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Osage River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

Highway B near Rich Hills to Harry S. Truman Lake
~ 65 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Osage River forms as the Marais des Cygnes River (French for "Swan Marshes") in the Flint Hills of Osage County near Eskridge, Kansas, then flows southeast to the confluence with the Little Osage River between Rich Hill and Schell City in Vernon County, where it become the Osage River. From there, it flows east through the Ozark highlands of the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area to Harry S. Truman Reservoir in St. Clair County, the lake being formed by a hydroelectric dam on the river. The river is about 500 miles long and drains 15,300 square miles, but only the last 57 miles or so are called the Osage River.

Runs actually begin on the Marais des Cygnes River off Highway B bridge just east of Rich Hills, adding about 8 miles to the 57 miles of the Osage River, ending at the lake. Highway O, between prairie City and Schell City, is the only intermediate access, crossing the river approximately 20 miles (this is a WILD guess!) below the put-in. The river flows through a completely natural and undeveloped wilderness area that is home to wildlife, birds and fish in great abundance, so those looking for conveniences along the river need to paddle elsewhere. For those wanting a trip where few others go, this river offers a primitive paddling experience in spades. There are no known outfitters or campgrounds anywhere near the river, so plan on bringing your own boats and gear, and running your own shuttles. This is a place to have your camera, because there is so much to see and so many memories to keep. It will never be a major paddling destination, but it offers a backwoods trip of immense natural beauty and scenery among the Ozark highlands of eastcentral Missouri.


Vernon and St. Clair Counties of eastcentral Missouri, between the Kansas-Missouri State Line and Harry S. Truman Reservoir. There are no major cities close to this river, which is situated just about midway between Kansas City to the north and Springfield to the south.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 336 miles; Joplin 75 miles; Springfield 147 miles; Kansas City 79 miles; Oklahoma City 363 miles; Little Rock 338 miles; Dallas 447 miles; Austin 637 miles; San Antonio 717 miles; Houston 749 miles; Albuquerque 905 miles; Phoenix 1,344 miles; Denver 988 miles; Salt Lake City 1,464 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 very good to excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold through a pristine wilderness area far removed from industrial, commercial or residential pollution. Flows are adequate for paddling almost year-round, weather and climate permitting.

Best Times to Go

Just about any time you are outfitted for the weather and climate conditions that you will encounter is a good time to paddle the Osage River, but paddlers need to be completely self-reliant, because no services are available anywhere near this place!

Hazards to Navigation

The Osage River is basically a flatwater river with occasional small rapids and riffles. There are sharp bends around which dead-fall debris and log jams can pile up, causing hazards to boaters, especially in high water conditions. With adequate caution and vigilance, there should be no major dangers lurking on this river for competent boaters. Due to its vast remoteness, lack of access and lack of nearby services, this trip is best left for experienced wilderness paddlers who are prepared to deal with all eventualities.

River Access Points

Highway B bridge on the Marais des Cygnes River just east of Rich Hills at 0.0 miles; Unimproved road linking Bates County Highway O from the north and Vernon County Highway AA from the south, at about 20.0 miles (very approximate guess as to distance); Any take-out along the shores of Harry S. Truman Reservoir, at least 65 miles below the Rich Hills put-in (NOTE: you may have to paddle several miles across the lake to find the nearest access point. It would be a great idea to pre-scout your take-out, then use GPS navigation to find your way there unless you are damned good with a map and compass!)

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are no campgrounds or other services located along the Osage River. This is a wilderness trip for self-reliant paddlers ONLY!

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Forget it! This stream will never have adequate paddling traffic to make an outfitter business profitable. Most of the surrounding land is in the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area, and is protected from commercial development.

Reviewer's comments

Missouri offers a wide variety of paddling opportunities, the Osage River being strikingly different from most others, where boaters can find some or many commercial services to assist them in trip planning, boat rentals, shuttles, campgrounds, supplies and other necessities. A trip to the Osage River is for wilderness paddlers who paid close attention in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts during discussions about wilderness survival. The area is pristine and undeveloped, with only a single unimproved road as intermediate access on a trip that will otherwise span at least 65 miles, depending upon where you find an access point on Harry S. Tuman Reservoir. Don't expect to see other paddlers on this river. Bring the camera, because Mother Nature is hard at work here, creating a wonderland of outdoors bounty.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 65 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Schell City
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
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 Missouri River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

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

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