Float Springfield Missouri's James River

Our hometown river is often overlooked as a floatable river, but thanks to the efforts by the James River Basin Partnership, the James River is once again a viable option for a leisurely paddle downstream.

By Vivian Wheeler, Sony Hocklander

Jun 2024

Float the James River near Springfield Missouri
Photo by Chuck TraversThe James River is close enough to home you can make a day float of it.

Sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose. That’s how we feel about the James River. Its close proximity to Springfield and less-than-stellar reputation means this small-but-mighty river often gets overlooked as a floating option. And we’ll admit, there was a while in the 1990s when you probably did not want to be floating on the James; however, thanks to the work of the James River Basin Partnership’s effort to clean up the river, the James has once again become a river worthy of floating. 

Canoe down the James River near Springfield Missouri
Photo by Chuck TraversGet on the James River in a snap when you rent a canoe from Hootentown Canoe Rental & Store, just 40 miles outside of Springfield, MO.

The biggest perk of the James is how close it is to Springfield. Hootentown Canoe Rental & Store is only 40 minutes from Springfield, which means you can be on the river and floating about an hour after leaving the house, which is one of the best parts about living in the Ozarks. Hootentown Canoe Rental & Store offers several float trip options ranging from 4 to 13 miles. Kayaks, canoes and rafts are available for rental, or bring your own and use their shuttle service. We like to float from Shelvin Rock to Hootentown, clocking in at 7 miles. It takes about three and a half hours in a canoe, which makes it the perfect length to knock out of work early and get out on the water on a weekday. 

Weekdays tend to be the best times to be on the James, as the weekends can get quite busy and, at times, a bit rowdy. The James is not spring-fed, so conditions vary depending on recent rainfall; however, under the right conditions the James can be floated all summer long.

James River Float Trip Recommendations

Shelvin Rock to Hootentown | Length: 7 miles | Difficulty: Easy

More About the James River

By Sony Hocklander
What’s better than floating an Ozarks river? Floating nearby! You can get on the James near Springfield for a paddle, tubing or an afternoon of river-sittin’ and still be home by supper.

A Family Day Out

For a day trip your family will love, try Camp Tomahawk near Galena. Rent tubes for a two-mile shuttled mini-float your kids can do over and over. Bring a cooler for a picnic lunch on a gravel bar and don’t miss the rope swing! For a unique adventure, book a ride on Tomahawk’s new HovBug, a hovercraft that “flies” over water up and down the river.

Float Trips on the James River

Book a canoe or kayak float trip near Galena through James River Outfitters for two or five miles, or James River Canoe Rental for five or 20 miles.

Things to Do Near the James River

Paddle the James River Water Trail at Lake Springfield where you can launch your own vessel or rent from the boathouse. Or cool off at the Joe Crighton Access east of town, a great place to swim and fish

Guided Experiences on the James River

37 North Expeditions offers James River adventures that include a kid-friendly outing with ice cream sundaes on a gravel bar.

Floating on the James River
Photo by Josh Beecher

More Floating Adventures


The Ozarks has an abundance of rivers that crisscross the region. Check out the best float trips in Missouri.