis, Springfield, and Kansas City to more out-of-the-way rivers and streams. Here are 10 of the best destinations for a Missouri float trip.

1. Meramec River

Family on sand bar with rafts at Meramec State Park
Courtesy of VisitMo.com

The Meramec River snakes around Central Missouri, running along the outskirts of the Mark Twain National Forest and through Meramec State Park, flowing towards St. Louis, around where it joins the Mississippi River. There are a number of outfitters offering float trips on this scenic, forest-flanked waterway — Ozark Outdoors Resort, Meramec Caverns, and Old Cove Canoe and Kayak, among others — and some are just an hour's drive from St. Louis. Known for its "river resorts," Meramec is also perfect for groups in the market for a weekend-long float party. Camp out in the state park or consider reserving a cozy cabin right on the river.

2. Niangua River

Three beached canoes on the Niangua River

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Though it's best known as a fishing hotspot teeming with trout, bass, and catfish, the Niangua River in south and central Missouri is highly float-worthy and bursting with the natural splendor of the Ozarks. Tour companies like Riverfront Campground and Canoe, Niangua River Oasis, and Adventures Float Trips rent out equipment and facilitate trips of varying lengths on the Niangua. Along the river is nothing but untouched nature, so make sure to bring everything you need and go with a plan. The cabins and camping at Riverfront Campground, an hour outside of Springfield, make it possible to plan a whole weekend around floating.

3. Big Piney River

Kayakers on the Big Piney River with autumnal colors

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The 110-mile-long Big Piney River runs through the Mark Twain National Forest, a vast (1.5 million-acre) patch of protected land stretching across the Ozark Highlands and beyond. Its central location makes it easily accessible from any part of the state, and floaters are guaranteed not to be disappointed by the wild scenery. If you plan to float the national forest section, however, you'll be going it alone as outfitters are not authorized to operate there. The U.S. Forest Service recommends entry and exit at the following access points: Bookers Bend, Crossroads Access, East Gate, and the Slabtown Recreation Area. If you're more interested in an organized trip, you can find that on other parts of the river. BSC Outdoors runs float trips on the Big Piney and conjoined Gasconade rivers from Dixon.

4. Beaver Creek

This quiet and gentle tributary of the White River is great for longer excursions due to its gentle and consistent gradient. Like Big Piney, Beaver Creek also runs through part of the Mark Twain National Forest and is popular for fishing. Self-organized float trips "should start in the Bradleyville area or below," the Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association says, "unless you want to wade or fish." Beaver Creek Campground, a seven-minute drive from Bradleyville, offers rentals and a shuttle service that will take you and your equipment anywhere along the creek.

5. James River

James River flowing through dense forest

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The James River is a close option for those in Springfield. Although it once had a reputation for being dirty, the James River Basin Partnership has worked in recent years to clean up the waterway and make it a solid option for float trips again. Start your float at the Joe Crighton Access and follow the James River Water Trail to the Lake Springfield Park and Boathouse. Otherwise, go further south to rent equipment from James River Outfitters in Galena, which offers boats, shuttles, and camping accommodations.

6. Current River

Two people canoeing on Current River in Missouri
Courtesy of VisitMo.com

The National Rivers Project, part of the River Management Society, calls Current River and Jacks Fork "two of the finest floating rivers you'll find anywhere." The Current flows from Montauk State Park and terminates in northeastern Arkansas. Paddlers can put in at The Landing in Van Buren, a lodge and raft outfitter that burned down in 2021 but has continued to facilitate floats along the Current River. The Landing will even kit you out for a multi-day expedition lasting up to five nights.

7. Jacks Fork River

Red Alley Mill on blue springs along Jacks Fork River

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This Missouri river is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways system. Its clear waters are surrounded by cliffs, making for a picturesque trip, but water levels vary depending on the time of year. One outfitter, Two Rivers Canoe Rental, recommends the 14-mile float from Alley Springs to Two Rivers as a year-round option. Anything above Alley Springs, it says, is for the more experienced. You can use Two Rivers for everything you need — rentals, shuttles, camping, groceries — on a Jacks Fork River float.

8. Gasconade River

Gasconade River at sunset

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This central Missouri river is hundreds of miles long, making it optimal both for a short day trip or a multi-day journey. You can even do a link-up of the Gasconade River and Big Piney — the two join together north of Devils Elbow — with BSC Outdoors' three- to eight-mile excursions. For longer trips on the Gasconade only, the outfitter offers a multi-day, 14-mile float from the Riddle Bridge access point. The route goes past the Gasconade Hills Conservation Area.

9. North Fork of the White River

Another great option for a Missouri float trip, the North Fork of the White River has mostly calm waters — and its abundance of trout also makes it an ideal spot for fishing. The Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association says the stretch from Dora to Norfork Lake (across the Arkansas border) is almost always floatable. Some of the lower reaches, however, can get "sporty." Sunburst Ranch offers camping and a range of float trips along this picturesque river, the most popular being the five- to seven-hour float from Hammond Mill.

10. Huzzah and Courtois Creeks

These two creeks flow nearly side-by-side in the same region before joining the larger Meramec River. Both Huzzah and Courtois are beautiful and popular among the local paddlers, but their depths (and temperatures) can change drastically depending on the season, so be sure to check the conditions with a local outfitter before you go. Ozark Outdoors Resort in Leasburg is a trusted tour company running five- and 10-mile trips on Courtois Creek and four-, 10-, and 14-milers on Huzzah Creek. After a long day on the water, you can relax with a beverage and live music (Fridays and Saturdays) at the on-site Paddlers Bar and Grill.

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