786 miles down the Missouri river in a small boat

beartrap

Adventurer
Missouri River has been on my "bucket list" of rivers to travel down for several years...I'd really liked to have traveled the entire distance from the headwaters in Rocky mountains to St.Louis but that would have required running the length of five big and windswept reservoirs in Montana,North and South Dakota....something my small boat isn't designed for....My son Mike has been with me on most of my other river trips so I both wanted and needed him (at my age 74) to accompany me...His business allows him limited time away this time of year so we decided to schedule our trip over the 4th of July holiday and run the 786 miles from Yankton,South Dakota to mouth of the river at St. Louis........

My wife Peggy and I left our home in Albany,Ga. on Monday June 30th and spent the night with Mike and his wife,Rebecca,at their home in Flowery Branch,Ga.Next morning we switch the boat over to Mike's Ford diesel van...to cut down on the days Mike has to be away from his business,Peggy and I will tow the boat to Omaha,pick up Mike,Rebecca and Rebecca's sister (Jane Barkley) at airport and continue on to Yankton on Thursday July 3rd...

Missouri river is supposedly navigable( I use that term loosely and go into more detail later) to Ponca,Nebraska which is about 60 miles below the dam at Yankton....the first 60 miles or so,it's a shallow river with no marked channel,numerous sandbars,snags and logs to dodge...probably the biggest challenge is picking the right channel in those areas where the river splits into 2-4 channels around and through sandbars and islands...
Fortunately we had a friend,Mark Foss whom I've known for several years through fishing forums to help us...
Night before launch,we meet Mark and his really nice wife Molly, for dinner.Mark is veteran kayaker and has made the trip downriver to Sioux city several times so he was a valuable source of info about what to expect on the first 60 miles of the river...a few weeks previously there had been heavy rains and flooding in this stretch of river,consequently they had cut the normal discharge of water from the dam for a week or so.Mark assured us the water discharge was back to normal now and would give us enough water to navigate around the various sandbars and shallow areas if we chose the right channel to go down...Mike and i had both studied the river on Google earth but it's impossible to remember which little channel is the best choice for 60 miles of river....we would just have to rely on our experience at reading the water in front of us......Mark also assured us the river in that stretch did not have rocks in it...very important to know because had there been rocks or rocky shoals in the river,we would have had to idle most of the first 60 miles or risk tearing up the prop or lower unit...
we had stopped at a marina in Sioux City and determined gas was available there so we decided to run light on gas for first 60 miles....reason being, a lighter boat floats higher (and we know from experience,it is much easier to drag it off a sandbar if you screw up and ground the boat).....

check weather report...and it's not good...no rain but 20 mph south wind gusting to 30 mph....no problem for first 60 miles because we are running almost due east but the river turns south into the teeth of the wind at Sioux City....

Launch day... Friday July 4th.....
wake up call at 6:00 a.m.,quick motel breakfast,stop to buy ice and we head west to launch ramp on Nebraska side about 1/4 mile below Gavins Point dam....

before we start downriver,a brief description of what we will be traveling in.....16 ft Xpress flat bottom duck boat,25 hp Yamaha 4 stroke,two 12 gallon gas tanks and a Minn-Kota 74 lb thrust,24 volt trolling motor, Humminbird 788 CI depthfinder with built in GPS, chart plotter and all safety equipment......GPS shows us our speed and position on the river plus miles traveled......boat has a bimini top which we chose not to use for most of the trip because of stiff headwinds....we start with 10 gallons of gas......

Destination today is launch ramp at Council Bluffs,Iowa directly across river from Omaha,Neb.

Mike backs trailer in far enough to submerge foot of motor and I crank engine and let it warm up while I check everything I can think of.....after you have trailered a boat for 1265 miles,you hope nothing has vibrated loose..everything seems ok,so off the trailer and I hold boat in the current....
our pit crew (Peggy,Rebecca and Jane) are busy taking pictures),they will follow us in the van as they did each day...nose boat on the ramp,mike hops aboard and we turn downriver at 8:00a.m.

first 5-6 miles we had a defined channel to run in and 15 feet of depth then the river starts to split around sandbars/islands,depth hops up to 4-6 ft and fun begins....when you've got 183 miles to go,you can't do a bunch of idling along so you just keep the boat up on plane and hope you make the right choice.....
I'm sure most "river rats" will agree that if you have run enough rivers with similar conditions,you can look downstream and see where the "current is running the "easiest and deepest" and that's usually the right way to go....and that's what we did......

9:00 a.m .... we've only traveled 19.8 miles,not too concerned because we've slowed several times to pick the right channel plus bumped over a couple of places...weather is cool with temps in low 60's so Mike and I both wore our rain suit jackets first two days until mid day...

10:00 a.m..tea,pee and switch driver break.....we agree watching the depthfinder is useless-it's all shallow but we only grounded the boat once where we had to trim up and idle off a "skinny" place....river is full of snags and logs caught on the bottom and we're constantly zig-zagging around them...many of them are just under the surface but the current is strong enough that a "hump" shows where something is under the surface..#1 rule in shallow water river travel..never run over a "hump" because there is something (rock,log,snag) under the surface causing that hump and you don't want to hit it....Mark had told us there were no rocks in the river but a few miles upstream,I spotted a pile of rocks in mid stream...maybe somebody dumped them there but glad i didn't see any earlier or I would have been a lot more concerned about running this stretch of river...

11:00 ..we've only covered 58 miles and this is starting to concern us because at times our indicated speed is 24-27 mph....when we turn into the wind,our speed drops 4-5 mph because the bimini top's resistance... we adjust the straps and pull the forward part down but it doesn't help so we end up taking the top down and it stayed down almost the entire trip....actually we had noticed the slowing down part earlier but were more concerned with dodging logs/snags and "too shallow to run" places...river is becoming more defined now and we can run more in a straight line...

11:30 a.m. we pull into Sioux City marina and fill the tanks...(with $4.54 a gallon gas)....as soon as we turn south,we can feel the full force of the south wind and the waves are starting to build in middle of the river....fortunately there was enough depth to hug the outside bends and avoid the really rough water...with top down and full load of gas,we can still run 22-24 mph and we know that will increase later in day as gas load lightens....we've learned that when you are running long distances in a relatively slow boat,2-4 mph, can mean an hour or more less travel at end of a 10 hour day...

12:30 lunch break...Mike had smoked a turkey the day prior to us leaving-Rebecca made us turkey sandwiches as she did each day of our trip......turkey sandwich,potato chips and couple of Peggy's cookies makes a pretty darn good lunch.....and with engine idling in gear,the current is pushing us 8-9 mph downstream while we eat lunch.........

3:30 p.m. we pass mile marker 655.... launch ramp at Council Bluffs where we plan to take out is mile marker 619.....wind is starting to die a little and waves are not as high when we have to switch sides of river but still very few stretches where we don't have to hug the outside bends... there are thousands of rock dikes(wing dams) all the way down the river but on this stretch almost all of them are on the inside bend of the river.....we are also able to consistently run from 25-27 mph.....
4:30...starting to see planes descending and taking off in the distance...launch ramp we headed for is directly across river from Omaha airport so we are getting close....

5:10 spot launch ramp ahead and our pit crew plus Dave seppuhn whom I've known for many years on a couple of fishing forums....he knew about my trip and I had texted him couple hours earlier with our ETA....speaking of texts-we did that throughout the day letting our wives know we were OK and the progress we were making...GPS indicates we've traveled 183 miles....
Mike backs trailer in and after visiting with little while with Hutch,(thanks again Hutch for the great cookies your wife baked for us)we head for the Comfort Inn in Council Bluffs....

Peggy and I had stayed in this motel two nights previously and it was in a location that didn't look entirely safe to me(if there is such a thing at a motel)..sure enough,a guys truck parked near us that had some bicycles and lawn furniture in the back that were stolen during the night but they didn't mess with our boat...I've got two metal lockers with heavy duty hasps and locks on them which so far has worked on my trips to secure depthfinder,rainsuits,lifejackets etc.

It's 4th of July and we are wondering where to get something to eat...turns out Outback Steakhouses were open...Mike punches in the address on his GPS to the closest one across the river in Omaha...Going to an Outback in Omaha with all the great steak houses they have is about like going to Pizza Hut in Rome but it was open and the good places weren't.....
When we get back to motel,it had been a long day for an old dude so it was a shower and lights out for me....


launch ramp is just below Gavins point dam in Yankton,South Dakota

just one of several hundred snags in first 60 miles

logs and snags stretch all way across river in places...just pick a path and go..(with fingers crossed)


only two places to buy on Missouri river...Sioux City Marina is one of them.

mile marker 719 means it is 719 miles to mouth of Missouri river at St.Louis...

hugging bank to stay out of waves in mid-river


typical river scenery from Sioux City to Omaha...
 

beartrap

Adventurer
Day two

Saturday morning July 5th
Thunder and lightning wake me up before the alarm goes off,look outside and we got a helluva thunderstorm going on...check weather and forecast is for storm cell to move out of the area in next hour then sunshine....and more 20-30 mph south wind, not what we had hoped for.....we decide to delay launching the boat for 1/2 hour or so....

8:45 launch boat..destination today is Leavenworth,Kansas 212 miles south and about 20 miles above Kansas City....
today would prove to be our toughest day...about mid morning,the wind and waves had gotten to the point that we seriously were considering finding a ramp and trailering boat to Leavenworth.....I mentioned yesterday that we could run the outside bends 10-15 ft off the bank and avoid the roughest water,most of this morning we did that but every 200-300 yards we would have a rock dike coming off the bank 30-50 yards and have to veer out around it where the waves were really rolled up....adding to the aggravation was that the river was full of small limbs and debris...not big enough to hurt your engine but enough to foul the prop requiring us to slow down to an idle,trim the engine up and clear the prop and this happened every 15 minutes throughout most of the first two days except when we were in the sandbar section of the river first day.....
about the time we were ready to give up,we come around a bend and there were no waves...same exact conditions but no waves...we could actually get in middle of river and run.....5 miles or so downstream,same conditions and the waves would start again for a few miles then quit again for 5 miles or so..this pretty much repeated itself all day....we never did figure out why some stretches of the river would produce waves and some wouldn't...
we also encountered a stretch of river about this time that allowed us to run 10-15 ft off the bank in much smoother water but very few dikes to veer out and around...current is strong in Missouri river,6-9 mph and the worst waves were in middle of river where current was strongest...as you near the bank,the current slackens and waves slackened too....there was almost smooth water if you stayed within 10-15 feet of the bank....we did that and there was enough depth but when you are running wide open that close to the bank,it makes for a "white knuckle ride" because there are logs and blow downs sticking off the bank you got to veer quickly around ....
we took frequent breaks and switched drivers more often than usual...it was exciting,(maybe nerve wracking is a better word),never boring day but I sure as hell don't want to do it again....

4:00 p.m. pass St Joseph,Mo. and the wind has started to die down...we can get out in middle of river and being able to run in the stronger current and lighter gas load pushes us up to 28 mph....
just not much scenery on this stretch of the Missouri,about all you can see is cottonwoods and willows lining the bank and nothing beyond because area along the river is mostly flat...lot of grain elevators with loading docks but all of them have switched over to using the railroad which runs along the river...more on that later...
6:15 spot ramp at Leavenworth and our "pit crew' waiting for us...GPS indicates 212 miles since launch this morning....both St. Joseph and Leavenworth are built on hills overlooking the river and a welcome break from miles and miles of plain riverbank......
Motel tonite is Best Western in Platt City about 15 miles north of the river,we load up and head there to check in and drop the boat....
Mike is almost as big a BBQ fan as me,the ladies agree to go to humor us so we head to Arthur Bryants,a famous and highly touted BBQ place across the river in Kansas City..we chose their second location out near the Raceway because the other location near downtown is not as safe after dark..I ordered the "burnt ends sandwich"... it was in my opinion, just ok...overpriced ($15.00 for sandwich,fries,drink) and too much fat in the meat.Mike had eaten at their downtown location previously and said it was much better....
we've got our longest day ahead of us tomorrow but weather and river direction is much better.....

plane landing at Omaha airport

launch ramp in Council Bluffs,Iowa right across river from Omaha airport

railroad bridge with Omaha skyline in background

current is strong and almost has this buoy drug under...

hugging the bank to avoid rough water in mid-river

typical river scenery between Omaha and Kansas
city

railroad bridge locked open with St.Josephs,Mo. and Interstate 29 in background

depthfinder/GPS indicates depth is 19.8 ft,water temp is 72F,speed is 28.4 mph and distance traveled since launch this morning is 206 miles

pit crew awaits us at launch ramp in Leavenworth,Ks.
 

beartrap

Adventurer
Day 3

Sunday July 5th...plan was to launch at 8:00 a.m. but when we fill up with gas,we discover that we only got 10 mpg yesterday....with 248 miles to go today,we may need more than 24 gallons of gas..thought for sure that with a 7-8 mph current,we would get at least 12 mpg but apparently the continual head wind all day caused the engine to have to work harder and cut our gas mileage back..this requires a trip to Wal-mart to buy a small 5 gal. gas can which we put an additional 3 1/2 gallons in.....Turns out our gas mileage was 14 mpg this day and we could have easily made it with two 12 gallon tanks but we didn't know it at the time....
8:45 a.m. launch boat and head south....wind was again in our face for the first 20 miles but not as strong as previous two days and we were able to run mostly in middle of river to downtown Kansas City....
10:30 a.m. Kansas City in rearview mirror..... river is running due east and we are consistently running 27-29 mph even with full load of gas.....had hoped scenery would change and we'd start seeing some bluffs and hills but it's mile after mile of flat land with willows and cottonwoods lining the bank.....lot of dikes along this area,some extending almost all the way across the river and they are not marked by buoys.You have to watch closely for the telltale ripples on the surface and keep veering out until you see the ripples end and current and surface flatten out at the end of the dike....

11:40 we pass mile marker 332 which means we are 332 miles from mouth of river...our destination today is mile marker 143 which means we've still got 189 miles to go...but our speed is increasing and we're consistently running 29-30 mph. water temps are 68-72 degrees and my temp gauge in boat indicates 80 degrees...it's comfortable but sun is bright,we'd like to put the bimini top up but it would cost us a couple miles per hour in speed...we've got a long ways to go so we'll give up the shade to get us off the river a little sooner...

3:00...text our "pit crew" that we are 100 miles upriver and our ETA (estimated time of arrival) is 6:30 p.m.

3:40 pass Glasgow,Mo...... for past several miles we are seeing hills and bluffs along the river.....welcome change from the miles of trees and muddy banks....river turns south but wind is light....

4:30...text from Rebecca that they have some real concerns about the motel where we have reservations and have not checked in yet....

5:10 cross under I-70 with high bluffs on east side of river......

6:35 Jefferson City,Mo. and our pit crew is waiting for us at the ramp...248 miles...longest distance Mike and i have ever traveled by water in one day....

we put boat on trailer and cross over bridge to motel to see if our wives concerns are valid...They were,this motel although part of a national chain, is located in older section of town and we saw several people coming in and out of rooms plus hanging around cars that more closely resembled drug dealers than they did tourists so we made a quick decision to go elsewhere....
with help of Jane's expertise and I-pad,we quickly found a Hampton Inn on outskirts of Jefferson City(and no unsavory people hanging out in parking lot)....
Dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse was good but they could take lessons from any truck stop on how to make a good hamburger steak...mushrooms and onion sticks are no substitute for good old brown gravy and onions...
long day but a good day...not fighting the wind and waves was a blessing and scenery vastly improved.....I'm sound asleep before Peggy gets through whatever it takes women so long to do in the bathroom...


Kansas City in rearview mirror...

sand dredge...one of perhaps six or seven we saw on entire trip...

every 30-40 miles we would see somebody catfishing

depth is 21 ft,water temp is 74F,speed is 30.5 mph and distance traveled since launch this morning is 135 miles...

sunken barge washed up on the bank...

small hills and bluffs above Glasgow.Mo.

casino business alive and well along the river...probably saw a dozen or more in 786 miles....

really pretty stretch of the Missouri...bluffs above Jefferson City,Mo.
 

TripLeader

Explorer
Very cool trip! I'd love to see more about it--photos, planning tools, logistic details...
_____
These two guys would be proud.
Lewis_and_Clark.jpg
 

beartrap

Adventurer
Day 4...final day.....

7:50 a.m. Launch boat,while Mike pulls van and trailer to top of ramp,I idle in the current and take pictures of Jefferson City...the town and state capitol is located on the hills directly across river..really pretty place especially viewed from river level....we are at mile marker 144 which means we are 144 miles from where the Missouri empties into the Miss. river...

8:50 a.m. GPS indicates we have traveled 25.5 miles.....river is probably 1/3 wider than it was in the Kansas City but current remains as strong...we are seeing more and more rock dikes and they extend much further out into the river....

9:20 a.m. we are passing a long stretch of high hills on south side of river and GPS indicates the mouth of the Osage river just ahead.....we slow down and try to take pictures of the clear water from the Osage mixing with muddy Missouri......
9:30 a.m. pass Herman,Mo. another pretty town sitting on hills overlooking the river...happened to look at my phone and no phone signal....maybe local tower was down at the time because very few stretches of the river didn't have cell service.....
9:50 a.m. switch drivers and note that in 55 miles,we had only seen one boat....previous day we did go by one sandbar in mid afternoon with 10 boats pulled up on it...there were several of the sun shade shelters,people in lawn chairs and kids playing in the shallow water... the odd thing was all of the boats were aluminum river type boats,normally you would see mostly ski or pontoon boats......we saw very few boats stopped on sandbars the entire trip and probably because the water is so muddy and current so strong...

11:30a.m. we pass mile marker 43 and see our first towboat entire trip and it was pushing one barge...it appeared to be equipment for a bridge they were building a few miles upstream....

Missouri river apparently has been abandoned by the Corps. of Engineers as far as maintaining the river for navigation.. What few buoys we saw were half sunken and not at edge of channel and I'm told industry gave up years ago trying to move goods up and down the river by barge....We saw probably couple hundred mooring/loading docks,grain elevators and power plants that had been designed to load/unload barges and none of them were in use... You wouldn't design and build a railroad with the railway so narrow and twisting that a locomotive could only pull one freight car at a time but in effect that is what the Corps. of Engineers has done with the Missouri river..
No telling how many billion dollars the Corps. spent(wasted) in building dikes and dredging trying to make this navigable river and it failed because no one had sense enough to realize the river was too narrow and current too strong to permit more than one or two barges to be pushed up or down river at a time(30-40 barge tows are common on Miss. river)....one of the retired Corps engineers told me they should have put in a series of locks and dams like they did on the upper Miss. river.....

12:00 p.m. time to idle a little while and eat a sandwich...when we slow down the sun gets uncomfortably hot so we put the bimini top up and the shade makes it a lot more comfortable inside the boat...

12:20 p.m. the river runs just north of St.Louis and I'm expecting to see industrial plants and loading docks,instead,we seeing beautiful homes on top of the hills and bluffs and no commercial development whatsoever...nor did i see any all the way to mouth of the river...

12:30 p.m. we get a text that our pit crew can't find the ramp which is located in the Lewis & Clark overlook and park just above mouth of river.
GPS on van which had worked perfectly previous three days had guided them to the edge of cornfield someplace....prior to our trip,we had used google earth to locate the ramp where we would take out each day,copied down the co-ordinates and each morning would enter them in the GPS and it worked perfectly guiding them to ramp each day....this day it didn't work and we later determined the GPS didn't recognize any of the roads inside the park so it just got them close but not close enough for them to see the entrance signs...Mike gets on phone and tells them to use a paper map that I had drawn up showing the road into the park and where ramp was located.....

1:05 p.m. we arrive at ramp and shortly thereafter the girls arrive...we are still couple miles from river and a huge thunderstorm is forming just north of the river so Mike and I run down to mouth of river,stick nose out in Miss. river,take a few pictures and hurry back.....sky is getting really black north of us so we drive down to the overlook and while women walk down to look at the view,Mike and I get the boat ready for the long trip home...
143 miles today....786 miles total......

in retrospect,it was a neat trip,I'm glad I got to check it off my bucket list and I'm more glad that I was able to do it with my son...also nice to have our wives plus Jane with us....Missouri river has almost no places to buy gas along the way so it's necessary to take your boat out every night and go to nearest convenience store....they were able to follow us with van and trailer and meet us at end of day.Lot of little things they did like fixing our sandwiches,motel check in etc. saved us time each day....

there's several rivers that I've traveled that I'd like to do again,this part of the Missouri isn't one of them...the first 60 miles would be fun but the remaining 720 miles has too many non-scenic miles and too much attention required to keep from running over rock dikes.....



if you enjoyed this account of my trip-you might be interested in a book I wrote "Old Goat in a Tin Boat" which is a journal of an 18 day,2107 mile trip I took from Minneapolis,Mn, all the way to Albany,Ga. entirely by water....lot more adventure and drama than this trip.......book also has journals of two different
long distance trips on Miss. river....$3.99 and it is available from amazon kindle books,smashwords,Apple I-tunes and Barnes & Noble....


Jefferson City,Mo. and state capitol on banks of river

look close and you can see clear water of Osage river mixing with muddy Missouri..

log caught on end of one of several thousand rock dikes that jut out into the river.....

only towboat and barge we saw on 786 miles of the river....

typical scenery on lower Missouri river...

mouth of Missouri looking across Miss. river at bank on Illinois side of river..
 
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fortel

Adventurer
I'm in Jefferson City. Unfortunately the Missouri has suffered greatly from the politics in its management and no longer resembles the wild river it once was. But there still are recreational opportunities and the fishing can be pretty good. The MR340 is a canoe/kayak race from KC to St. Louis where they paddle pretty much non-stop for those 340 miles. There are still quite a few landmarks visible today that were mentioned in the journals of Lewis and Clark - the mouth of the Osage, Sugar Loaf rock, Manitou Bluffs (the bluffs in your photo upstream of Jeff City) to name a few. Glad you had a safe trip.
 

njtacoma

Explorer
Really enjoyed the account of your trip. Sounds like fun.

There was another story about a boat trip posted on here a while back. Living in Colorado and the west my whole life, when someone says river trip, I think Whitewater.
 

zelatore

Explorer
Great trip - glad to see a boat trip show up on this forum. Certainly an under-appreciated mode of adventure travel around here.
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I grew up in southern IN and still remember the stories my father told of his honeymoon trip in '69. He built a 21' plywood cuddy cabin and hung a 60 hp Johnson (?) on the back, then took it from Evansville, IN to the gulf and back. Went down the Miss then back up the Ten/Tom route, though it wasn't completed at that time and he had to have a friend bring his trailer down for about a 60 mile portage. No shortage of tows on the Ohio and Miss rivers. He had one story about getting behind a really large tow on the lower Miss and not being able to power over the huge rollers of her wake so he made an early stop that day to let the tow run on down-river. Another of how mom only got really unhappy when dad insisted on taking the boat far enough into the gulf to get out of sight of land. Living in the days of chartplotters, I've been out of site of land plenty of times but had it easy. Makes you realize how good the guys with nothing but a compass were.
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Living in California now on the Sacramento River, I've occasionally thought about a trip like yours as far up-river as I could get on the Sac. However that would mean a new boat - likely something around 20', aluminum, and maybe jet drive. I don't think my Donzi or Carver would be great choices for that run. :)
 

shortbus4x4

Expedition Leader
Makes me want to go read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn again. Nowadays not too many people see this much of America from a river.
 
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