Best Float Trips in the Ozarks

Explore 10 scenic float trips that can only be enjoyed in the Ozarks. Find tips for floating the Big Piney River, Jack's Fork, Current River, James River, Niangua and the North Fork in Missouri and the Kings River in Arkansas among others.

By Vivian Wheeler

May 2019

Canoe or float down Big Piney River in Missouri
Photo by Josh BeecherEscape to the peaceful serenity of the Big Piney River.

One of the best parts of living in the Ozarks is the abundance of rivers that crisscross our region. All across our little corner of the world, hundreds of miles of river flow through Missouri and Arkansas that are just waiting to be enjoyed. In order to help you get out on the river, we did the hard work for you and planned 10 incredible float trips for you to experience this summer. Whether you’re a paddling novice or have been canoeing for years, there’s something for everyone on this list. The only challenge will be finding enough time to float them all.

For Those New to Floating

Get your feet wet with these resources for floating newbies.

Learning the Ropes

If you’re looking to learn the basics of floating, check out the Ozark Mountain Paddlers. This nonprofit holds a number of recreational canoe and kayak clinics throughout the summer. For details, visit their website.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to practice before heading out on the river, rent a canoe or kayak from the Lake Springfield Park and Boathouse. Lake Springfield is a calm, relaxed environment where you can develop your river legs.

Get the Gear

Wanting to purchase your own gear? Both Bass Pro Shops and Ozark Adventures carry anything you might need to get river-ready.

Try Something New

We’ve rounded up float trip options that offer a little something different.

Float After Dark

The Outdoor Initiatives branch of the Springfield–Greene County Park Board offers two overnight floats each year. Enjoy a guided float and experience the outdoors in a whole new (lack of) light. These trips typically happen in June and August. Details are at parkboard.org.

Two-Day Overnight Float

Depending on rainfall you might have missed it this year, but one of the coolest, most scenic stretches of any river in Missouri and Arkansas is only floatable in early spring. The upper section of the Jack’s Fork River is said to have more beautiful bluffs than even the Buffalo River. See what the fuss is about on a two-day float running from Buck Hollow Access to Bay Creek. This trip is not recommended for 
inexperienced floaters.

Paddle and Sip

Throughout the months of May and June, 37 North Expeditions offers several trips that pair floating with a brewery or distillery tour.

Floating Do's and Don'ts

What you need to know before you start to float down river.

Always check the water level. If the water is too high, floating can be dangerous. If it’s too low, you might not be able to float. Due to rain, rivers can vary wildly day-to-day.

Wear sunscreen. Missouri summers can be brutal, and you don’t want to be stuck on a multi-hour float without proper protection from the sun.
Littering is illegal. Secure your trash in a trash bag that is tied to your canoe in case you tip over. You don’t want to spill your garbage all over the river. 

Glass bottles are illegal on all rivers. It’s illegal to have them in your boat or on a gravel bar. If you’re caught with glass bottles, you could face a hefty fine for each bottle in your possession.

Wear water shoes for wading. Need we say more?
If you do tip, move to the upstream side of your canoe to avoid being trapped between your boat and an obstacle. 

Reserve your boat ahead of time. On popular weekends, outfitters can book up. Pay attention to the reservation policy. Some outfitters require advance cancellation to get your deposit back.

More Ways to Get Out on the Water