Looking for a unique family vacation idea that’s also affordable and easy to plan? If you love spending time outdoors, getting out on the water, and don’t mind roughing it a bit, you may want to consider a float trip for your next vacation. And not just any float trip, but a float trip in Missouri, which is well known for its winding lazy rivers, beautiful scenery, and incredible opportunities for riverside camping. Taking a float trip in Missouri is a summer rite of passage for locals, but you don’t need to live in Missouri to enjoy a float trip in this beautiful state.
There are so many rivers to float in Missouri, you could spend a lifetime exploring them, but if you don’t want to do that, we’ve got suggestions for the top Missouri float trips out there. Whether you’ve got an afternoon or a full week to spend on the water, there’s a MO float trip with your name on it.
What’s a Float Trip?
First, some background information, because there are lots of folks out there that have never been on a float trip and may not even know what a float trip is. You need two things for a successful float trip — a river and something to float on. Aside from that, the skies the limit. You can float for a few hours or the whole summer, especially if you head to Missouri, which boats more than 50,000 miles of river!
As far as what to float on goes, you’ve got a lot of flexibility. Canoes and kayaks are common. As are inner tubes, rafts and even livestock tanks. You’ve heard the saying — whatever floats your boat…
As a general rule, innertubes and rafts are good for floats under six miles and will travel at rates of a mile per hour or less. Canoes and kayaks are better for longer float trips, including overnight trips. If you’re floating with a dog, you definitely want to use a boat. Ditto if you have a lot of gear.
So, once you’ve figured out your time limitations and figured out your floating apparatus. You need to choose a Missouri river to float on, arrange for transportation, and, if applicable, figure out where you’ll be spending the night. Fortunately, the most popular Missouri rivers for floating also feature dozens of campgrounds, vacation rentals, hotels, and outfitters to make planning your trip super easy.
Looking to take the RV on our Missouri Vacation? Use our Interactive RV Departure Lists so you don’t miss a thing.
How Long do Float Trips Last?
Float trips in Missouri can last as long as you want, but there are some logistics at play that you will need to plan ahead for. If you are accessing a float shuttle service and/or rental service, they will likely have a set itinerary in place. Float trip services are great because they take care of all the planning. All you have to do is show up with your bathing suit and sunscreen.
The majority of MO float trips arranged by outfitters are day-long adventures. The service will pick you up at your campground or arrange a meeting time. They will drive you up-river, provide you with your floatation device, and send you on your way. You will either float the river back to your campground or to an arranged meeting place where the shuttle service will pick you up and bring you back to your car or lodging.
You don’t necessarily have to use a shuttle service to embark on a MO float trip. You just need to have two cars available for transporting you and your boats or floats. With this scenario, you pick your stretch of river, choose your campground if necessary, drop one car at your endpoint, and then drive the other car with your floats up to your starting point. This gives you the flexibility to start and end your float trip whenever you want.
What Should I Bring on a Float Trip?
When it comes to planning a float trip, figuring out what to bring is one of the most important aspects. It’s kind of like planning for a sunny day at the beach, but you also want to make sure that all of your gear can get wet, because there’s a good chance that it will. The following packing list assumes that you are embarking on a traditional day-long float trip.
- Swimsuit – Your float trip swimsuit should not be your most expensive and cherished suit. It will likely get muddy and the river mud will sometimes stain white or light bathing suits.
- Drybag – The vessel you use to float down the river will dictate how much you bring. If you are floating in an inner tube, you can invest in a drybag for your clothes, keys, wallet, and phone, and attach it to the side of the tube with some paracord or a carabiner. If you are taking your float trip in a boat, you can bring more gear, so you will need a bigger dry bag. I recommend a minimum of 20 liters.
- Towel – A regular old beach towel will do fine, but if you’re short on space, try a packable camp towel.
- Waterproof phone case – Especially important if you plan on using your phone for taking pictures, videos, or listening to music during your float trip.
- Water bottle – It can be very easy to forget to drink when floating. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. (We love Hydroflask by the way!)
- Lunch and snacks – Pack a non-perishable picnic and store it in your dry bag. Another option is to invest in a floating cooler for the river to take along with you. Great snacks include trail mix, beef jerky, string cheese, granola bars, fruit, and chopped veggies.
- Water shoes – Sandals, like our favorite Keen Rose Sandals or Xero Shoes work well, as do form-fitting water shoes. Don’t forgo these, as there are lots of rocky bottoms and shores.
- Flashlight or headlamp – In case you’re floating after dark.
- Sunscreen, bugspray, and a basic first aid kit Get 10% off first order at MyMedic.com
- Sunglasses (If you order through Blountville Family Eyecare, we will give you a 20% discount: Call the office and tell them you saw it on VeraVise Outdoor Living. We can only ship in the US)
Optional Gear for Your MO Float Trip
In addition to the necessities mentioned above, the following items make a great addition to any float trip.
- Go Pro or Underwater Camera – If you want to capture every crazy moment on the water, stash your phone somewhere safe, and opt for a rugged, waterproof camera that you won’t have to worry about keeping dry. (AKASO also makes a great waterproof camera as a budget option)
- Waterproof speaker – Care for some tunes with your river adventure? Bring along a waterproof speaker and start creating your perfect summer playlist.
- Binoculars – You never know what you’ll see along the river!
- Snorkel and mask or goggles – If you get tired of floating, you can explore under the water.
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Where can I go on a Float Trip in Missouri?
We’re so glad you asked! Missouri is home to 51,978 miles of river, so it can definitely be daunting to try and figure out where to go for your float trip. Because you’ve got hundreds of options for Missouri float trips, we’re going to narrow it down and focus on the five best float trips in the state.
The following Missouri float trips are rated as easy to moderate — perfect for family vacations, leisurely weekend trips, and multi-generational adventures.
Meramec River Float Trip: Best Float Trip Near St. Louis
If you are looking for an amazing MO float trip that isn’t far from St. Louis, check out the Meramec River, which is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in Missouri. The Meramec is one of the most popular rivers for float trips, and there is good infrastructure in place for float rentals, shuttle services, and campsites along the river. One of the most beautiful sections of river lies between Meramec Springs and Meramec State Park.
Meramec State Park has partnered with a local outfitter to provide 5-mile float trips that begin at Sappington Bridge and end at the Meramec State Park boat ramp. You can reserve a canoe, kayak, or raft for the journey, and a campsite or cabin in one of the park’s campgrounds. Meramec River float trips are offered in this location from the first Friday after April 15 until the last Friday in October.
Eleven Point River Float Trip: Missouri’s Only Wild and Scenic River
Eleven Point River travels 138 miles from Willow Springs in the southern part of the state into northern Arkansas. It was one of the original eight rivers to be designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1968. The designation covers 44 miles from Thomasville to Gateswood, Missouri, and mostly runs through undeveloped private and public lands. This stretch of river features dark forests, steep cliffs, and the scenic Ozark Hills.
Hufstedler’s in Alton, Missouri provides dozens of options for floating down this beautiful stretch of the Eleven Point River. You can rent a kayak, canoe, or raft for anywhere between an afternoon and three days. The longest of these trips begins in Thomasville and ends at Hufstedler’s in Riverton for a 36-mile float. Tube rentals are available for either a two or seven-mile afternoon float trip. There are plenty of spots to camp along this stretch of river, and Hufstedler’s also maintains a private campground with showers and cabin rentals.
Niangua River: Best MO Float Trip for Anglers
The Niangua River is considered one of the best fishing streams in Missouri, with stocked rainbow trout, bass, and catfish. It is a 125-long tributary of the Osage River in the Ozark region of the state. The Niangua River is a very popular float trip, especially on hot summer weekends. If you are looking for a more relaxing trip, make your reservations for a weekday.
There are many outfitters offering an endless number of trip options, but if you’re looking for a family-friendly trip with incredible scenery, check out the 11.5-mile float trip from Bennett Spring to Mountain Creek Family Resort & Canoe Rental. This private campground resort features large, private campsites, many of them right on the water, along with a modern shower house, a camp store, and a water slide. Floaters can rent a canoe, kayak, or six-person raft that includes shuttle up-river to Bennett Spring. Niangua River float trips and camping are offered from April to October.
Jacks Fork River: Year-Round Scenic Float Trip in the Ozarks
Jacks Fork River is a tributary of the nearby Current River, and both can be accessed from a single location. If you have the time you can float the Jacks Fork one day and the Current the next. If you only have time to float one river, I would go with Jacks Fork, mainly because motor boat access is restricted so you will find Jacks Fork a bit more peaceful for your float trip.
The Jacks River is spring-fed, and if you start at or below Alley Spring, it’s an easy river to float on. The section from Alley Spring to Two Rivers makes for a perfect day trip at 15 miles. Two Rivers Canoe Rental provides kayak, canoe, raft, and tube rentals, as well as shuttle service to and from your hotel, cabin, or campground. Two Rivers Canoe Rental offers MO float trip services year-round.
The Gasconade River: One of the Most Crooked Rivers in the World
One of the benefits of floating that Gasconade River is that you can often float for 15+ miles and still be just a couple of miles from where you left your car. The Gasconade is located in central and south central Missouri, flowing for 280 miles from Hartville northeast to the Missouri River. There are numerous access points, campgrounds, and shuttle services along the river, but it isn’t as crowded as some of the more popular floating rivers in Missouri.
Gasconade Hills Resort offers a number of different trip options — from four to 20 miles. The trip from Black Ford to Gasconade Hills Resort is 10 miles, with shuttles leaving the resort at 8 am and 10:30 am. This part of the river is characterized by steep bluffs, dense hardwood forest, and lots of opportunities for spotting wildlife. Gasconade Hills Resort is also a full-service campground right on the river, suitable for tents and RVs. Cabin rentals are also available.
Missouri float trips are perfect for a hot, lazy summer weekend, and with so many choices for getting out on the water, there’s a float trip for every type of adventurer. So pack up your bathing suit and summer gear, and head to one of these scenic rivers in Missouri for a vacation you won’t soon forget.
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