The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather

By Tetiana PavlichenkoMay 30, 2024 10:10 AMBranson
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The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather
One of the best ways to spend a hot day is on a water trip. Source: Image Sunburstranchcanoe.com

Missouri's selection of outdoor adventures can spoil any traveler. From mountains and caves to rivers and waterfalls, the area is full of natural attractions. And one of the best ways to spend a hot day or a short vacation is to cruise Missouri's water trails by raft, canoe, or kayak.

Various group trips are organized in the state, or you can put together a trip itinerary on your own. Either way, make sure you're well-informed about the equipment provided by the carriers and take care of bathing suits, shoes, life jackets, a supply of food and snacks, and enough protection (insect repellent and sunscreen, hat and sunglasses) so that nothing spoils the experience during the water trip.

With an abundance of water trails in Missouri, there are a variety of outings to choose from, from easy day trips from Springfield, Seta Louis, and Kansas City to traveling along remote creeks and rivers. You can use this list of the 10 best rafting trips in Missouri to make sure your trip is sure to be successful and memorable.

1. Meramec River

The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather
During the descents you will be surrounded by picturesque scenery of national parks. Source: Image Ozarkoutdoorsresort.com

The Meramec River flows through the state park of the same name along the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest toward St. Louis, where it empties into the Mississippi River. The Meramec is a beautiful waterway fed by streams. The landscape along the river is made up of steep hills forested with pine and various hardwoods. The name "Meramek" comes from the indigenous tribe living here and has been interpreted as "good fish" or "catfish" in various sources. Either way, the fishing spots here are really decent.

There are many outfitters operating along this scenic route that offer the best trips on the water in Missouri: Old Cove Canoe and Kayak, Meramec Caverns, Ozark Outdoors Resort, etc. Some of them are only an hour away from St. Louis. Meramec is known for its river resorts, which are great for companies looking for a fun weekend getaway. You can rent a cozy cottage right on the shore or camp at a state park. Canoes, rafts and kayaks are also rented here for traveling on the river. Meramec is suitable for all swimming skills.

2. Niangua River

The Niangua River is also known for its good fishing spots. It is popular among fans of this activity due to its abundance of trout, catfish and bass. But beyond that, it is swimmable and offers one of the best water-travel routes in Missouri, surrounded by the natural splendor of the Ozarks.

It is a popular destination for family float trips for a relaxing and scenic vacation. Travel companies such as Adventures Float Trips, Niangua River Oasis and Riverfront Campground and Canoe can help organize your trip. They will also supply you with all the necessary equipment for rent. Niangua trips vary in length, from a couple hours to several days. But since there's nothing but scenic beauty near the river, take everything you might need along the way and follow your travel plan carefully. An hour's drive from Springfield is the Riverfront Campground, where you can reserve camp sites or a cabin to spend an entire weekend and devote it to swimming. Canoes, rafts, and kayaks are also available for rent. Keep in mind that during the summer months, Niangua, as well as the Meramec and Huzzah rivers, can get quite crowded. So if you're looking for relaxing, beautiful rivers for Missouri rafting or boating with the kids during this time, go for a weekday trip. But when it comes to the best rivers for parties, this is definitely one good option.

3. Big Piney River

Another river flowing through the Mark Twain National Forest is 110 miles long. Its central location makes it easily accessible from any part of the state. The charming wilderness scenery that surrounds it along the entire rafting route also adds to the appeal for travelers. However, if you want to launch your boat within the park, you'll have to handle the travel arrangements yourself, as private outfitters are not authorized to operate here. The U.S. Forest Service has identified points of entry and exit within the area in its guidelines: the East Gate, Crossroads, Booker's Bend, and Slabtown Recreation Area.

If the self-guided option isn't for you, you can join already organized trips on other sections of the river. For example, BSC Outdoors Resort, a half-hour drive from Rolla, can offer Missouri rafting trips on the Big Piney at the confluence with the Gasconade River from Dixon, boat rentals, free shuttle service to the river and life jackets, as well as tent camping with motorhome sites and the ability to reserve cabins.

4. Beaver Creek

The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather
The Beaver Creek coastline is a popular recreational destination. Source: Image Beavercreekcampground.com

As a tributary of the White River, the gentle and quiet Beaver Creek is great for extended excursions due to its even gradient. Beaver Creek is also among the rivers that flow through the Mark Twain National Forest area, providing scenic scenery while traveling. Although technically a tributary, it is roughly equal in size to the Niangua, although its water supply is generally less reliable. Organizing water treks, as with the Big Piney River, will have to be done on your own. Float trips should start at or below Bradleyville, as recommended by the Missouri Canoe and Watercraft Association, unless you are fishing or wading.

Rafting Beaver Creek is well suited for travelers looking for solitude. There are also some great spots for fly fishing. There is a great campground seven minutes from Bradleyville, where you can also rent equipment and book a shuttle to get anywhere on the creek with your gear.

5. James River

This is a good option for residents of Springfield and the surrounding area due to its close proximity. The river runs through the southwestern part of the state, creating opportunities for scenic, serene recreation. It once had a reputation for being dirty, but over the past few years, the James River Basin Partnership has done extensive work to clean up the waterway. It is now one of the good and reliable options for quiet float trips through the Ozark countryside of Missouri with wonderful family recreational opportunities.

The limestone bluffs and clear water of the James River are favored by kayakers and canoeists. You can start paddling at Joe Creighton Inlet and follow the water trail to Springfield Lake Park. Or head to Galena to rent equipment, camping sites or rooms for a comfortable stay at James River Outfitters resort. You can also rent equipment from James River Canoe Rental and stay at Camp Tomahawk, a favorite spot for unforgettable river adventures.

6. Carrent River

The National Rivers Project, part of the Rivers Management Society in the United States, has identified the Jacks Fork and Carrent River in Missouri as "two of the best rafting rivers to be found." These two waterways were the first rivers under the protection of the National Park System.

The Carrent River originates in Montauk State Park and flows to northeast Arkansas. It is one of the most iconic waterways in the state, known for its clear water, delightful springs, and the stunning beauty of the scenery around it. Because it is one of the spring-fed rivers in the state, the water is a bit cooler, but for a hot summer day, it's just what you need.

Flowing through the Ozarks, the Carrent River boasts excellent swimming, camping and fishing opportunities. To plan a trip, you can turn to the renowned The Landing Hotel in Van Buren. Although it burned to the ground in a catastrophic fire in 2021, it began renovations in 2022 and now continues to operate Carrent River travel arrangements. This includes being able to help with planning a multi-day expedition here, which can last up to 5 nights. Also close to the Carrent River are Harvey's Alley Spring and Two Rivers Canoe Rental resorts with comfortable accommodations and services for adventures on the water, Jadwin Canoe Rental and Windy's Floats offering equipment rentals.

7. Jacks Fork River

The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather
The Jacks Fork is known for the purity of its spring waters. Source: Image Nps.gov

This Missouri river belongs to the Ozark region's National River System and is one of the most popular rafting and camping destinations in the state. The Jacks Fork is known for its clear spring waters that are surrounded by scenic cliffs, showcasing beautiful vistas of Ozark natural beauty. It is a tributary of the Carrent River, and its depth varies with the seasons. It is considered one of the wildest and most scenic rivers in Missouri because of its difficult access. The area is home to herds of wild horses, you may be able to see them on the banks during a water walk.

A 14-mile rafting trip on the Jacks Fork can be recommended, organized by Two Rivers Canoe Rental. The trip starts in Ellie Springs and ends in Too Rivers, being a year-round option. The sites above Ellie Springs are suitable for more experienced swimmers. At Tu Rivers, you can find everything you need to prepare a water trip and stopover - watercraft rentals, shuttles, groceries and camping. There are riverfront resorts along the river, such as Jack's Fork Campground, which offers canoe and other equipment rentals, or Windy's Floats, a waterfront hotel with exceptional facilities for a relaxing vacation. Also close to the river is Harvey's Alley Spring Resort, offering well-planned water walks and dive facilities.

8. Gasconade River

This river in central Missouri stretches for hundreds of miles, making it suitable for both short and multi-day trips. It is approximately 280 miles long from the Ozark region to the city of Gasconade, where the river flows into the Missouri River. It is one of the most scenic waterways for rafting in Missouri as it passes through the Mark Twain National Forest, which is also known for its varied floating options. The route can be extended even further as the Gasconade connects to the Big Piney north of Devils Lockt.

BSC Outdoors can help you organize excursions from 3 to 8 miles in length. If you are going on a longer trip, the outfitter can offer a multi-day float trip of 14 miles on the Gasconade to Riddle Bridge past the Gasconade Hills Preserve. Along the river, you'll have no trouble finding great resorts, such as Froggy's River in Richland, which provides watercraft rentals for traveling on the river, as well as fishing and riding facilities; Boiling Spring Campground, a half-hour drive from Rolla in Dixon, which would be a great option for families; and Gasconade Hills Resort in the Gasconade region, which provides exceptional accommodations.

9. North Fork on the White River

The North Fork is a branch of the White River and is also great for water travel in Missouri, showcasing breathtaking scenery and pristine waters. It is located about 3 hours from St. Louis, making it a logical choice for locals for a day trip or rafting weekend.

This river has a mostly calm flow and is primarily known for its abundance of trout, so you'll find plenty of fishing enthusiasts here. Its section from Dora to Norfolk Lake, crossing the Arkansas border, is designated by the Missouri Canoe and Watercraft Association as consistently floatable. But some of the lower reaches may be suitable for more "sporty" water activities. Also don't miss the opportunity to visit the Blue Spring: the water there bubbles up from the ground, casting a "tropical" turquoise color.

Among the resorts near the North Fork River in Missouri, we can recommend Sunburst Ranch, which offers well-planned watercraft rides and excellent amenities. There is a campground here, and among the organized rafting trips, the most popular is the 5-7 hour water trip from Hammond Mill. Another ideal place for a relaxed float trip is the River of Life Farm resort with wonderful accommodations and a peaceful atmosphere.

10. Huzzah and Courtois Creek

The 10 best rafting trips in Missouri with beautiful views, clear waters and plenty of waterfront amenities to refresh yourself and enjoy the hot summer weather
Make a stop at coastal resorts to relax and have fun. Source: Image Ozarkoutdoorsresort.com

These two streams flow almost side by side in the same region and are both tributaries of the Meramec River. They are popular with local paddlers and are spectacularly scenic. Huzzah Creek is characterized by clear water and a gentle current, so it attracts beginners and families who expect a relaxed float trip. However, depending on the season, their depth and water temperature can fluctuate considerably, so check with a local outfitter for anticipated travel conditions before planning trips on these rivers in Missouri.

For example, you can use the reliable Ozark Outdoors Resort tour company, which organizes water trips on Courtois Creek for 5 and 10 miles and on Huzzah Creek for 4, 10, or 14 miles. You can stop at the resort's hotel to relax at the grill bar with live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Or you can choose an overnight stay from a variety of options along the trail, such as the nearby Huzzah Creek Outdoors Hotel, where you can also rent equipment.

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