Summer is here, and you know what that means: It’s float trip time! Missouri is teeming with incredible opportunities to hop in (or on) a watercraft to enjoy a day on a world-class scenic river. But that doesn’t mean you should shove off without any planning or forethought. Area float trip operators know, with all the excitement, that it can be easy to forget the basics when it comes to executing a fun and safe getaway. Here are their top 10 tips on how to enjoy a great day on Missouri’s best floating rivers.

1. Check the forecast but be prepared.

We all know how fickle Missouri weather can be. It’s best to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way. “There are limited sight lines on the river. Storms can sneak up in a hurry,” said Stacy Smith, owner/operator of Carr’s Canoe Rental (Round Spring, Mo.) on the Current River. “Multiple layers, synthetic/SPF-rated clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and a light rain jacket will keep you covered for a day on the river,” he continued. Smith also advises bringing a plastic bag for wet clothes, along with a towel and dry clothes for the ride home.

2. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

“Alcohol and sunshine are a bad combo,” said Yvette Clary, assistant manager of Huzzah Valley Resort (Steelville, Mo.) on the Huzzah River. “You get on the river, have a few drinks and — whoops — forget to put sunscreen on. The result can be dangerous,” she said. Pre-applying SPF 30+ is the way to go, on any exposed skin, remembering to get the tops of your hands and feet as well, as these sensitive areas will be exposed to the sun all day. Bring extra with you, so you can reapply throughout the day.

3. If it can’t get wet, leave it at home.

“Everyone wants to bring their phone and keys,” said Julie Bass of Bass’ River Resort (Steelville, Mo.), which serves the Meramec, Courtois, and Huzzah rivers. “We sell a ton of dry bags from our shop, but my advice [is] leave the valuables at home and stash your keys in your car. There is zero reason to have your keys on the river,” she said. If it has to come along, double-bag it — dry bags, phone bags, Ziploc bags, whatever it takes.

4. Fuel up for the entire day.

If you’re doing a day trip from St. Louis, it will be a long day when you factor in the drive to/from the river. Smith advises packing extra provisions: breakfast food, waterproofed sandwiches, and plenty of water for the entire group, with extra snacks for the drive home.

5. Drink lots of water and keep the alcohol in moderation.

“Dehydration is a real danger, even though you’re on the water,” said Jeana McGraw, float trip coordinator for Blue Springs Ranch (Bourbon, Mo.) on the Meramec River. Drinking enough water is paramount to enjoying your time and staying safe on the river. Smith advises patrons to stick to his “six-pack rule”; pack six drinks per person, which typically evens out. “Everyone has a good time, and no one goes overboard,” he said.

6. But don’t drink the river water.

Speaking of liquid intake, limiting river water consumption is a good idea as well. “We sell Koozies with neck straps, along with SnapCaps and can covers in our shop,” Clary said. ‘While you probably wouldn’t get sick, doing your best to keep the river water out of your beverage is a good idea.”

7. Do not miss the sign!

We’ve all heard the tale: somehow, someone always seems to miss the take-out point and ends up way down river. This is not a good situation for anyone involved. Some form of “do not miss the sign” was emphatic advice from everyone we talked to. Most companies have multiple signs alerting floaters that the take-out point is approaching; pay attention and pull over at the right spot.

8. Just say no to flip-flops.

“Flip-flops are inadequate,” McGraw said. “These rivers are rocky. They have sticks floating in them. Wearing flip-flops is not the right way to go.” River sandals, closed-toe water shoes — even an old pair of sneakers — any of these are a better choice. Many operators sell water shoes out of their shops, but it’s cheaper to bring your own.

Huzzah River Tube

9. Choose the right watercraft.

Most float trip operators carry a wide variety of watercraft, ranging from single and double kayaks to canoes, tubes, and 4/6/8-person river rafts. “For the more adventurous, we recommend kayaks, as they’re more mobile and nimble,” Bass said. “For families with small children, we recommend larger rafts. They’re more stable and virtually impossible to tip on these rivers.”

10. Plan ahead and consider a weekday float.

While float trips have long been a Missouri summer staple, with the pandemic, demand has skyrocketed. “We’re completely booked through August,” McGraw said, speaking specifically about camping availability. All operators recommend planning at least a week in advance, reserving the necessary watercraft, and trying to do your float on a weekday as opposed to on the weekend. “Weekends are hectic,” said Clary. If at all possible, plan your trip for a weekday.

Author: Nick Tilley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Images: Courtesy of Huzzah River Resort.