MDC Outdoor Recreation Spotlight: 5 kayaking opportunities in northeast Missouri

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COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages Missourians to find ways to connect with nature this fall, in ways consistent with COVID-19 health guidelines.

Careful use of conservation areas and canoeing or kayaking on public waters in Missouri can provide excellent opportunities to embrace isolation, get some exercise, and reap the health benefits of spending time in nature.

Since COVID-19 imposed lockdowns and social-distancing requirements this spring, consumers have flocked to paddle sports. According to market research from The NPD Group, sales of kayaks, paddleboards, rafts, and canoes faced declines prior to the pandemic, but have spiked in 2020.

“The streams in northeast Missouri are great for paddling upstream and floating downstream,” said MDC Recreational Use Specialist A.J. Campbell. “This is great for kayakers with one vehicle.”

Whether watching wildlife, catching a few fish, or just relaxing and taking in the fall colors as trees begin to change, MDC offers plenty of recreational paddling opportunities, just a short drive from home.

Always paddle safely on Missouri waters:

  • Wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD)
  • Make a float plan and tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return
  • Use caution and yield to larger boats
  • Pack food, water, sanitizer, flashlight, dry clothes, and anything else you may need if your trip takes longer than planned.
  • Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when appropriate, and protect yourself from disease by following latest health guidelines while on the water, and while traveling to- and from your destination.

Paddle Sport Locations:

Wyaconda River

This stream drains 458 square miles of land in northeast Missouri and southeast Iowa. A brand new small boat access trail provides easy access, from the parking lot at Sunnyside School Access, to the riverbank about 40-yards away. This stream often flows at a low level, forming deeper pools between shallow riffles that may require short portages. It’s worth the effort to see striking bluffs and overarching tree canopies in fall color. From the small boat access, paddle upstream and float back down. Or, organize a vehicle shuttle, and float downstream to the Mississippi River. A short jaunt on the Mississippi will lead boaters to the riverfront in LaGrange. Always check water levels before floating, and be sure of your skill level depending on flow. Higher water will move you faster and may create obstacles that can present technical challenges. At lower-flows, anticipate longer float-times.

Chariton River

This Missouri River tributary runs 218 miles from southeastern Iowa through northeast Missouri. Nearly five miles of the Chariton River run through Rebel’s Cove Conservation Area, near Livonia.  This portion of the river is known locally as "The Narrows," because the river makes a 2.5-mile loop around Parson's Bend in the center of the area. At this point the river doubles back to within a few hundred feet of itself. MDC maintains a 100- to 200-foot forested corridor along this stretch of stream to protect the banks and maintain a healthy ecosystem. MDC offers primitive camping and access trails at Rebel’s Cove Conservation Area, where two downstream float options originate:

  • 4-mile float — put-in at access on Blackberry Trail; take-out at access on North 135th
  • 10-mile float — put-in at access on North 135th Street; take-out at Archangel Access on US Highway 136, east of Livonia.

Mississippi River

Missouri’s big rivers offer experienced kayakers opportunities to navigate a unique hydrodynamic environment and immerse themselves in equally unique ecosystems. The Mississippi River along Missouri’s northeast border braids around islands and carves into large bluffs. Witnessing this massive system at work from the water’s surface affords kayakers an unparalleled view of one of the world’s largest rivers. The Mississippi is one of America’s original superhighways on which indigenous tribes transported goods and conducted transcontinental trade. It remains a critical piece of commercial infrastructure to this day, and before entering the water, paddlers should ensure they are familiar with potential hazards such as dikes, lock-and-dams, and strong currents. Always give barge traffic plenty of room and yield to larger boats. Beware of large, invasive silver carp which can unexpectedly jump into the air when startled by paddles or motors on the water’s surface. Watch for bald eagles and osprey on this 8.5-mile downstream float: Put-in at US Lock and Dam No. 22 south of Saverton; take-out at Dupont Reservation Conservation Area.

Hazel Creek Lake

The City of Kirksville owns and maintains this 530-acre lake in partnership with MDC’s management of the fishery. This large lake is ideal for kayakers of all skill-levels, and paddlers won’t be disturbed by larger boats because only electric trolling motors are allowed on the water. The surrounding property offers two public parking lots, two boat ramps, a courtesy dock, and two disabled-accessible privies. Forested hills and grasslands surround the lake which holds an excellent bass fishery, as well as catfish, crappie, muskie, and sunfish.

Rothwell Park Lake

The City of Moberly owns and maintains this 26-acre lake and the surrounding park, in partnership with MDC. The area offers two parking lots, a boat ramp, and a disabled accessible fishing dock. Paddleboats are available to rent from Rothwell Park Rangers. The fishery contains black bass, catfish, crappie, and sunfish. Small, accessible community lakes like this one provide ideal opportunities for kayakers of all skill levels.

Paddle sport opportunities on rivers and reservoirs abound in northeast Missouri. For more locations or more information, contact the MDC Hannibal Office at (573) 248-2530, or the Northeast Regional Office in Kirksville at (660) 785-2420.

Learn more at, download the MO Outdoors App for mobile devices, and get a copy of A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri from the MDC Nature Shop.