Bottlebrush green thickets turn into burgundy, amber, and mahogany parchment paper leaves in that fleeting window between summer and fall. Between bluffs, lazy currents and swift rapids carry travelers through this dramatic transition of the trees. They come in handmade boats, kayaks, canoes, or atop stand-up paddleboards. Some float at Forest Park, Creve Coeur Lake, and Simpson Lake, or in the Ozarks on the Jack’s Fork, Current, or Eleven Point; others in the folds of company along the Mississippi and Missouri. 

Two St. Louis-based outfitters, Alpine Shop and Big Muddy Adventures, help facilitate safe excursions to see the fall foliage. Here’s what you can expect if you join them.

Alpine Shop
For over 40 years, this St. Louis stalwart has been leading paddling trips for the public. This fall, Perry Whittaker, kayak instructor and American Canoe Association Director, will continue to lead Fall Color Floats for the Alpine Shop that take advantage of the best autumn has to offer. 

“I don’t like crowds,” Whittaker said, “and in the spring and fall, it’s a lot quieter out there. You see a lot more wildlife when the leaves drop.”

Trips typically last three hours, but multi-day excursions are also offered. In the past, Whittaker has led groups in one-person kayaks to the Illinois River to paddle from Pere Marquette to Grafton, the Missouri River to paddle from Klondike to Weldon Spring, and the Meramec River to paddle from Pacific Palisades to Allenton. 

Whittaker is certified as an adaptive paddling instructor, which means he can lead an inclusive voyage for populations that might otherwise be excluded from outdoor spaces. He takes pride in working with disabled veterans and getting them on the river safely. In his words, the river is the ultimate equalizer.

“It’s extremely therapeutic, for physical disabilities and everything else,” Whittaker said. “The river is — I don’t use the word ‘magical’ very often — but that’s the only way to describe it.”

Fascinated by the history of the land surrounding the Mississippi River, Whittaker shares his knowledge about steamboat wrecks, explorers, and arrowheads on his guided floats. Most trips reach capacity at eight to 10 people, which allows the group to stay cohesive without becoming too scattered.

“We are told that kayaking is dangerous, that the Mississippi is dangerous, when it’s really not. If you have the proper gear and aren’t bomb drunk, you’re going to be fine,” Whittaker said.

Big Muddy Adventures
Founded 22 years ago by Mike Clark, Big Muddy Adventures (BMA) hosts at least 100 trips per season on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. They guided 3,000 people in 2022.

Big Muddy Adventures

Big Muddy Adventures on the Mississippi River.

Manager Matt Green helps facilitate all-inclusive river excursions that range from three hours to four days. All equipment, training, and meals are provided after sign-up, and prior paddling experience is not necessary. 

“We have plenty of options for all skill levels and ages,” Green said. 

With BMA, there is power in numbers. Its 29-foot voyageur canoes carry 14 people in one boat. 

“We say we paddle with big boats because we paddle big rivers,” Green said. 

On September 22, their French Corridor Expedition will return, featuring chef Josh Galliano. Attendees will paddle the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Ste. Genevieve and eat historically inspired, chef-forward meals with local ingredients. On this multi-day trip, paddlers camp overnight near the river and wake up to rustling cottonwood, willow, and oak leaves.

During peak fall foliage season, BMA will run an overnight paddling trip on October 21 from Hermann to Washington. As part of its Century Series, it will also host a 113-mile event from November 1 to November 5 from the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis to Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson, Missouri. 

On these fall trips, it’s routine to have a nightly bonfire.

A desire, conscious or unconscious, to connect with history and nature propels Missourians to seek river travel where they may otherwise use a plane, train, or automobile in their leisure time.

“I’m a huge proponent of shifting the narrative and changing perspectives,” Green said. “We are all creatures of habit. We get used to experiencing things one way. But seeing the city and surrounding area on the two largest rivers in our backyard changes peoples’ feelings about the natural landscape around St. Louis. It’s so eye-opening. 

“The city of St. Louis wouldn’t exist if the rivers didn’t exist today,” said Green. “It’s important for people to understand the history and current state of the city with its waterways.”

Terrain Magazine will host its own unique fall paddle on October 7-8 when our annual MO70 excursion returns. Combining three of the Missouri River Valley’s top outdoor activities — cycling, camping, and canoeing — the MO70 is an all-inclusive adventure that will allow participants to explore the iconic Katy Trail and Missouri River, with an overnight stay in Hermann during the town’s Oktoberfest celebration. Learn more at

Author: Aurora Blanchard is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.