Kayaking & camping along the Niangua River
What you should know about the Niangua River
The Niangua River is a 125-mile-long branch of the Osage River found in the beautiful Ozarks region of southern and central Missouri. By way of the Osage and Missouri rivers, the Niangua is part of the Mississippi River's watershed.
The Niangua runs through Bennett Spring State Park. This river is great fun for families and perfect for easy kayaking, canoeing, and floating on a raft. Also known for fantastic trout fishing, the Niangua waters are refreshingly cool and clear in the summer.
Riverfront Campground and Canoe Rentals
Base yourself here: Riverfront Campground. This place is great for families, especially if you can score a secluded camp site. Our goal was to camp two nights and kayak one day down the Niangua with our family plus some good friends. Weeks before, we learned the campgrounds at Bennett Spring State Park were full, but we soon discovered Riverfront Campground and Canoe Rentals online.
The sweet folks running Riverfront Campground were super helpful over the phone with camping and canoe/kayak/raft reservations. They actually made a mistake with our kayak reservation, called back later and admitted it, then made good on it by giving us a great discount while still taking care of our needs.
Always ask the experts. Upon arrival, the registration gal tipped us off to a secluded, shady, riverfront campsite complete with a sweet little trail leading down to a shallow wading spot. Perfect for an early morning quiet time, or for kids to skip rocks, splash around, and watch minnows and tadpoles.
Car-camping tip 101: Arrive as early as possible on check-in days and ask for advice about the best campsites. Consider camping here any night but Friday, unless you don't mind drifting to sleep to party music from nearby campsites.
Kayaking as a family
Kayaking eight miles down the Niangua river was pure adventurous family fun. There in mid-June, we hopped on the river about 9am, stopped for a picnic lunch on a rocky sandbar, and reached the Riverfront Takeout by early afternoon.
The early morning hours on the river were especially relaxing and picturesque.
My husband and I each shared a kayak with our tweens (ages 7 and 10 at the time), while our two teenagers successfully navigated single kayaks. Teens love independence!
River kayaking tip 101: Ask the campground owners about the best times to schedule kayak/canoe trips. We learned Saturday afternoons are basically party days on the river. Knowing this, we jumped on the river as early as possible.
Basically, your family would do best to avoid Saturdays when the river becomes jam-packed with rafts stuffed with beer coolers and people... Think Mardi-Gras on the river. Chalk it up to a cultural experience.
We've heard Sundays are quiet and dreamy.
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Back at the riverfront campsite
Even though we landed a secluded, shady, riverfront campsite, it was a bit hotter than normal for June.
So, we were also super glad we packed two canopies for optimum mid-day shade. Our favorite sturdy canopy we actually bought for the beach a couple of years back: the Coleman Point Loma. McGyver-style, the hubs propped it up on the other canopy to provide ultimate noon-time shade.
For chilling at the camp-site by the river, we brought our beloved Hobo Hammocks. When we're packing for a trip, hammocks are like swimsuits in that our family doesn't leave home without them! You never know when you might need them, and they are lightweight and easy to pack.
Do you have a favorite place were you have kayaked or floated down the river? What tips do you have to share about car camping and kayaking with kids? We'd love to hear, so please comment below!