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.
The Niangua River is a gorgeous, flatwater stream that flows from south to north by northeast until it empties into the Osage Arm of Lake of the Ozarks, from which its waters flow to the Missouri River as the Osage River. Most surrounding land is undeveloped and very natural, with Bennett Springs State Park located about 48 miles below the first practical access near Charity in Dallas County. The river is a popular fishing stream for rainbow and brown trout, bass, catfish and many other species. It is surrounded by state-managed conservation areas where hunters can pursue deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl and other edible creatures. Paddlers can enjoy 113.8 miles of accessible waters with many convenient places to enter or leave the river, and most of it is far removed from civilization, though some sections are inundated with liveries and outfitters befitting the Colorado River in Colorado, the Buffalo River in Arkansas, the Illinois River in Oklahoma or the Lower Guadalupe River in Texas.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has created numerous excellent access points all along the river for the benefit of recreational users. Between MDC Charity Access on Highway M, 3 miles west of SH 38 in Dallas County, to MDC Big John Access on SH 32, about 1.2 miles east of Buffalo, the river flows at navigable levels from late-spring through mid-fall, unless early-spring rains provide additional water. This reach of about 20.3 miles offers intermediate access points at 8.1 and 19.0 miles, making it convenient for paddlers on a reach that is not quite as popular as some of those below. The Niangua is a little more remote in the sense that it does not have outfitters everywhere you look. Camping is not alalowed at the top or bottom of this reach, but paddlers may use riverbanks at the intermediate access points for overnight stopovers. This beautiful section of the river will normally have a lot less traffic, and paddlers can enjoy the solitude of a quiet river surrounded by a natural and largely undisturbed wilderness.
Southcentral Missouri, flowing from Charity to Buffalo in Dallas County, just east of Lebanon and northeast of Springfield, about 40 miles away (as the car drives - crows can knock off about 10 miles.)
St. Louis 177 miles; Joplin 112 miles; Springfield 40 miles; Kansas City 150 miles; Oklahoma City 318 miles; Little Rock 375 miles; Dallas 533 miles; Austin 723 miles; San Antonio 803 miles; Houston 789 miles; Albuquerque 870 miles; Phoenix 1,310 miles; Denver 953 miles; Salt Lake City 1,429 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 usually occur from mid-spring through late-fall.
This reach of the Niangua River is not often navigable by canoe or kayak, and even less navigable by raft, most of the time, but it flows best at navigable levels from about early-April through September unless aided by early-spring and/or early-fall rains that charge the springs and keep it flowing. Visual inspection at access points is advised prior to launching for a downriver trip.
There are no serious hazards to navigation located along this reach of the Niangua River. 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 Charity Access on Highway M, 3 miles west of SH 38 in Dallas County, at 0.0 miles; Dallas County Road 203, about 5 miles east of Highway H, at 8.1 miles; SH 32 bridge, about 4 miles east of Buffalo, at about 19.0 miles; and MDC Big John Access on SH 32, about 1.2 miles east of Buffalo, at about 20.3 miles.
There are no known campgrounds located along this reach of the Niangua River. Primitive camping is allowed at the Dallas County Road 203 access (8.1 miles) and SH 32 bridge east of Buffalo (19.0 miles). Many local commercial outfitters also offer campsites.
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.
I like this section of the Niangua River because it tends to be "the road less traveled" by most recreational paddlers. What it lacks in year-round flow conditions is more than offset by its immense natural beauty and the serenity of paddling a quiet, flatwater river, though I will admit a love of whitewater rivers whenever I can find one! Conveniences are not as good on this section as below, but the river offers an excellent paddling opportunity in spring and summer months, extending into early-fall, with wildlife, birds and many species of fish all around. It is an excellent place for wildlife and nature photography, with easy access along the way. Hunting and fishing can be done nearby, so paddlers can combine other outdoors activities with boating for a total experience, and with the river navigable all the way to Lake of the Ozarks, multi-day trips are almost always possible. This is a gorgeous stream that will capture the heart of anybody who loves to paddle, and it is easy enough for novice paddlers to enjoy without too much trepidation about rapids, waterfalls and other hazards. Unfortunately, the only USGS gauge on the Niangua is located at Tunnel Dam near Mack's Creek and Lake of the Ozarks, many miles downstream, so a visual inspection is required to know the true nature of the river at any time. Be sure to pack your camera!