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Bourbeuse River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

SH 19 to the Meramec River
107.6 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

There are probably rivers somewhere more twisting, turning and compacted than Missouri's Bourbeuse River in the Ozark Mountains just southwest of St. Louis, but I have no idea where they are. The Bourbeuse may well be the king of crooked rivers - one stretch through Franklin County spans 107.6 river miles in a straight line (as the crow flies) distance of only 27 miles.The Bourbeuse rises near St. James in Phelps County, the flows through Maries (very briefly), back into Phelps, then Gasconade and finally Franklin County to the confluence of the Meramec River.

The Bourbeuse is a slow, meandering stream of a total 138 miles with a few Class I rapids, excellent scenery, great bass fishing and few paddlers. The section most frequently paddled starts at the SH 19 bridge in Franklin County and flows to the Meramec at the MDC Chouteau Claim Access 107.6 miles downriver. Few roads cross the river meaning that you aren't much bothered by cars, but you are also not all that close between access points. The water is not quite as clear as on some other Missouri rivers, partly due to its shallowness and slow current that don't flush it out and partly due to natural and man-made elements that seep into the watershed.

Anybody can paddle the Bourbeuse River. There are no hazards bigger than running out of film (well, okay, running out of Dr Pepper would be MUCH worse!), but the trek is long and slow. Distance between access points range from about 8.4 to 30 miles, with several sections in the 18 mile range, so plan your trip carefully. The natural beauty of the river and surrounding area will make you want to just keep on paddling. The Bourbeuse is a year-round stream that can generally be paddled anytime, weather permitting.


East central Missouri in Gasconade and Franklin Counties, just southwest of St. Louis and in the general vicinity of the Meramec, Big, Missouri, Gasconade and Mississippi Rivers, as well as Mark Twain National Forest.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 75 miles; Joplin 230 miles; Springfield 160 miles; Kansas City 230 miles; Tulsa 345 miles; Oklahoma City 450 miles; Dallas 660 miles; Austin 860 miles; San Antonio 940 miles; Houston 910 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point to put-in on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent on the upper reaches, turning good to very good the closer it gets to St. Louis. Flow is almost always adequate for good boating.

Best Times to Go

The bourbeuse is, for all practical purposes, a perpetual stream that can be boated in canoes, kayaks and rafts year-round, weather permitting.

Hazards to Navigation

The Bourbeuse River is generally free of hazards. However, some sections of the river span a distance of 18-30 miles between access points, so distance can be a factor, especially in warmer weather. Rapids generally fall into the Class I category.

River access points

SH 19 bridge at 0.0 miles; Low-water bridge about 2.8 miles east of Highway 19 at about 3.0 miles; MDC Tea Access on river left at 9.9 miles; MDC Mill Rock Access at 27.1 miles; MDC Wenkel Ford Access at about 34.3 miles; Peters Ford Access (off county road from Highway 185 at Noser Mill) at 45.3 miles; MDC Reiker Ford Access at 73.9 miles; MDC Mayers Landing Access at 84.9 miles; US Highway 50 bridge (at Union) at 93.3 miles; US Highways 50/66 and IH-44 bridges at 102.3 miles; MDC Chouteau Claim Access (at confluence of Meramec River) at 107.6 miles

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There is at least one known commercial campground, and probably others, on or rnear the Bourbeuse River. Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, but many are on private property. If land is posted, then do not camp there without having first obtained permission from the rightful owners. Always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it!

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least two known commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information on or near the Bourbeuse River.

Reviewer's comments

The Bourbeuse River is superb for long paddle trips of several days on a lazy river lush with natural scenery. Without significant hazards almost anybody can enjoy the river regardless of paddling skills or experience, though you do have to plan for the distance between some access points. The river is very narrow near its headwaters, and the uppermost 4 miles may be too low to paddle during hot summer months, though the rest of the river usually has enough water to enjoyably paddle. A big plus factor is its close proximity to other great Missouri rivers including the Big River, Meramec River, Gasconade River, Missouri River, and a few miles to the south the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point Rivers. Mark Twain National Forest is also nearby and St. Louis is only about 90 minutes to the northeast.

Fishing is great, with bass being the primary catch, and the river is a photographer's idea of heaven, with birds, animals, plants and natural terrain all accentuating a really pretty river, even with slightly cloudy water. Access is good, though it can be long between access points. The section described above runs for over 107 miles, yet is only about 27 land miles (NOT driving miles) between the first put-in and the last take-out. From the first Union bridge to the Meramec the river is starting to be developed, so there will be more people, cars and houses along the way, but the majority of the trip will be in a remote area where animals and birds will greatly and easily outnumber people, cars and buildings. Multiple day trips are ideal on the Bourbeuse River, so plan to stay awhile when you get there.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 107.6 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 19 Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out MDC Chouteau Claim Access @
Meramac River confluence
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 2.4 fpm (av) / 3.9 fpm (max) / 1.7 fpm (min)
USGS Gauge Web: High Gate
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 ] [ Short Bend Bridge to SH 231 Bridge ] [ Big River ] [ Courtois Creek ] [ Huzzah Creek ]

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