overnight canoe trips in the midwest

Hi, i am looking for some ideas and information on some overnight trips my wife and I can take around the Midwest. we live in Missouri but are willing to travel. we will need to rent a canoe as well. we are new to this but i have been around the outdoors my entire life and have done boundary waters trip. really looking for rivers to float and tips on what to do and not to do. any information is helpful. also looking in to doing some fishing on these trips.

Missouri alone
Has many overnight camping rivers


11 point

Jacks Fork

Google Ozark National Riverways

Also the Buffalo in Arkansas

You don’t have to go far!

additional info?
hi do you have any additional info such as outfitters or tips on doing these overnighters. this will be my wifes first overnight trip and dont want her to have a bad experience. Thanks in advance

That would be a book
Cmon dude do some research yourself

There are a ton of outfitters on both rivers.

It all depends on how much you want to be out

The Current is good for 1-6 days

The Buffalo National River has its own website. It’s 130 miles long

And has many outfitters licensed depending on what area you want to paddle

I’ve used two or three on the Buff for shuttles and Akers on the Current

But I am not about to research a full list for you.

As Kim pointed out, the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks have the best canoe/camping rivers in the lower Midwest. What makes them so good is they are largely protected (by either the National Park Service for the US Forest Service) and that long stretches are spring-fed so that many miles can be paddled throughout the year, including the dry months of summer and early fall when most other rivers are too low.

If you have not explored the Current River, Jacks Fork River, or the Eleven Point River, you should certainly do so first. The Jacks Fork River is a tributary of the Current River that joins the Current at Two Rivers, downstream of the small town of Eminence, Missouri. Much of the Jacks Fork and Current River fall within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and is administered by the National Park Service. A zoomable map of the ONSR can be found here:


For additional information regarding the ONSR including camping and regulations, visit the National Park Service website for the ONSR. In normal years, the Current can be paddled from Cedargrove down, although in a loaded canoe the first few miles from Cedargrove to Welch Spring can be scrapy in the drier months. The Jacks Fork can usually be paddled from Alley Spring to its junction with the Current. Below Two Rivers on the Current you will start to encounter more motorized traffic, and you will get some on the stretch from Round Spring to Two Rivers.

The Eleven Point River lies to the south of the Current and Jacks Fork and is administered by the US Forest Service. Here is a map of access points and float camps:


More detailed info regarding the Eleven Point can be found here:


In normal years the Eleven Point can be paddled from Greer Spring down even in the drier months. The upper stretches of the Eleven Point, Jacks Fork, and Current require more water than the springs provide and can generally only be easily paddled following heavy rains or during the wetter months.

Regarding additional suggestions, I would first suggest that you look for one additional person or couple who can join you on your trip. There are two reasons for this. The first is that in the unlikely event that someone is injured or becomes ill, a group of three allows one person to stay with the disabled party while the other goes for help. The other reason is that if you can find another person who has a vehicle that can carry boats, you may be able to save a lot of money on shuttle fees, even if you still have to rent equipment.

Shuttle and rental fees in this area tend to be high. Here is a website that provides some fee information, although it may not be up to date:


It does identify the outfitters, however. Note that most of the shuttle rates listed would apply to day trips only. Shuttling a vehicle to a takeout is time consuming, requires two people and requires the outfitter to drive one of their vehicles in addition to yours. If you can do all the driving yourself, you may find the rental rates more reasonable. If you want an outfitter to meet you at a specific take-out point, it requires a good estimate of when you will actually arrive there, which may not be easy to come by especially if you are new to these rivers.

Weather and water levels: Check gauge levels before your trip to make sure the water levels are not too high. If you can’t find the gauge info or can’t interpret the levels, check with the outfitter or ask on this forum. Check weather predictions immediately before your trip but realize that they are not always going to be accurate. Be cautious about putting on a multi-day trip if heavy rains are a possibility. These rivers are not really “remote” but convenient access points can be as much as 19 miles apart.

Camping: the Jacks Fork and Current are well-provided with gravel bars suitable for camping. You may not be able to easily drive tent stakes into gravel bars. Some lines attached to the stake-out loops on your tent can be wrapped around larger rocks or dead fall and secured with additional rocks. There are also bags that can be attached to your tent corners and filled with rocks. You will almost certainly be sleeping on sometimes coarse gravel, so good pads are a must. Avoid camping on islands if there is any possibility of rain in the area or upstream as rising water can leave you with no easy or quick retreat. As you probably know from the Boundary Waters, a stiff wind can flip your canoe into the river and send it on downstream before you can react, so secure it in some fashion.

The Eleven Point has somewhat fewer gravel bars although they do exist. The Eleven Point has quite a few float camps and there are several NPS campgrounds on the Current as well.

Hazards: apart from the possibility of high water and bad weather, the most prominent hazards on these rivers are “rootwads” or other strainers. At times, these might require judicious paddling and boat control to avoid and perhaps even an occasional short portage. The rivers rate a Class I in difficulty, although there is a very occasional rapid that might approach a Class II such as Hall’s Bay Chute on the Eleven Point, or one or two rapids on the upper Jacks Fork.

Since you will be paddling much of the time on land under the administration of either the NPS or the US Forest Service you should familiarize yourself with the regulations. For example, no glass containers allowed on the waterways in paddle craft. You are also not supposed to enter caves because of the white nose syndrome that is adversely affecting the bat population, and no swimming or wading in springs. Purple blazes indicate the boundaries of privately-owned land.

1 Like

Sorry to offend you
I wasnt looking for you to plan my trip for me. all i was looking for was some input. I was hoping that a person could give me some help in pick one based on experience or word of mouth. i can clearly do my own research and find any outfitter that i can use. i was alos looking for some helpful tips because i have only done the one trip to the BWCA.


The only problem with…
the Current, Jacks Fork, Eleven Point, and Buffalo is that they can be crowded. If you’d like a bit more solitude there are many other rivers offering overnight floats with usually enough water to float. I’ve floated nearly all of them at one time or another, so here’s a list with comments:

Meramec–just as crowded, just as likely to encounter motorboats, as much of the Current and Eleven Point, but the stretch from Onondaga Cave to Meramec State Park is a perfect overnight float and as pretty as any stream in the Ozarks.

Big Piney (Missouri)–the stretch from Slabtown to Ross Bridge makes a nice, short two day trip, can be crowded with canoes, not so much with motorheads.

Gasconade–a bit slower, with longer pools, than many Ozark streams. Two possibilities are served by canoe rentals; above I-44 (served by Gasconade Hills Canoes and Campground), and Riddle Bridge to Boiling Spring (served by Boiling Spring Campground). Beautiful scenery, not all that crowded except the Boiling Spring area can have a lot of motorboats on weekends.

Niangua–there are a bunch of canoe rentals in the Bennett Spring area that can possibly service you for a float from their places down to Lead Mine Conservation Area. Not very crowded once you get below Barclay Access, and quite pretty.

James River–moderately crowded, moderately beautiful, several nice floats in the Hootentown Area and above Galena.

Elk River/Big Sugar Creek–beautiful clear water, lots of floaters.

North Fork River–from Twin Bridges down, beautiful (and cold) water, several places to rent canoes. It’s very pretty and not crowded.

Black River–a whole bunch of canoe rentals in the Lesterville Area, and some are nice enough to put you in in their area and pick you up at Highway K, others aren’t. Clearest water in the Ozarks, or at least tied for it, and pretty scenery with huge, clean gravel bars everywhere and enough water to float. But can be a real zoo on weekends.

Kings River–above the Berryville area where the canoe rentals are, it is often too low for easy floating, but there are two days of floating below there if you can get somebody to shuttle you. Moderately scenic, not many people.

Ouachita River–in southern Arkansas, it’s a bit different kind of river from the Ozark streams. It can get too low to float.

Nearly all these rivers can have plenty of people on nice summer weekends but if you can go during the week you are likely to be almost by yourself. Google the river name and you’ll get info on canoe rentals.

There are a whole bunch of other rivers that either aren’t serviced by canoe rentals or have inconsistent water supply. I tend to spend more time on them because they have fewer people and I don’t mind scraping bony riffles to get away from people and have good fishing. But I won’t name them.

The Missouri River
offers many miles of paddling and camping opportunities inside the state alone. What part of Missouri are you located in? Contact me for info.