A state where rivers run and lakes lounge, Missouri is home to thousands of places to enjoy the water year-round. As you travel the state, you’ll discover each body of water has its own idiosyncrasies. Fishing, skiing, boating, floating, swimming, scuba ... all are here, in Missouri. Let us introduce some iconic waterways, plus just a few attractions along the way, to help you get a feel for what we have to offer.
The Missouri River
The river that defined the American frontier in the 19th century winds its way across the state, from the Iowa border north of Kansas City, merging with the mighty Mississippi River in St. Louis. The Katy Trail State Park (the longest rail-to-trail walking/bicycling trail in the U.S.) parallels scenic stretches of the Missouri River. Along the way, venture back to the Wild West in St. Joseph, at the Pony Express National Museum and the Jesse James Home (where the infamous outlaw was gunned down in 1882); relax and enjoy the spectacular river views at Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport, Canterbury Hill Winery in Holts Summit (just across the river from Jefferson City), OakGlenn Winery in Hermann and Montelle Winery in Augusta. Tour the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
The Mississippi River
Mark Twain knew it well: there are adventures aplenty on the Mighty Mississippi. Take a paddle-boat ride aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat (Memorial Day-Labor Day) in Hannibal; take home a handmade treasure from the artist/artisan colony of Clarksville; visit the site where the Missouri and Mississippi merge, at the Confluence Point State Park in St. Louis; visit the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and ride the tram to the top for breathtaking views; tour the French village of Ste. Genevieve, the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi; visit the mural-filled city of Cape Girardeau, guardian of the river during the Civil War; walk “onto the river,” on the Observation Deck in New Madrid.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways – A National Park
Two of America’s clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers – the Current River and the Jacks Fork River – anchor the 80,000-acre Ozark National Scenic Riverways, America’s first congressional-designated national park for the preservation of a wild river system. Canoe/kayak outfitters have everything you need for an hour, a day or several days floating and exploring these (and other) beautiful rivers.
Terrific Trout Fishing Streams
Three Missouri State Parks are outstanding spots for trout fishing in cool, spring-fed streams. In addition to fishing, Bennett Spring State Park, Roaring River State Park and Montauk State Park feature swimming pools, nature centers, playgrounds, dining options, lodging and camping. In addition to these parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) stocks rainbow trout in 18 Missouri lakes; one trout-park, privately owned by a philanthropic foundation (Maramec Spring Park); and more than 120 miles of non-commercial, spring-fed streams. Annually, MDC releases more than two million Missouri raised rainbow trout, ranging from 3/4 of a pound to four-pounders ... but much larger lunkers are out there.
Harry S Truman Reservoir
Missouri’s largest lake (55,600-acre surface area), Truman Reservoir is an angler’s paradise, and particularly popular for groups in pontoon boats. Surrounded by more than 100,000 acres of land, the neighboring area offers horseback riding, hiking and camping. Get a bird’s-eye view of the lake, and its waterfowl, from the bluff-top Harry S. Truman Dam Visitor Center, outside of Warsaw. Marinas on the lake have boat rentals, launch ramps and general supplies.
Mark Twain Lake
The standing timber on the bottom of the 18,000-acre Mark Twain Lake provides a perfect habitat for fish. The unspoiled shoreline serves as a great destination for people who have a passion for fishing, boating, swimming and lakeside camping. Step into the life and times of Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) at Mark Twain State Park and the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site, in the small Missouri town of Florida (38 miles west of Hannibal).
Lake of the Ozarks
This is a vacation hot spot. With a 54,000-acre surface, hundreds of winding coves, a length of 92 miles end-to-end and more than 1,100 miles of shoreline, the Lake of the Ozarks has more miles of shoreline than the Pacific coast of California. The upper arm of the lake is serene, while the bustling lower sections offer everything from quiet camping to upscale resorts at water's edge. Wide open, with deep channels, this lake is great for boating, water-skiing and personal watercraft. Explore the castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park; try your skills at a mind boggling abundance of golf courses; enjoy all manner of water sports; eat everything from tacos to batter fried lobster and Dover sole; zoom through the air on a zipline and beneath a parasail; and shop till you drop. “The Lake” has it all.
Table Rock Lake
Nestled in the striking Ozark Mountains, Table Rock Lake is one of the prettiest lakes in the country. Visitors to Branson can make their headquarters at Table Rock State Park, or choose from literally hundreds of campgrounds, motels, condos, cabins, resorts and other lodging choices in and around Branson. With nearly 800 miles of shoreline and deep clear water, it is ideal for fishing, pleasure boating and scuba diving. Spend some time at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre reserve with waterfalls, caves, bison and fantastic scenery, where you can hike, ride a horse, and take guided tram tours. Be sure to visit the Titanic Museum Attraction, Experience life aboard Titanic, just as it was on her maiden (and only) voyage, April 1912. Oh, and don’t forget all of the sights, sounds, activities, shopping, shows and activities of Branson, the “Live Music Show Capital of the World.”
One of the most crooked rivers in the world, the Gasconade is the longest river completely within the boundary of Missouri, winding 265+ water-miles from its source near Hartville before empting into the Missouri River near the town of Gasconade – in a straight line, it is only 120 miles. In an area near Waynesville, you can float for 15 water-miles and be only two miles overland from where you started. There are caves and an abundance of wildlife along the waterway; the river is popular for its bass fishing.
Floatable Rivers & Streams
Missouri is blessed with more than 30 floatable waterways. For details and maps on all of them, plus a directory of canoe outfitters and facilities, check the Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association website.
You’ve heard the saying: “Water, water everywhere.” In Missouri, that is more than accurate — and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. Get out there and enjoy them year-round.