Paddling the Missouri River

Paddling 1

It is worth pointing out that paddling on the Missouri River is often not as complex as is initially perceived from shore. The majority of the turbulent water is concentrated near river training structures. These are often referred to as wing dams or dikes and are reinforced with large rock. The dikes (wing dams) typically start from the river bank and can reach out several hundred feet towards the rivers channel. These structures are designed to deflect the rivers flow towards the main channel to promote a “self-scouring” channel. In most cases a paddler can maneuver to avoid these structures completely and thereby avoid much of the "pushy water" that can be generated by the dikes.

Paddling in the main channel is very much like being on an escalator or moving treadmill at an airport, where once you are up to speed, things are straightforward. Conversely, the rivers currents are most complex at the interface of the main channel flow and slower water surrounding the dike structures. As a result, a paddler is often best served by simply staying in the middle of the river on the straight-aways and trending to outside of the large bends in the river.

The Navigation section also provides tips on using the navigation channel markers to definitively locate the main river channel. This can be important, as paddlers will occasionally have to share the main channel with the large barges that operate on the river. Fortunately on the open river these vessels can be seen well in advance and appropriate evasive action taken. More information on dealing with barges is provided in the navigation section.

Canoe on river an manitou

Paddling the lower Missouri River is in many ways analogous to being on a very long moving lake. The challenges to paddlers are similar to those found on open water lakes, such as the effect of high winds, exposure to storms and general isolation from shore. Almost without fail, first time paddlers on the Missouri River find themselves relaxing within minutes, as the intimidation felt from shore simply melts away.

Paddling on the Missouri river involves the same rules that apply to any prudent boating in respect to watching the weather, wearing a life jacket at all times and being vigilant of obstructions and hazards in the river. Please review the safety section on this site and remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.