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Meramec River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Short Bend Bridge to SH 231
~ 192 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Rising near Salem in Dent County of southeastern Missouri the Meramec River flows 207 miles to the confluence of the Mighty Mississippi River about 20 miles below St. Louis. Along the way it cuts through the limestone Meramec Caverns and Meramec State Park and the counties of Dent, Crawford, Phelps (briefly), Franklin, Jefferson and St. Louis. Its headwaters rise above Short Bend in Dent County, with substantial volume added from Maramec Spring and numerous other springs that feed the river on its journey to its mouth at the Mississippi. Along the way the Meramec is joined by its tributaries streams, the Big River, Bourbeuse River, Courtois Creek, and Huzzah Creek, all excellent and beautiful flatwater streams that paddlers can enjoy in the Missouri Ozarks. This report will describe the reach on the Meramec River starting at Short Bend Bridge off SH 19 about 10 miles northeast of Salem to the SH 231 bridge near Flamm City a few miles above its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Tributary streams are linked at the bottom of this page for your convenience.

The Meramec River is a Class I flatwater river that can be paddled almost year-round. The most commonly paddled section lies between Maramec Spring and Meramec State Park, a distance of about 67 miles with excellent access and outfitters located every few miles along the run. Paddlers sometimes boat as far as St. Clair or Pacific, though industrial, commercial and residential development beyond Pacific are moving in and may make the river unattractive to those who cherish the solitude and isolation usually found on rivers. While the Meramec can be paddled above Maramec Spring that is only recommended during periods of above normal water flow. The river is boatable in canoes, kayaks and rafts by almost any able-bodied person regardless of experience, though it certainly helps!

Most of the river is beautiful and very interesting. The water is clearer than that of the Bourbeuse to the north, and there more minor Class I rapids to to be found than on any of the tributary streams. The Mark Twain National Forest, through which the river flows, is another attraction for paddlers with a bug for shooting photographs. This Ozark Mountains stream is excellent for fishing, and is close to other great paddling and fishing streams including the Gasconade, Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. Meramec River State Park has more than 40 caves to explore and every other outdoor recreation activity imaginable. It is a great place to spend some time off the river.


East central Missouri, flowing from southeast of IH 44 at Rolla along the south side of St. Louis to the Mississippi River. In the general vicinity are Courtois Creek, Huzzah Creek, and the Big, Bourbeuse, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, as well as Mark Twain National Forest.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 75 miles; Joplin 245 miles; Springfield 175 miles; Kansas City 210 miles; Tulsa 360 miles; Oklahoma City 465 miles; Dallas 675 miles; Austin 875 miles; San Antonio 955 miles; Houston 925 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to your put-in on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Excellent - the spring-fed river flows crystal clear and cool from Maramec Spring and the many other springs alongs its way that add water to it. The flow is almost always adequate for good paddle trips, though the upper section may be very low during hot summer months or periods of prolonged droughts.

Best Times to Go

The Meramec is generally not a seasonal river, and can be paddled almost anytime, though it can run low during the hot summer months or during periods of extended droughts. Check with local outfitters when planning a trip to make sure there is adequate water for the section you want to paddle.

Hazards to Navigation

The Meramec River is Class I flatwater river with very small rapids and ledge waterfall drops scattered among the long pools and moderate current. Most rapids are not hazardous. but should be scouted whenever there is not a clearly visible line to take through them.

River Access Points

Short Bend low water bridge just off SH 19 at 0.0 miles; SH 19 bridge at 0.8 miles; MDC Short Bend Access at 0.9 miles; Highway M low water bridge at 6.3 miles; Cook Station low water bridge at 8.7 miles; Wesco low water bridge at 13.7 miles; Low water bridge between Wesco and Highway U at 16.7 miles; MDC undeveloped Wesco Access at 16.9 miles; Highway U low water bridge at 18.7 miles; MDC Woodson K. Woods Access on river right (off Highway 8) at 26.2 miles (this is the ideal first put-in for most paddlers and trips); MDC Scotts Ford Access on river left at 35.1 miles (Adventure Outdoors private access); Cowboys private campground/livery at 41.1 miles; MDC Riverview Public Access (from Highway O off about 6 miles off SH 19) at 42.3 miles; Fishing Spring Road Access at 46.8 miles; Bird's Nest Campground, St. Louis-San Francisco R.R. and county road bridges and City park on river right at 50.0 miles; Garrison Canoe & Campground (private) at 55.3 miles; Saranac Spring Campground on river left at 59.1 miles; Onondaga State Park Highway H low water bridge on river left at 68.4 miles; Ozark Outdoors (private camp) on river right at 68.4 miles; MDC Campbell Bridge Access at 73.7 miles; Blue Springs Ranch (private campground/livery) at 78.0 miles; MDC Blue Springs Access at 78.5 miles; Blue Springs Access (under development) at 78.6 miles; MDC Sappington Bridge Access at 83.2 miles; Meramec State Park boat ramp at park entrance from Hwy. 185 at 88.0 miles; Meramec River State Park picnic ground on river left at 88.2 miles; Meramec State Park boat ramp on river left at 90.0 miles (watch for rock dike on river left); Private canoe park on river left at 92.0 miles; Concrete boat ramp (private) on river left at 92.1 miles; Large gravel bar on river left immediately below bluff (State park property camping not authorized) at 93.3 miles; Meramec Caverns and La Jolla Springs Access on river left at 94.3 miles; MDC Sand Ford Access off Highway W at 94.4 miles; Pickle Ford (Huff Ford) Access (fair condition) on river left at 101.7 miles; Highway K bridge access on river right (reached by Project Road off Highway K) at 112.3 miles; SH 30 / 47 bridge (private access) at 117.3 miles; Bruns Bridge (private campground) at 123.8 miles; MDC River 'Round Wildlife Area Access at 127.2 miles; Hillcrest Park (private access) at 131.4 miles; St. Louis-San Francisco R.R. bridge access at 132.4 miles; MDC Chouteau Claim Access at junction with Bourbeuse River (on county road and bridge 0.4 mile up the Bourbeuse River) 132.8 miles; Robertsville State Park access at 136.0 miles; MDC Catawissa Wildlife Area Access on river right at 142.7 miles; Highway F bridge (private access) at 145.3 miles; Pacific Palisades Wildlife Area concrete ramp on river left at 147.3 miles; Allenton access on cement ramp at 154.2 miles; Highway 66 bridges and MDC Times Beach Access on river left. at 161.0 miles; Castlewood State Park access at concrete ramp (park is off Kiefer Creek Road) at 169.0 miles; Green Tree Park (off Marshall Road) at 173.5 miles; Unger Park on river left at 175.0 miles; Ackerman access at IH-44 bridge at 176.0 miles; New Highway 30 bridge on river left (downstream from old Highway 30 bridge) at 179.4 miles; Flamm City Access on river right below SH 231 bridge (last access above Mississippi River) at 192.0 miles.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are many commercial campgrounds located along the Meramec River, most of which are located between Short Bend Bridge and SH 231. Finding a place to camp along this river is relatively easy, but the area is very popular during summer months, so advance reservations may be necessary, especially around the three major holiday weekends (Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day).

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are many commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information along the Upper Meramec River.

Reviewer's comments

The Meramec River has everything to offer, from a long, moderate whitewater river adventure to good access and ample accommodations ranging from primitive campgrounds to resort luxury from one end to the other, all without sacrificing the pristine and remote nature of the river. The area is home to numerous caves to explore and the river offers spectacular scenery that begs to be photographed. The Ozark Mountains and Mark Twain National Forest set the stage for the natural beauty that surrounds the river of clean, crystal clear water in a family-safe environment free from major hazards. The river is close to several other great rivers where you can get your paddle wet without having to drive a long distance. You will find the river hospitable to canoeing, kayaking rafting and tubing, though the upper section may run low during the summer or in long drought periods. Most of the walking you will do will be exploring the many caves and other wonders of nature at abound all along the 207 miles of the river from its headwaters to the Mississippi River below St. Louis. Canoe liveries and shuttle services are plentiful and most offer accommodations. Expect cold water and air temperatures from late fall through mid spring.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 192 miles
Minimum Flow 100 cfs
Optimum Flow 200-500 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,000 cfs
First Put-in Short Bend Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 231 (Flamm City)
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 5-8 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Steelville
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club - a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Ozark streams

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Meramec River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Meramec River Homepage ] [ Big River ] [ Bourbeuse River ] [ Courtois Creek ] [ Huzzah Creek ]

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Last updated June 2, 2021

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