Forming near Marshfield, in Webster County of southcentral Missouri, is the very beautiful and very popular Niangua River, a stream of about 140 miles in total length of which nearly 114 miles are accessible for paddling. The name has many derivatives, but is rooted in the language of the Osage Nation, to which it meant "many springs", and was in reference to the springs all along the river that fed it then, and that feed it now. For the record, the Osage actually called the river Ne-hem-gar, meaning "bear", because black bears were prolific in the area at that time.
Below the Leadmine Conservation Area lies the final reach of the Niangua River, a run of up to 25.6 miles, depending upon where you choose to end the run. Along the way paddlers will enjoy a very remote wilderness river, and if the run extends more than 12.8 miles below the put-in at Leadmine a portage around Tunnel Dam will be part of the experience. The portage is an easy vehicle bypass, or it can be made along then left side of the dam, if you are very cautious. Hoover Dam this ain't, but it is not the long drop that gets you. It is the sudden stop at the end. If you are loaded for a 2 or 3 day trip, the portaging around the dam on foot would be difficult, and not advised. The terrain nearing and below the dam becomes a canyon of steep, near vertical walls in sharp contrast to gently sloping banks on most of the river above this reach. Runs below the dam entail paddling about 10 more miles of river before it starts to become wider and deeper, with lake current waters that sometimes take the fun out of boating in human-powered craft such as canoes, kayaks or rafts. The upside is that this trip will not be made among a big crowd of other people, so if you dig solitude, then this reach may be just for you!
Dallas and Camden Counties of southcentral Missouri, just northeast of Springfield. This reach sits between Bennett Spring State Park to the south and Lake of the Ozarks to the north, and is bordered on the west by MDC Leadmine Conservation Area at the put-in.
St. Louis 183 miles; Joplin 130 miles; Springfield 43 miles; Kansas City 160 miles; Oklahoma City 345 miles; Little Rock 380 miles; Dallas 538 miles; Austin 728 miles; San Antonio 808 miles; Houston 794 miles; Albuquerque 875 miles; Phoenix 1,315 miles; Denver 958 miles; Salt Lake City 1,434 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually very good to excellent most of the time flowing from springs that feed the river and runoff from local rainfall. Navigable levels are usually found year-round except during periods of prolonged drought. Below Tunnel Dam the current will slow appreciably, as paddlers encounter typical lake currents that are common to impounded large bodies of water.
This reach of the Niangua River flows best at navigable levels from about late-winter through late-fall, but almost always has adequate water for paddling, provided boaters are dressed properly and climate conditions cooperate. Between November and April, nights will be very cool to cold, and days will be a little milder, occasionally warming significantly according to weather and climate patterns.
There are no serious hazards to navigation located along this reach of the Niangua River unless you are not paying attention in high water conditions and wash over Tunnel Dam, in which case you will become the stuff of legends around campfires for many years to come. Its shallow gradient and modest current provide an easy paddle that almost any boater can enjoy. Ice storms during winter months or floods anytime of the year can drop trees into the river partially or completely blocking the channel. Watch for submerged trees in low-water conditions, as they can flip your boat suddenly.
MDC Leadmine Conservation Area Access at 0.0 miles; Herrick Ford Access on a gravel bar (good access) at about 0.4 miles (fast chute where old mill used to be); Berry Bluff Conservation Area Access on river right, adjacent to Mill Creek on left, at about 2.1 miles; Private access road at the mouth of Woolsey (Wilsey) Creek at about 9.4 miles; Private access on river left at about 9.9 miles; Camden County Road D-187 at Tunnel Dam at about 12.1 miles (End trip here if water is not flowing below dam or prepare to portage about 6 miles!); Slab ford south of Edith off Highway U at about 14.1 miles; Whistle Bridge at about 14.8 miles; Access near the mouth of Bank Branch along right shore of Lake of the Ozarks at about 25.6 miles; Any of numerous access points along the shores of Lake of the Ozarks.
There are no campgrounds located along this reach of the Niangua River, or in very near proximity. Camping is NOT allowed at the MDC access points. Lake of the Ozarks offers numerous camping opportunities, and paddlers can always base at one of the many campgrounds above MDC Leadmine Conservation Area, including state parks in the surrounding area.
There are many commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information on or near the Niangua River. Some outfitters offer guide trips, as well.
This is probably the least paddled section of the Niangua River. This area is more popular with fishermen, and below Tunnel Dam power boat traffic becomes more prevalent. Limited access and long distances across slower currents take some of the fun out of paddling here, though the topography is vastly different than the flatter sections above. Below Leadmine the earth starts to rise and form deep canyons that offer a different perspective to that on the upper 80+ miles of the river. If you are up to the task of longer trips and the portage around Tunnel dam, then this reach of the river will show you a face that is not seen by most who paddle this part of Missouri. This section is not for everybody, and less experienced recreational paddlers would do well to remain upriver on easier reaches with better access and outfitter services.