St. LOUIS, Mo.—Kayaking is an excellent way to discover nature on the water. As a very personalized method of conveyance, it puts a paddler close to the water and offers an intimate connection with a lake, stream or river. A kayak can get you to a perfect fishing spot, enable you to nimbly explore the quiet cove of a giant lake, or put you close to a great blue heron to capture that dynamic photograph. Paddling is also excellent exercise for an upper body cardio workout.
Kayaking is more popular than ever. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has numerous accesses that provide opportunities to launch your favorite kayak in the St. Louis region, whether your preference is paddling a calm lake, flowing stream, or winding river.
With crisp air and an ever-changing palate of colors, autumn in the Show-Me-State is one of the best seasons to do anything outdoors—and taking a kayak for a spin is no exception.
“The ability to enjoy fall from the seat of a kayak just adds to the experience,” said Lafe Schweissguth, MDC’s Recreational Use Specialist for the St. Louis Region. “Whether it be closed bodies of water or open rivers or streams, this time of year is great to grab your kayak and get out and enjoy nature.”
What follows is a sample of the options at hand, grouped by type of water body.
William R. Logan Conservation Area is in northern Lincoln County, north of the town of Silex. It covers 1,798 acres, and 29 of those acres are water in the form of several lakes scattered around the area that afford kayaking opportunities. Anglers with fishing kayaks can deploy them to track down black bass, white bass, catfish, and sunfish. Kayakers should not that watercraft may not be left unattended overnight. Learn more about Logan Conservation Area at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zu4.
The Frank, Emma Elizabeth and Edna Reifsnider State Forest is just southeast of Warrenton in Warren County. The 1,389- acre area offers many outdoor recreational opportunities, including the chance to paddle a kayak on one of its two lakes. These were originally clay mining pits from the area’s earlier history, but today they are stocked so that anglers can pursue black bass, catfish, and sunfish by kayak if they choose. For more on Reifsnider State Forest, go to https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zuo.
Missouri’s Ozark National Scenic Riverways of Shannon County are considered among the premier floating streams in the country. However, the St. Louis area has its own version of these Ozark float gems closer to home, the Courtois and Huzzah Creeks. Both, clear, gravel-bottom streams join to eventually feed into the Meramec River. Located in Crawford County, these meandering waterways put kayakers in the heart of beautiful Ozark habitat, passing through unspoiled forests and nature-sculpted bluffs. Fishing kayaks can surely be put to good use. But recreational kayakers will also find everything from a serene float to a somewhat sporty jaunt, interspersed with moderate Class II rapids. It’s best to visit these streams in wetter weather. Multiple float outfitters are in the area to serve paddler’s needs, and access points include Huzzah Conservation Area near Leasburg, https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZuJ.
Of course, the pride of the St. Louis area’s Ozark rivers is the Meramec River. This spring-fed marvel is best floated between Meramec Spring and Meramec State Park but is still reasonably scenic down to St. Clair and Pacific. The seven-mile stretch from Pacific Palisades Conservation Area (https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zuw) to Allenton Access (https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zui) is also very popular. More adventurous paddlers could even push on through to the Mississippi River. The portion of the river above Meramec Spring is only accessible during high water periods, but the rest is floatable most of the year, with outfitters nearby to set paddlers up with kayaks or canoes. This river offers a gentle and easy float along most of its way, making the Meramec great for either a relaxing experience or novice paddlers.
The Bourbeuse and Big Rivers are other great alternatives for the kayaker. Both tributaries to the Meramec River are easy-going waterways. The Bourbeuse is incredibly windy as it snakes its way through Franklin County, cramming 100 miles of river into just 27 miles as the crow flies. Sections of the Big River in Washington County above and below Washington State Park are the best parts of that river for floating.
Finally, for those wishing to take on the mother of all rivers, there’s the mighty Mississippi River. Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in Spanish Lake affords kayakers the chance to catch a ride on North America’s largest river. The canoe/kayak access to the Mississippi can be found on the southeast portion of the area. For complete information on and map of Columbia Bottom, go to https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zu3.
Find many more accesses to lakes, rivers and streams in the St. Louis region by using the MDC online atlas at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zu5.
MDC also offers an excellent resource for floaters called A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri. This handy, spiral-bound book is available for just $8 at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZuU. The book is well laid out for field use and contains more information on the streams and rivers discussed here. It includes details and updated maps of many other of Missouri’s more popular Ozark streams, along with some lesser-known float streams and tributaries throughout the state.