The Perfect Ozarks Float Trip

Why the Ozarks?


There is an American religious movement that claims that Missouri was the Garden of Eden, the original paradise made specifically for mankind’s ultimate happiness.  They assess that “When Christians hear Mormons refer to the Garden of Eden they may incorrectly assume that the LDS believe it was by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Joseph Smith, however, claimed by revelation that the Garden of Eden was in western Missouri.”

 Regardless of your stance on the story/history, you can hardly argue as to why some call the Ozarks a paradise.   Pristine waterways with bright blue water, deep springs flow forth from gaping chasms in the ground.  Huge bluffs with greenery flowing from their edges, abundant wildlife and a rich heritage and history to the entire area all come together to make the Ozarks a fantastic vacation getaway.

Some of the views of Greer, Bennett or Meramec Springs are simply breath taking!
Some of the views of Greer, Bennett or Meramec Springs are simply breath taking!

Why The Niangua?

There are many different places in Missouri that I can readily suggest if you wanted to create your own personal “perfect Ozarks float trip”. I will start with this article outlining the “perfect Niangua Float Trip”. Keep your eye out for further articles and stories about other famous and not so famous Ozark waters.

Bennett Springs/Niangua River near Lebanon, MO

By far my favorite place in the world to float, camp, and fish is on the Niangua River. It’s my home waters and I feel like I know it best. The Niangua River starts near Springfield, Missouri and flows down into the huge man made dragon that is the Lake of the Ozarks. Along the way there is Bennett Springs, one of the larger natural springs in Missouri, and home to the Bennett Springs State Park trout fishery. The spring flows directly into the river and this is where I would begin my “perfect Niangua float trip”. There are several outfitters that can put you and your things (cooler, fishing gear, dry box, etc) in a rental canoe or raft and into the river, then they can pick you up at a marked destination downstream and take you back to your car, or (with most outfitters) you can chose to camp at one of the campsites right there at the take out. With so many different outfitters available there are options for every type of float and every type of vacationer.

Planning the Trip

The first stage to planning the trip is to decide on exactly what type of float you want to have. If you want to fish, for example, you will need to plan in more time than the outfitter might suggest is necessary (their suggested float times are based upon paddling directly downstream, will short stops along the way). Another example would be if you are a serious floater and camper and want to camp along the river overnight (ALWAYS make sure the outfitter is aware of this before putting in), you will need to prepare yourself with a more thorough study of the river map so you can tell the halfway point, locate a camp, and making the most of the trip. One final example would be if you have small children with you and you want to make sure that they have a memorable and interesting experience. (I will include specific tips for floats and camping with children later)

For the purposes of this article I will just outline a basic 2 person weekend adventure with a one day float and a campout at the outfitters riverside camping facilities. This is most likely the safest way to have the fun of the outdoors and the river with the security of knowing that civilization (emergency phone, first aid, security guards, etc) is just a few steps away. Some outfitters/riverside campgrounds even have catering!


Necessary Gear

For the Campout:

This List


Clothes pins

Waterproof pen

Tent, Sleeping bags, Pillows, Air Mattress

Large Cooler, 24 pack of bottled water, other beverage, Fresh fruit

4 Hobo Dinners (See the recipe below)

1 package bacon (or other breakfast meat)

Mayo and/or mustard


Trail mix

1 loaf of bread

1 quart saucepan

2 flashlights

Emergency Toilet paper

A few 2 gallon zip up, airtight plastic bags

Sharp folding knife

Two plates and two cups

1 fire starter log (campsites usually have firewood for sale, but it can be pricey) and a lighter

Sweet snacks (smores?)

For the Float:

Decent sized Cooler, but not too big

Dry Box of some type (one set of dry clothes, towels, bread, toilet paper, snacks etc)

One smaller dry box or 5 gallon bucket with lid (place your list and pen, the firestarter log, your lighter, your flashlights, your knife, your plates and cups, and your zippable baggies)

Fishing tackle

Folding chairs

Sunscreen or sunblock

my Original Hobo Dinner Recipe

Recipe makes two dinners

The “meatball”

1 lb ground beef

T tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup ground parsley

1/8 cup of diced green onion

1 tbsp seasoning mix (one half garlic salt, other half equal parts sea salt and ground pepper)

Mix these ingredients thoroughly and press into two ½ lb meat balls

The “Fix’ins”

Four potatoes cut into quarters or finer

 Two carrots, sliced

½ a Vidalia onion sliced

½ head of cabbage, sliced finely

1 whole tomato, quartered

1 tbsp Seasoning Mix

Aluminum Foil

You will need to use almost an entire roll of aluminum foil.  First make a 12 inch by 12 inch bed with the aluminum foil.  Make it about 4 inches deep and leave extra foil on both sides for wrapping it up.  After you have made the “Meatball” and sliced up the veggies, place them all in the foil pouch and wrap it all up tight, then wrap it up ten times over with one continuous foil wrap until it seems as water and air tight as it will get.  Place it in a VERY cold cooler and keep it VERY cold until you cook it.

Can you think of any camping supplies I forgot? 8 comments

Froggy213 profile image

Froggy213 7 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

Bug repellant

Fishin' Cricket profile image

Fishin' Cricket 7 years ago from The Ozarks Hills and Hollers of MIssouri Author

Good Catch Frogster, need BUG REPELLENT! Definitely...

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Never been on a float trip, but love the crystal clear water in the Meramec. Have a pic somewhere that shows every pebble on the river bottom taken while standing on the bank.

btw, are you aware you have two comment capsules here? Oops, there are THREE!

Erick Smart 7 years ago

Excellent river selection! I was born and raised in Springfield so I have done this one and just about every other in the area. Of course my all time favorite is the Buffalo in northern AR. I actually plan on being there in just a couple of weeks.

Lake of the Ozark Rentals 6 years ago

I have been floating in Bennett Springs and it is so peaceful and fun. Don't forget about Lake of the Ozarks! We have a ton of state parks with hiking, trails and camping.

Stephanie 5 years ago

and, you said these weren't going to be 'good'...i beg to differ! i love this one, especially...

online cricket 5 years ago

Never been on a float trip, but love the crystal clear water in the Meramec. Have a pic somewhere that shows every pebble on the river bottom taken while standing on the bank.

Laken 3 years ago

The niangua is not a good river to float on, yes it has clear water but it has police stationed ever quarter of a mile or so who will continue to harass you especially if you are drinking. I was the sober one on my last trip and I do mean last trip to niangua and we were stopped 11 times bc a person I was with looked under age. After checking her Id they continued to stop us. How many times do they need to check one persons Id? We felt harassed and it made it miserable. I won't be going back. Hooten town on the other hand is a peaceful place to float

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    The Plan


    For this particular trip you are going to go from Bennett Springs Public Access, just below the State Park, down to one of the many outfitters that has a campsite on the river. The trip will take you past a few bluffs and through a few rapids, but nothing major.  Depending upon which campsite you are to end up at, the trip can be anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.

      You will arrive on Saturday morning bright and early and load onto the bus (after securing your vehicle and locking it) with all the things you need for floating.  Usually busses start loading at 8-9 am.  They will provide you with the canoe, the life preservers, and a trash bag (please be kind? take only pictures, leave only footprints).  Make sure that you get a good look at the campground and it’s relation to the river.  You’ll want to remember it well so you don’t miss it on your way back downstream. Don’t bother picking out a campsite, they will all be moved or taken by the time you get back via the majestic Niangua River. 

    When loading your gear:  Make sure you place anything that has to stay dry in a zippable baggie, and make sure you take all your supplies (go over the list)

    The river flows at a rate of 2 miles per hour when it is around its regular 2.5 feet mark (on the USGS river gage) so you can expect to stop after about four hours and take a break on a gravel bar.  This would be a good time to eat lunch.  If you are interested in fishing I would suggest that you do that during your lunch stop as well.  Fishing from the bank is easier that fishing from the boat and on the Niangua (when fishing for trout) it is just as productive. 

    See my article on Ozarks Trout Fishing for further information.

    Here's a Niangua Video from YouTube

    Be Cautious of:

     Water Patrol!  Not that I think you would be doing anything illegal, but just be aware that the water patrol and the conservation department patrol this stretch of water heavily for your protection.

    The water in the Niangua is colder so snakes aren’t as prevalent, but they are still there.  We have common water snakes, Copperheads and Cottonmouths, but as long as you keep your eyes open and use caution when walking through high grass you should be fine.  I always advise wearing an old pair of shoes as river shoes, but you can also get river shoes that are rubber on the bottom and have great traction!  Also, when canoeing, try and stay out from under low overhanging trees, on hot days in the late summer snakes tend to lay in them to regulate their temperature.  If you bump the tree they can fall out and cause quite a scare!

    If the water is rushing into a corner or there is a stump sticking out of the water or any other type of obstruction that looks dangerous and unavoidable, err to the side of caution and get out of the boat.  Walk it around the obstacle and get back in. I always say it’s better to drag your boat through a riffle than to have to drag it out of a current when it’s filled with water.

    Remember no sudden movements, canoes are top heavy.  Also remember that in swift water it helps if you back paddle, and take rapids slowly so there’s no sudden jarring if you do hit something unexpected.

    If you do flip your canoe do not lose your cool.  Most boating accidents are cause from carelessness, and as it pertains to the rivers and canoes, it is mostly caused from trying to scrambling to keep the boat upright or to somehow escape an unavoidable situation.

    When you realize a tip over is unavoidable, first confirm that everyone is out of the boat and safe.  It is easy to lose the other member of your party when the boat flips over, sometimes they can get pulled under whatever caused the tip over and subsequently trapped by the boat under water.

    Next, collect all of your belongings (don’t forget the paddles)! Leave the boat where it is, it will be there when you get back.

    Next, in a calm manner, address the boat from the side and pull it, from one end, downstream under the water.  When it comes to a rest in calm shallow water, roll it over.  All of the water will leave the boats cavity and it will lose all of its weight.  Then you can simply flip it over and you are ready to load back up and continue along your epic journey.

    How not to enter and exit a canoe, LOL

    Niangua Outfitter Campground/Take-Out
    Niangua Outfitter Campground/Take-Out
    Fishing for the Big one!
    Fishing for the Big one!

    The Campout

    Once you arrive at your outfitters takeout/campsite you will want to pick out a camp spot.  You want to find a spot with grass or soft gravel, and preferably one that already has a campfire pit.  Make sure you observe the outfitters fire regulations (the outfitter will have all their rules posted on their storefront) and go about collecting or buying your necessary firewood.  Remember it’s better to have too much than too little.  Make sure you wait until close to dark to start your fire.

    Next set up your tent and chairs and you are ready to go! Make sure you locate the main office, the restrooms, and the security enforcement.  Also, look back over your list of camping supplies.  No matter how prepared you are, at this point you will realize something you forgot.  This is when you get out that pen and write it down for next time!

    When you get your fire started and get a good bed coals use a stick to dig out a pit in the coals and place your hobo dinners in it.  Cover over with coals and wait 25 minutes.  Uncover, flip, and cover over with coals again.  Wait another 15 minutes and then pull them from the fire and let them cool on the rocks for around 10 minutes.  Rinse them off with a bit of water then use your knife to cut a slit in the top of the foil.  Roll them over onto your plate and empty.  Enjoy!

    Overnight you will probably either have to put up with listening to the sounds of other people in the campgrounds of the funny and sometimes strange sounds of the woods at night.  Neither can hurt you (usually) and neither can be helped, unless you remembered to bring those earplugs!

    The next morning you can either choose to pack it up and head home, satisfied with your newly found status as a “weekend warrior”, or you can go for overtime and do float the river again, possibly having the outfitter let you put in at the campground and pick you up downstream at Prosperine or Leadmine!  C’mon, you know you wanna…

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    Froggy213 profile image

    Froggy213 7 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

    Oh yea--good one. Hey remember it's illegal now to give out beads and the wardens are watching.

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