Although most people enjoy getting away for a relaxing vacation, the beach life isn’t suited for everyone. Some people prefer a little more activity and adventure in a place a little closer to home.
Going on a canoe trip is a fun compromise for those who have a knack for the outdoors. Missouri has an active canoeing and floating scene, especially in the southern part of the state. Michelle Lambeth, executive director of the Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association, says the state has 59 rivers and streams, 35 to 40 of which are floatable year-round. Most are just a few hours’ drive away.
“The paddle sports industry is a very popular outdoor activity. It’s very affordable, and people young and old enjoy it,” she says.
Even people with limited experience can acclimate to conditions on the water quickly. Ms. Lambeth says rivers are rated from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging. Missouri doesn’t have any rivers with a 5 rating (which usually involves extreme white water rapids), and most of the well-known float destinations in the state are rated 1. As long as you put safety first and do some research beforehand, you’ll soon learn the ins and outs of handling a canoe.
“I think for anybody that is just learning how to canoe, when sitting in a canoe the person that sits in the front is the gas, the power. The person in the back of the canoe is the steering wheel,” Ms. Lambeth explains.
Consider the type of trip you want to have before making travel plans. If you are a beginner or want a more relaxing float experience, pick a stream that tends to be less crowded. If you’re with a family, school or a church group, it might be a good idea to go in the middle of the week to avoid weekend party crowds. If you want to stretch your trip over a few days and include some camping, choose a longer route.
“Every river in the state of Missouri is different. The Meramec and the Niangua are similar in flow, as far as the challenge. The Niangua is a spring-fed river, so depending on the different parts of the river, it’s gonna be pretty cold. The Current (River) is gonna be pretty cold,” she says.
It’s important to practice safety in any type of physical activity, but especially when you’re out on the water. Ms. Lambeth says unfortunately, there already has been one river-related death this season. Make sure heavy rains haven’t caused flood conditions in the stream you plan on visiting, because even experienced floaters can’t contend with rushing flood water.
Try to avoid root wads, rocks, tree trunks and other debris that might be floating in the river. If you bump into an obstacle, lean into it rather than away from it so the canoe won’t flip over. Deeper water usually is still and calm while shallow water tends to be choppy or rocky, so be aware of water conditions around every bend. Ms. Lambeth’s rule of thumb is “when in doubt, get out.”
“If you see something coming up and you’re skeptical of your ability to navigate through, pull over to the side and walk your canoe through,” she says.
By law, children under age 8 should wear life jackets at all times. Adults are encouraged to wear them as much as possible too, but at the very least they should be easily accessible and able to be put on at a moment’s notice. Take frequent breaks, especially if you’re with kids, so everyone can rest and cool down in the water.
Bring a cooler stocked with snacks, drinks and plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Ms. Lambeth says it’s shockingly easy to get dehydrated without knowing it. And of course, wear plenty of sunscreen to combat the sun’s rays.
Visit missouricanoe.org to learn more about Missouri’s rivers and streams, and the outfitting companies that service them.