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Niangua River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Bennett Spring State Park to MDC Leadmine Conservation Area
~ 23.7 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

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.

Though not quite as popular as the section above, the reach from Bennett Spring State Park to MDC Leadmine Conservation Area offers 23.7 miles of gorgeous river surrounded by a very remote wilderness of trees, wildlife, birds and fish. The river takes a very crooked path through Dallas and Laclede Counties, crossing into one, then the other, repeatedly from top to bottom. Paddlers can enjoy themselves on easy water with three intermediate access points for those wanting a shorter trip than the entire reach offers. At least three outfitters are located on or near this section of the river, and most of those on the reach above also offer services here, so getting rentals, shuttles and outfitting is a breeze. There is almost always adequate water for river trips, so properly-prepared boaters can enjoy this part of the Niangua just about any time they want to paddle or float. Adjacent areas offer excelent hunting, while the river provides great fishing. If birding is your "thing", then you will love this place. Primitive camping is available at the MDC Leadmine access, though not at other access points along this reach. However, outfitters can provide facilities or direct you to good riverside camping areas.


Southcentral Missouri, flowing from Bennett Springs State Park in Dallas and Laclede Counties, just east of Lebanon and northeast of Springfield, about 43 miles away.

Distance from major cities

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 and Flow Rates

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.

Best Times to Go

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.

Hazards to Navigation

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.

River Access Points

Bennett Spring State Park on river right at 0.0 miles; SH 64 bridge at 0.3 miles; MDC Bennett Spring Access on river left at about 0.7 miles (2 boat ramps); Several private campgrounds with access on river left between 5.0 and 7.0 miles; Barclay Conservation Area Access on river left off SH 64 and CR 64-152 at about 6.5 miles; Redbeard's Ranch (fee required) on river right at about 7.0 miles; Private campground and access on river right at about 8.0 miles; MDC Prosperine Access at the mouth of Mountain Creek and CR AA-980 on gravel bar at about 10.6 miles( private campground next to access); Private access at about 14.7 miles; MDC Leadmine Conservation Area Access adjacent to Jake's Creek (on left) at about 23.7 miles (poor access due to high bank.)

Campgrounds and Accommodations

Bennett Spring State Park (417-532-4338), where this run begins, offers 192 campsites including many that accommodate RVs, rental cabins, a motel, restrooms with showers, a camp store and many other amenities. Camping is NOT allowed at the MDC access points. Most of the outfitters along the river provide campground facilities with varying services on their reach of the river, and abundant primitive campsites can be found in the vast 6,472-acre Leadmine Conservation Area at the end of this reach of the river. This section is best run as a one-day full or partial reach, depending upon time available, paddler stamina, water flow conditions and personal preferences.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are many other commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information on or near the Niangua River. Some outfitters offer guided trips, as well.

Reviewer's comments

This is the section of the Niangua River for those who enjoy wilderness paddling with smaller crowds and limited access to facilities. In fact, while access is great, facilities of any kind are scarcer than hen's teeth, as in "non-existent" along the river. Redbeard's Ranch is an exception, offering primitive camping and other amenities. Camping is not allowed at the MDC access points, but Leadmine Conservation Area offers about 6,472 acres of primitive area, mostly heavily wooded, where you can share the environment with deer, turkeys and squirrels in an area that is popular with horseback riders and occasionally hunters. Some spillover traffic from the reach above will produce a few other paddlers, but this is a place where you enjoy the solitude of a gorgeous and unspoiled river. A camera should be required equipment for this trip.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 23.7 miles
Min. Flow 100 cfs
Opt. Flow 400 - 1,500 cfs
Max. Flow 2,000 cfs
First Put-in Bennett Springs State Park
Lat. / Long. N37° 44' 20.79"/W092° 51' 37.00"
Last Take-out MDC Leadmine CA Access
Lat. / Long. N37° 51' 49.51"/W092° 53' 51.91"
Elevation 1,958' - 1,273' msl
Gradient ~ 4 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Tunnel Dam
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Early-April through September
Permits No

Niangua River Slideshow

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

The beautiful Niangua River at Bennett Spring State Park boat ramp
The beautiful Niangua River at Bennett Spring State Park

Niangua River looking downriver from Bennett Spring State Park
Niangua River looking downriver from Bennett Spring State Park

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

Gravel bars and trees line the Niangua River
Niangua River looking downriver from Bennett Spring State Park

MDC Access below Bennett Spring State Park
MDC Access below Bennett Spring State Park

Bald eagle on the Niangua River near Bird Island
Bald eagle on the Niangua River near Bird Island

Click the links below for information regarding the other sections of the Niangua River where you want to paddle.

[ MDC Charity Access to MDC Big John Access ] [ MDC Big John Access to Bennett Spring State Park ]
[ MDC Leadmine Access to Lake of the Ozarks ]

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

[ Missouri River Homepage ] [ Missouri River ] [ Chariton River ] [ Crooked Creek ] [ Blackwater River ]
[ Gasconade River ] [ Osage River ] [ Big Piney River ] [ Osage River ] [ Platte River ] [ Little Platte River ] [ Little Niangua River ]

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