When visitors think of St. Louis, they might think of a bustling city with fabulous restaurants. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a beautiful area with a wide range of ways to enjoy nature. Kayaking is a popular way to get out and enjoy the natural areas around St. Louis.
The area has several slow-moving rivers, calm lakes, and even one stretch of exciting rapids. Several of the river trips are best enjoyed by floating downriver. Kayakers can rent kayaks from a local shop and arrange drop-off and pick-up points to avoid paddling upstream. Kayak shops also provide shuttle services for those who bring their own kayaks.
Kayak trips around St. Louis are known for their scenic beauty and wildlife spotting opportunities.
1. Meramec State Park, MO
Beginner paddlers and families will love paddling in Meramec State Park. The Meramec River has a gentle current through the state park. The waters are calm enough to sit back, enjoy a relaxing paddle, or float with the current. Paddlers enjoy the beautiful bluffs towering above them. In addition, paddlers often spot wildlife in the woods.
Paddlers can also venture near Fisher Cave, an impressive spot to explore and take photos.
There’s a kayak launch in the park. Rentals are available at Ozark Outdoors Resort. Ozark Outdoors Resort offers many ways to enjoy this area. Paddlers can put it at the upper location and be picked up further downstream after enjoying a paddle downriver.
To get to Meramac State Park, drive on Interstate I-44 to Exit 226. Then, take MO-185 South towards Sullivan and follow the signs to the park.
2. Lake Lincoln in Cuivre River, MO
Cuivre River was named after a French explorer. Cuivre River is often called the “Little Ozarks” due to its picturesque scenery.
One of the easiest ways to access the beautiful Cuivre River is at Cuivre River State Park. Here, paddlers can enjoy the 55-acre Lake Lincoln. Lake Lincoln often has crystal clear water and always has beautiful views. You can bring your own paddle craft or rent kayaks or canoes at the state park.
Lake Lincoln is a calm body of water and is suitable for beginners. It will take most paddlers about an hour and a half to paddle the lake’s shoreline. There’s plenty of fish in the lake, so if you like kayak fishing, check out Lake Lincoln.
Paddlers can put their kayaks in at the Old Monroe Boat Ramp. Kayak rentals are available at Cuivre River State Park. To get to the state park, take 70 W to the Troy Hwy 47 exit and follow the signs for the park.
3. Big River in Washington State Park, MO
Big River is best suited for intermediate paddlers. The Big River flows through Washington State Park, Twin River Park, Cedar Hill Park, and St. Francois State Park. Big River only has two kayak outfitters and is often a quiet, less populated river to paddle. It’s also a good spot for fishing; either fish from shore and take your rods with you and try and catch a fish as you paddle downstream.
Paddlers can launch kayaks at Washington State Park or rent kayaks at Missouri Park Adventures.
Missouri Park Adventures can arrange for a three-mile float or a seven-mile float. Staff will pick paddlers up at the Big River Day Use Area, and then paddlers will be picked up either three miles or seven miles downstream.
The area around Big River has great hiking trails if you want to add some land-based exercise to your kayaking adventure.
To get to Missouri Park Adventures, take Interstate I-55 S. Then take Exit 174B for US Highway 67S, then MO-110W and MO-21 S to MO-104E.
4. Huzzah Creek, MO
Huzzah Creek flows through the legendary Mark Twain National Forest. This narrow creek features constant twists and offers beautiful vistas around each turn. The creek goes through hardwood forests, and paddlers often see various birdlife flying along the creek banks. The Huzzah River is cool and refreshing on a hot summer day, and the water is crystal clear.
This creek provides a great adventure for all levels, including beginners. You can launch your boat at Highway 8 or from Scotia. Rental kayaks are available at Huzzah Valley Resort. If you rent a kayak at Huzzah Valley Resort, they can arrange for one-way floats down the river. The most popular rental lasts a day. Paddlers leave the launch point and then arrive at the campground for lunch. After lunch, they can continue downstream to the pick-up point.
To get to Huzzah Creek, take Interstate I-44 toward Leasburg, then take Pattons Road Fsr 21.
5. Sam A. Baker State Park, MO
Kayaking the St. Francis River is absolutely stunning. The spectacular St. Francois mountains provide a breathtaking vista as you kayak this untouched landscape. The city lights and skyscrapers of St. Louis are a distant memory as you admire the scenery on the St. Francis River.
If you enjoy being immersed in nature, you will love the St. Francis River. Sam A. Baker Park has a launch for personal kayaks and canoes. If you need a rental, check out Explore the Ozarks.
They offer downstream trips in rental canoes and kayaks. Trips range from 4 miles to 18 miles, and these trips take between 2 and 12 hours.
Fishing is available at the park, either from the shore or as you paddle.
To get to Sam A. Baker Park, take Interstate I-55S to US Highway 67S. Then take MO-34W to MO-143.
6. Gasconade River, MO
Gasconade River is the longest flowing river in Missouri.
Gasconade River is less frequented than some more popular kayaking destinations but is truly enjoyable and relaxing. Gasconade River is suitable for all skill levels. In addition, this area is known for its photography possibilities and beautiful vistas.
Gasconade Hills offers rentals and shuttle services. Popular trips include a 4-mile float, 6-mile float, or a 10-mile float. For the 6-mile and 10-mile trips, paddlers are dropped off at the put-in site and float back to the Gasconade Hills location.
The four-mile float travels from Gasconade Hills to Hwy 66 Bridge and takes about two hours. The six-mile float travels from Barlow Ford to Gasconade Hills. Most paddlers complete this paddle in about three hours. The ten-mile float travels from Black Ford to Gasconade Hills and takes about five hours.
Take Interstate I-44 to MO-17S toward Buckhorn to reach the river.
7. St. Francis River, MO
If you are a more advanced paddler and enjoy whitewater kayaking, check out the Saint stretch on the St. Francis River. The upper run is rated as Class II and runs for 3.3 miles. The lower run is rated as Class II and III and runs for 2.3 miles. The rapids run through granite shut-ins and bedrock.
The Missouri Whitewater Championships are hosted along this popular stretch. The Saint is the only whitewater kayaking destination in Missouri. The Saint is popular during Spring high water.
If you are just getting started with whitewater kayaking, the Missouri Whitewater Association holds a two-day clinic every spring.
To get there, take Interstate I-55 south to US Highway 67 south to Fredericktown. Then, take Highway 72 to Highway D to the Millstream Gardens & Silver Mines Recreation Area. Paddlers should bring their own kayaks.
8. Creve Coeur Lake, MO
Creve Coeur Lake offers peaceful paddling on a large lake. Creve Coeur is French for “broken heart”. This U-shaped lake is one of the largest natural lakes in Missouri. It is 320 acres big, has a four-mile circumference, and it will take most paddlers about two hours to paddle around the lake.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the county fair was held on the lake’s shore. In 1974, the lake was dredged, and its depth increased from 18 inches to 10 feet.
Visitors can find the unique “Dripping Springs” waterfall on the southeast shore.
There are several boat ramps around the lake for kayak owners to use. Paddlers can use the Creve Coeur South Boat Ramp or the Creve Coeur Lake Boat Ramp.
Creve Couer Lake Rentals offers kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals.
Take Interstate I-64W to Interstate I-270N to Maryland Heights Expressway. Then take Exit 16 for State Highway D, and take MO-264. Take Exit 17 to the destination.
9. Simpson Lake, MO
Simpson Lake is a great spot for beginners and families. It has been named one of the best places to go fishing as a family. Simpson Lake offers calm waters and beautiful tree-lined vistas. This is a popular spot for nature lovers and birdwatchers. Swans often swim in the lake, and birdwatchers often see Bald Eagles here.
Simpson Lake is a beautiful place to paddle at sunset as the sun sets directly over the lake. It’s a photographer’s delight!
Paddlers can bring their own boats and launch from the shore. Rent kayaks with SUP St. Louis. You can also take SUP beginner lessons or SUP yoga lessons on this tranquil lake. The park has a fishing dock, picnic shelter, and a playground.
Take Interstate I-44W to Big Bend Rd and arrive at Valley Park, Simpson Lake.
10. Black River, MO
The Black River is crystal clear and offers paddlers beautiful mountain views and fishing. Tall, lush trees line the shores. This river is perfect for one-way trips, so you can float downstream. As you paddle, watch the tall cliff walls, beautiful forests, and interesting caves that line the river. Paddlers often see wildlife and birdlife along the shoreline.
Black River is known as the clearest, cleanest river in Missouri.
The Black River has a current that runs at about one knot. This makes it ideal for kayakers who want to paddle downriver and be picked up by a shuttle service. Jeff’s Canoe Rental offers a six-mile and an eleven-mile float. The six-mile float takes three to four hours, and the eleven-mile float takes six to eight hours.
Take Interstate I-55 South to US Highway 67. Take US 67 South to Madison 517.