- Get in a great paddle on a beautiful river without a big time commitment
- Easy drive, generally less than, or right around, an hour.
- Unique, natural beauty with interesting rock formations, forested hill sides, large gravel bars, and bottomland forest and fields
- Nice sections of fun but easy rapids interspersed among more flat-water like sections.
- Easy to self-support with many public access points with large parking lots where you can leave a car while you float
- I’m amazed by how little civilization you see in many sections – no houses, no roads, no wires or noise. You really can get away from it all without going very far.
- You’ll generally have the river largely to yourself. While there are two outfitters that run this section, they aren’t nearly as popular as the floats near Steeleville. While we’ve seen fishermen, speedboaters, and kayakers in this section, most of the time, you’ve got the river to yourselves.
- A fair number of motor boats cruise along this section. Most are friendly and courteous but they may break up your peaceful solitude a bit.
- The water can get a bit murky particularly in the sections below the confluence with the Bourbeuse river and the Big river. The upper parts of this section are quite clear or a beautiful green depending on viewing angle and lighting conditions.
- Sections of the Meramec River from MissouriCanoe.org. Detailed maps of the 3 sections of the Meramec with all access points and landmarks along the way with the specific river mileage listed for each. Essential for planning your trip.
- Ozark Anglers – Meramec River Sections – Excellent page that provides gradients, access points, river gauges, navigability levels, fish stocks, descriptions, and lots more.
- Directions to Pacific Palisades Boat Ramp, Missouri
- Directions to Allenton Access
- River ‘Round Conservation Area
- Pacific Palisades Conservation Area
- Old Cove Canoe and Kayak – Offers canoe, raft, and kayak rentals with options for 9-mile float and 4.5 mile float
- FFLOG-MeramecRiver – A great blog that tracks the paddles of two folks that have paddled most of the rivers in Missouri. This link has just the Meramec sections but the site has lots more rivers with nice pics and info.
Lots of folks do float trips on the upper Meramec River up near Steeleville, Missouri or the mid-Meramec near Meramec Carverns, but not nearly as many people have paddled the much closer lower Meramec River (aka Section III) which winds its way from near St. Clair, through Pacific (i.e. just past Six Flags), Fenton and Kirkwood and then down to Arnold where it joins with the Mississippi.
I had always been curious what it’d be like to paddle the Meramec closer to St. Louis. In October of 2020, I finally decided to try it out on a beautiful fall day. I enjoyed it so much I decided I wanted to explore and share my thoughts on the best (and worst) sections.
I’ve done parts of this after work in less than 2 hours including my drive from U. City. Those did involve paddling upstream and then floating back downstream. My favorite one-way sections can be done in 5 or 6 hours including driving and shuttling.
Rather than order them in a rational and contiguous fashion, I’m going to attempt to order them from my most favorite to least favorite. I’m guessing that’s going to be hard to do though since I’ll likely thoroughly enjoy most of them and mood, water level, weather, and company can play a role in perception. But here goes…
Lower Meramec River – Ordered From Favorite to Least Favorite
River ‘Round Conservation Area to Robertsville State Park – 11.8 Miles
I loved this section. The top half had a really good flow to it with lots of easy rapids to keep it fun. The Bourbeuse river joins in about 5 miles into this one and the river gets noticeably wider, deeper, a bit murkier, and slower at that point. You do still get some more nice rapid sections but they are fewer and further between with longer and deeper pools in between. We went on a Tuesday starting in the late afternoon in early August and had the river mostly to ourselves. We did see one other group of kayakers on the river, but that was it for other humans until we got to Robertsville State Park.
For the most part this would be a good paddle for novices except there was one tricky spot where all the current flowed under a massive strainer (above water blockage in the river that can be a bit dangerous as it can tip your boat and the current can pin you against or under the blockage) made up of several downed trees that took up half the river with no passage through them. We had to paddle fairly aggressively to take the inside of the turn to avoid the strainer. I could see that spot causing havoc for new paddlers or folks not prepared to do some aggressive paddling.
One downside of this section is the 14-mile (23 minute) drive between the put-in and take-out is longer than other sections but it was a beautiful drive.
Old Cove Canoe and Kayak does provide Canoe, raft, and kayak rentals and transportation for part of this section, River ‘Round to Old Cove. That would be their 4.5 mile trip.
Wildlife Seen: Beaver, Great Blue Herons, Green Heron, Turtles
Times Beach Access to Castlewood State Park – 10.6 Miles
This section starts off strong with a nice, relatively long Class-I rapid right under the I-44 bridge and has fairly frequent rapids throughout the next 8 miles to keep it fun. Based on looking at the map, I had expected this section to be mostly flatwater with lots of development but that wasn’t the case at all. It seems there was quite a bit of vertical fall for the first 8 miles of this float. Along the Al Foster trail section, one spot had a rapid with a nice 100-yard train of 6 inch waves and some serious flow to it. I would have played more in the rapid but I didn’t have my kayak skirt for the whitewater play-boat I was paddling and the waves were big enough that I was taking on a good bit of water in the little playing I did do. Because of the size of rapids, I would not recommend this section for complete beginners. The last 3 miles, as you get near Castlewood, is mostly flat water. Because of that, Castlewood is a pretty good spot if you just want to paddle upstream and back down to your car and not deal with shuttling cars and boats (but see the note below on lot closure).
Other than several bridges, there’s very little to indicate that you are so close to St. Louis in terms of development. There are lots of scenic bluffs along the way and we saw lots of wildlife: muskrats, wild turkeys, green herons, great blue herons, king fishers, deer, and more.
The Missouri Canoe site indicated this would be an 8 mile float but our GPS tracker said it was 10.6 miles and it definitely felt more like 10.6. The access at Castlewood was a big hassle when we were there. They had closed the Lincoln Beach parking lot near the river and so we had to portage the boats about a half mile to the parking lot on the other side of the train tracks. Not bad, but we’ve been spoiled by the convenience of all the other access points. I don’t know any specifics about why and when the Lincoln Beach parking lot was closed or when it might re-open. Another option would be to end / park at Sherman Beach Park. The parking lot is only 50 feet from the water so super-convenient and this would cut off a couple of the more flat-water miles.
Pacific Palisades to Allenton Access – 7.9 Miles
A spectacular 7.9-mile float on a beautiful Ozark river where you get to be fully submersed in nature, with almost no signs of civilization yet, an easy drive, merely a few minutes south of Six Flags. Beautiful scenery, great rock formations, lots of nice Class I rapids, nice gravel/sand beaches, clean water, and a perfect length. We paddle this section in about 2 hours and 45 minutes at a fairly leisurely pace with a couple short breaks.
We’ve paddled this section 3 times in the last year. It’s combination of convenience, beauty and fun is hard to beat. The first couple miles of this section are fairly flat. The middle 3-mile section has lots of fun Class I rapids and beautiful rock formations. The last couple miles are flatter and fairly developed with lots of cottages along the banks. There were a couple spots with strainers where inexperienced paddlers might struggle a bit but I would guess most folks could safely make it down this section at normal flow without much of a problem. There were also a lot of flatwater sections where, if you weren’t paddling, you would barely move but the surrounding scenery made them all enjoyable.
Despite being so close to St. Louis, the area was really pristine. No trash. Very little road noise. Very few signs of civilization at all for most of the route. In the beginning we did hear gun-fire from a nearby gun range but that quickly faded as we got downstream. About halfway in, there’s a bunch of historic dumped cars, apparently put there to stabilize the banks of the river there. I found that more intriguing than disturbing. But mostly, it is undisturbed natural beauty.
The effort to reward ratio on this trip is really ideal. The put-in and pull-out spots are about 10 minutes from the Six Flags exit. The whole trip, from doorstep to doorstep took about 5.5 hours.
You’ll need two vehicles to self-support this trip. Drive to the Six Flags exit off 44. Head South to Allenton Access first to drop off the vehicle w/o boats. Then, head back towards Six Flags the way you came but just before 44, turn left on Route 66 (aka Business Loop 44) to “Pacific Palisades Boat Ramp, Missouri“. Make sure to specify “Pacific Palisades Boat Ramp, Missouri” or Google might try to take you to California or a parking lot in the right park but far from the river.
Robertsville State Park to Pacific Pallisades – 11 miles
This section is certainly beautiful but I didn’t like it nearly as much as the Pacific Pallisades to Allenton Access section because it is mostly wide, deep, and flat so the water flow is slower and, it just doesn’t have enough rapids and excitement for my taste. This section is a great workout though if you are looking to very actively paddle for 11 miles. It also has some great views of the Pacific Pallisades (which I didn’t capture because we were racing to get off the water before it got completely dark) and a variety of other interesting sites. While not my favorite section, I still loved it.
Allenton Access to Route 66 State Park / Times Beach Access – 7 miles
The 1st half of the float down from Allenton Access has a few simple class I rapids but this would be a great spot for beginners to try paddling a river as they were all very easily navigated. I was surprised to learn there actually is an outfitter, Brookdale Farms, that puts people out on this section of the river. There were about 8, 8-man rafts out when we paddled on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Most of our group would have preferred a bit more action in terms of rapids but one person said it was her favorite she’s done on the Meramec so far as it was relaxing and not at all crowded.
Red Horse Access to River Round – 15 miles
I had high hopes for fun rapids on this section based on its twistiness and some blogs I read but it seems there is very little vertical drop for most of this section so while it is indeed twisty, it is mostly deep and wide pools with fairly rare, very tame class I rapids. I’d say no more than 15 overall through the 15 miles.
My other beef with this section was, despite it being quite far from St. Louis, it was quite developed with lots of houses, private camp sites, and other development along the route, likely due to its proximity to St. Clair and Highway 30. On the Sunday we visited, there were lots of people out in boats (rafts, canoes, kayaks, power boats) out enjoying the river particularly in the upper sections. Everyone was friendly but I rather enjoy having the river more to myself.
It did have big majestic bluffs, very clear water (during a fairly dry spell, late August 2021), wildflowers, and lots of other natural beauty so it was certainly a wonderful day on the river but, for my personal tastes, there are nicer sections that are closer with faster moving water and more engaging rapids.
Logistically, it is a 10-mile, 20-minute drive between the put-in at Redhorse Access and pull-out at River ‘Round Conservation Area. Both spots have large parking lots with ramps in good shape. Both spots were easy to get to from 44.
While this section is close and easy to get to, it gave off much more of a Mississippi backwater / industrial runoff / drainage ditch vibe than the pristine Ozark stream vibe that many of the upstream sections offer. Lots of broken up concrete, dumped stuff, power lines, engineered river banks, … It was unappealing enough to me that I’m not sure I’ll explore the other parts downstream from here as I expect it’ll be more of the same.
I did an out and back paddle with some friends who were training for the MR340 (a 370 mile race on the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis). We paddled about 5 miles in all just before and during sunset. I’m glad I did it but I definitely prefer other areas.
Wildlife Seen: 2 Kingfishers