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Missouri River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 136 to US Highway 159 west of Big Lake State Park
~ 36.6 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

It has been called "The Big Muddy. It has been called "The Mighty Mo". Its real name is the Missouri River, and it holds the distinction of being the second longest river in the United States, flowing about 2,315 miles from its headwaters in Montana to the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Along the way it carries large volumes of silt, hence the nickname, "Big Muddy", gathered from numerous rivers, creeks and streams that feed a drainage basin of more than 530,000 square miles into the river that eventually drains into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans via the Mississippi River.

The Missouri River forms the partial border between Nebraska and Iowa, along which it then flows south by southeast along the Nebraska-Missouri and Kansas-Missouri State Lines, entering the "Show Me" state just southeast of Nebraska City, then flowing through St. Joseph to Kansas City, where it turns east and begins snaking its way across Missouri to St. Louis. It is fed by the Platte, Little Platte, Crooked, Blackwater, Grand, Locust, Chariton, Cedar, Osage, Gasconade, Meramec and Big Rivers, as well as the other Missouri Rivers that feed those. The "Mighty Mo" offers many recreational opportunities for paddlers, campers, hikers, bikers, fishermen, hunters and other outdoors lovers along its waters, though most paddlers will be found on tributaries and tributaries of tributaries rather than on the "Big Muddy" itself. The reach described in this review spans the section between US Highway 136 near the extreme northwest corner of Missouri near the Iowa-Nebraska-Missouri State Line to Big Lake State Park along the Nebraska-Missouri State Line.

To be sure, this is a barge canal that is often plied by large cargo barges, but it has many access points were canaoes and kayaks can put in and take out, and its super flat gradient of 1 fpm insures a generally calm river that just about anybody can paddle without too jmuch concern, though you should always be vililant of much larger boats that might not see a very small boat.


Atchison and Holt Counties, along the far northwestern Missouri State Line, beginning near the Iowa-Nebraska-Missouri State Line and ending near the Nebraska-Kansas-Missouri State Line.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 371 miles; Joplin 265 miles; Springfield 284 miles; Kansas City 115 miles; Oklahoma City 481 miles; Little Rock 528 miles; Dallas 686 miles; Austin 876 miles; San Antonio 956 miles; Houston 942 miles; Albuquerque 1,023 miles; Phoenix 1,462 miles; Denver 1,106 miles; Salt Lake City 1,582 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 generally fair to good, flowing clean, silty and cool above St. Joseph. The water will almost always appear reddish-brown in color due to the large quantities of silt it carries to the Mississippi Delta from its headwaters in Montana.

Best Times to Go

The Might Mo is always ready to go. This river has a perpetual flow along its entire course across Missouri.

Hazards to Navigation

Swift currents and depth are probably the two biggest hazards on the Missouri River. There are no major rapids or waterfalls, and with caution, the river can be paddled by just about anybody in canoes, kayaks and rafts. PFD's should ALWAYS be worn when boating, and that is especially true on this river because of its strong currents and water depth. Beware of cargo barges plying the river - they may not be able to see you, and they cannot turn or stop quickly.

River Access Points

US Highway 136 Bridge(N 40° 23' 56.12" / W 095° 39' 12.01") just south of the Iowa-Nebraska-Missouri State Line at 0.0 miles; Lewis & Clark Campsite (N 40° 23' 35.97" / W 095° 35' 58.31") off E. Allen Street in Brownville, NE on river right at about 0.45 miles; Langton Bend Public Access (N 40° 20' 19.52" / W 095° 37' 18.58") on river left at about 4.60 miles; Hoot Owl Bend Public Access (N 40° 18' 54.56" / W 095䓤' 54.03") at Morgan's Island on river left at about 10.0 miles; Access west of Golden Avenue (N 40° 16' 48.83" / W 095° 32' 59.26") at Corning on river left at about 14.6 miles; Nebraska boat ramp off Indian Cave Recreation Road (N 40° 15' 20.72" / W 095° 32' 25.73") on river right at about 16.7 miles; Primitive access of Askwood Drive (N 40° 13' 55.95" / W 095° 28' 08.81") just southwest of Corning on river left at about 21.0 miles; Austin Road boat ramp (N 40° 10' 07.40" / W 095° 27' 26.72") at Thurnau Conservation Area o river left at about 26.1 miles; Beach just east of 661 Avenue and 710 Road (N 40° 06' 52.33" / W 095° 23' 39.24") in Nebraska on river right at about 31.8 miles; US Highway 159 Bridge (N 40° 03' 12.51" / W 095° 25' 10.01") just west of Big Lake State Park on river left opposite Rulo, Nebraska at about 36.6 miles. There are many other possible access points for this reach of the Missouri River.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are no known campgrounds located along this reach of the Missouri River other than at Big Lake State Park at the end, which offers excellent camping facilities with restrooms, drinking water and many other amenities. Much of the land adjoining the river along this reach is privately owned, and camping should be done only after obtaining landowner permission. Beware of camping too close to the river, as it can rise suddenly from rains many miles upriver, with dire consequences for those caught in its very strong current.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known outfitters providing boat rentals or shuttle services along this reach of the Missouri River. Bring eveything you need, then run your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

The Might Mo is a very muddy river, but one with a good current and always with adequate water for paddling. If you are looking for crystal clear water, then this is NOT the river for you. It carries a large volume of silt from its Montana headwaters to the Mississippi River, so it will always be reddish-brown. The river is deep and wide, and its strong current demands careful boating, which means WEARING your PFD rather than using it for a seat cushion. This reach is very remote, with little development near the river, though major highways are always not that far away. This run ends near the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Reserve at Big Lake State Park, an excellent place to camp at the end of a long journey. It is rated Class I to II, the higher rating coming as a result of swift currents and deep waters rather than from obstructions such as rapids and waterfalls. This is not the most scenic place to paddle, but it is the best volume of water to be found anywhere near the corners of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 36.6 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 136
Lat. / Long. N 40° 23' 56.12" / W 095° 39' 12.01"
Last Take-out US Highway 159 (Near Big lake SP)
Lat. / Long. N 40° 03' 12.51" / W 095° 25' 10.01"
Elevation 896 - 859 feet msl
Gradient 1 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: ()
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 Missouri River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

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

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