- Water clarity is excellent, particularly if there haven’t been any big recent rains.
- There are several outfitters from whom you can rent rafts, kayaks and canoes (see links section)
- Beautiful towering bluffs and scenery
- Lots of great caves along this stretch
- Roaring Springs is spectacular
- Lots of development near the end of this section as you get closer to St. Clair.
- Can get fairly crowded on Summer weekends particular the section between Meramec State Park and Meramec Caverns
- The Sand Ford to Red Horse section is a long paddle without an official access point to break it up.
- Meramec Caverns – Huge developed cave with tours, campground, zipline, river tours, ice cream, and kayak, canoe, and raft rental.
- Meramec State Park – A great park with lots of caves, hiking trails, picnic spots, and nice access to the river.
- Blue Springs Ranch – An outfitter and campground need the top of this section.
- 3 Bridge Raft Rental – Outfitter with Rafts, canoes, and kayaks.
- Arapahoe Campground – A campground and outfitter in this section
I’m in the process of paddling the entire Meramec River in small sections and writing up my impressions of each section as I go. I’ve really come to love the Meramec. I’m not really into paddling the big rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri as they are muddy, wide, mind-numbingly large, and aren’t as scenic in my eyes as smaller rivers. The Meramec has the feel and scenery of a beautiful stream-fed Ozark river but is much closer to St. Louis than any other river.
This particular section of the Meramec covers roughly 44 miles from South of Bourbon, Missouri to St. Clair Missouri.
Meramec State Park to Sand Ford Access – 8 Miles
If you don’t mind crowds (or can do it during the week), this really is a great float. Very pretty with nice bluffs, a cave you can paddle into, and very little development as it mostly flows through parks and State-owned land. Definitely a beginner and kid-friendly section but with decent flow with enough easy rapids/riffles to keep it interesting. Water clarity is excellent, particularly if there haven’t been any big rains recently.
There are at least 3 Outfitters on this section: Meramac Caverns, Meramac State Park, and Arapahoe for those without their own boats. Tends to be quite crowded on weekends with both floats and jet boats and their are several party spots lots of people drive to along the route. Convenient put-in and pull-out sections not far from I-44 with plenty of parking with and easy 11 minute drive between the two for shuttling kayaks. You will pass through Meramec Caverns campground towards the end of this section.
Sand Ford Access to Red Horse Access (19.6 miles)
What really makes this section special is the spectacular Roaring Spring and a particularly cool and large cave about 700 feet upstream of Roaring Springs. But, it is a 19.6 mile paddle that took my friend and I 6 hours and 44 minutes to complete with a whole lot of paddling. It is the longest single-day kayak I’ve done so far on the Meramec River. Roaring Spring is truly beautiful. I wish we could have spent more time there and/or were there on a warmer day, but with the it only being 4 miles into this long paddle, and the limited daylight hours of the November day we visited, we didn’t want to dawdle too long. There are also two other Springs, known as Twin Springs, that flow into the Meramec just a bit further upstream but the first one wasn’t all that special and I barely got a look at the 2nd as it was in the middle of an easy rapid and my focus was elsewhere.
There is an option to divide this into two separate floats. At about the mid-way point, is Plum Ford (a Ford here is a shallow-ish river crossing from the old days). It has a large gravel bar on the right side of river with a road that leads to it. A friend and I felt a bit uncomfortable leaving a car there though so we decided to tackle the full 19.6 miles in one go.
The first 3 miles of this float are quite flat with quite a few cottages/houses. From there you hit a really nice section with Twin Springs, the cave, and then Roaring Spring with some nice rapids mixed in. Then flattens out again with more cottages but still enough rapids to break it up a bit. As you get closer to St. Clair, there is a lot more development with lots of houses and cottages along with a lot of dumped concrete to stabilize the river bank.
We had the river completely to ourselves when we visited on a beautiful day in early November and saw more bald eagles (7) than people (4) or dogs (1). I don’t believe any outfitters put boats out on this section. The flow is quite slow in most parts but you get enough class I rapids in spots as it gets shallower and faster to break up all the flat-water paddling.
Wildlife sightings: 7 bald eagles (including 2 immature), 1 Great Blue Heron, 3 deer,
Campbell Bridge Access to Sappington Bridge Access (10 Miles)
Definitely a beautiful section of the Meramec River with lots of beautiful, towering rock bluffs, forested hills, and bottomland farms and forests. But, it was quite crowded and a huge hassle, with a relatively long drive from St. Louis and a 30 minute drive between the put-in and pull-out which adds up to 1.5 hours of driving for shuttling. And, the route Google initially recommended involved 12 miles of rough dirt/gravel roads that weren’t kind to my trailer. There wasn’t a lot of development along the route but at least 3 outfitters (Blue Springs Ranch, 3 Bridges Canoe Rental, Ozark Outdoors) put boats (rafts, kayaks, canoes) out in this section (it got much less crowded after the Blue Springs Ranch pull-out which was about half way in). Plus, there were a lot of motor boats and some jet skis too. At least on this day, the water was quite full of sediment and not very clear. That was probably due to some recent big rains but I’ve considered that purer water might be a good reason to want to drive further upstream from St. Louis but, at least on the day we were there, it was about the same as you’d find much closer to St. Louis.
Plenty of parking at both Access points.