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Niangua River, Missouri
Report by Marc W. McCord

MDC Big John Access to Bennett Springs State Park
~ 28.5 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.

Between MDC Big John Access and Bennett Springs State Park is the most popular reach of the Niangua River for paddlers. Numerous outfitters along, or very near, the river offer canoe, kayak, raft and tube rentals, shuttles, campgrounds and many other services to make your visit fun, easy and relaxing. This section of the river rivals the Meramec River, Courtois Creek, Huzzah Creek, the Current River and several other great Missouri streams in the number of spring and summertime visitors it attracts. This absolutely gorgeous section of the river offers easy flatwater paddling that almost anybody can enjoy regardless of skills or experience. Its gentle flow allows you to float or paddle according to your preferences, and great access makes trips here very convenient. The scenery here is great, and not all of it belongs to the water, wildlife and plantlife! A heron rookery is located about 4 miles into this run, but please do not disturb it. The Great Blue Heron is my spirit guide, and leads me down almost every river I ever paddle. This reach is very popular with families, church and social groups, Scouting organizations, paddling clubs and anybody else who wants to spend some time on a great river steeped in history and offering near year-round flow conditions as it winds its way back and forth across the Dallas-Laclede County Line.


Southcentral Missouri, flowing from Buffalo to Bennett Springs State Park in Dallas and Laclede Counties, just east of Lebanon and northeast of Springfield, about 30 miles away.

Distance from major cities

St. Louis 177 miles; Joplin 102 miles; Springfield 30 miles; Kansas City 150 miles; Oklahoma City 318 miles; Little Rock 365 miles; Dallas 523 miles; Austin 713 miles; San Antonio 793 miles; Houston 779 miles; Albuquerque 860 miles; Phoenix 1,300 miles; Denver 943 miles; Salt Lake City 1,419 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

MDC Big John Access low-water bridge off SH 32 and CR 32-79 to CR K-161, about 1.2 miles east of Buffalo, at 0.0 miles; MDC Williams Ford Access off Highway MM to CR MM-123 to CR K-143 at about 10.9 miles (poor access due to high bank); Highway K - P bridge at about 14.9 miles; MDC Moon Valley Access on CR 00-126 has a gravel ramp at about 20.9 miles; Private campground and access on river left at about 22.5 miles; Bennett Spring State Park Access on river left off SH 64 at about 28.5 miles.

Campgrounds and Accommodations

There are many commercial campgrounds located along this reach of the Niangua River, or in very near proximity, as well as at Bennett Spring State Park (417-532-4338), where this run ends. Camping is NOT allowed at the MDC access points. Most of the outfitters listed below provide campground facilities with varying services.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

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

Reviewer's comments

If you enjoy meeting people and paddling with new friends, then this reach of the Niangua River is right up your alley! Many local outfitters are located along this reach, and from spring through mid-fall, the river is a very popular place to canoe, kayak, raft or tube. Its near year-round nature makes the run between Big John and Bennett Spring State Park inviting at all times. Abundant commercial campgrounds, as well as state park facilities, provide ample opportunities for overnight trips. The river is a tree-lined, boaters paradise where the scenery on the river is frequently as good, or better, than the surrounding natural scenery. The gentle current and flat gradient make this trip enjoyable for paddlers of all ages and skills, as attested by the variety of people you will see here. Bring a camera and LOTS of film when you come to the Niangua River.

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 28.5 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in MDC Big John Access
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Bennett Springs State Park
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 4 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Tunnel Dam
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Early-April through September
Permits No

The beautiful Niangua River - Photo courtesy Ryan Mooney
Niangua River photo courtesy Ryan Mooney

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

The beautiful Niangua River - Photo courtesy Ryan Mooney
Niangua River photo courtesy Ryan Mooney

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 other sections of the Niangua River where you want to paddle.

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

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 ]

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