Middle Mississippi Start Place #2:
The Missouri River
Columbia Bottom Boat Ramp
RBD Mile 3 Missouri River
Columbia Bottom Boat Ramp is a good quality, low angle concrete boat ramp dropping into the muddy Missouri River 3 miles above the confluence. Fancy concrete outhouses. Paved parking lot. Turnaround at top of ramp. Paddlers will have to jockey for position with fishermen. Arrange shuttle for any overnights or multi day trips. No vehicles allowed overnight.
Paddlers putting in at the Columbia Bottom Boat Ramp can enjoy the last three miles of the Big Muddy Missouri River, and entertain thoughts of the two thousand miles upstream this great waterway has flowed. The Big Muddy Missouri the longest arm of the longest river in America, reaching up through the Middle of Missouri and in between Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and then up through the Middle of the Dakotas to define the center of Montana with the Yellowstone branching south into Wyoming, its three tributaries branching off at its head to reach into the top of the Continental Divide between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho via the Absorokas, the Firehole Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful), and the Bitterroot Range.
In low water the Missouri flows around 3mph here, warm brownish-green in color, moving too slow to keep much mud in suspension. But in high water the Missouri scoots along at 7, 8, 9mph -- and sometimes faster -- barreling along downstream full of trees, trash and other detritus in a deep chocolate brown soupy broth that sometimes borders on the consistency of chicken gravy. Paddle out of the swirling sediment-laden eddy at the bottom of the Columbia Bottom Boat Ramp and get in the flow, and then sit back and enjoy the sensation of the Big Muddy Missouri. You only have three miles so you might as well make the most of it. Unless the wind is contrary, or you’re in a rush to get somewhere, you can float along all the way down to the Upper Miss Confluence. You might see fishermen and maybe other paddlers, but there is rarely any commercial traffic on the Missouri. Enjoy the quiet ride while it lasts!
Columbia Bottom State Conservation Area
Columbia Bottom State Conservation Area; protected bottomlands which includes over 4,300 acres of fields intersected by lines of willows, cottonwoods, and sycamores, and is full of wildlife. Important birding area. Managed hunting allowed. Paved boat ramp (see above) for river activities and a primitive boat ramp for canoes or kayaks (at base of Duck Island). The Conservation Area also includes paved walking and biking trails, viewing platforms overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers and a Visitors Center. Visitor Center is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Open Wednesday through Friday 8am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday 8am to 4pm. 801 Strodtman Road, St. Louis, MO 63138, Phone: 314-877-6014.
Driving directions from I-270: Going north on Riverview Drive from I-270, look for sign announcing Columbia Bottom State Conservation Area. Take a right onto Upper Columbia Bottom Drive/Madison Ferry Drive. Follow pavement. Bear left at roads split and follow Upper Columbia Bottom Drive 1.6 miles. Boat ramp on left beyond large parking lot. 38.824012,-90.163829
Stopping at the Confluence
As you are approaching the confluence make plans for landing on one side or the other, (or float into the meeting not stopping at all). You have two choices for stop for photographs and stretching your legs. They are on opposite sides of the actual meeting of the rivers, separated by a half mile of fast-flowing water, so you will have to decide one or the other. Your most intimate visit would be Jones-Confluence State Park, LBD at the narrow meet place of the waters. Here you can disembark and wiggle your toes in the two rivers as they mix. You might get a better view from the Confluence Overlook of the Columbia Bottoms State Conservation Area, but it also feels a little removed.
195.6 RBD Jones-Confluence State Park
(LBD Mile 0.5 of the Missouri River)
There is a small park heralding the confluence at Mile 0 Missouri River/Mile 195.6 Upper Miss. Muddy landing in low water. Accessible to foot traffic. Good place for a rest stop or picnic, but you wouldn’t want to camp here. You can follow a concrete walk up into some trees to view a signpost marking the 1993 record-breaking highwater level of 438.2 feet (49.5 on the St. Louis Gage).
195.6 RBD Columbia Bottoms State Park
(RBD Mile 0.5 of the Missouri River)
The Confluence Overlook right bank descending at Columbia Bottoms State Conservation Area looks like the ramparts of a concrete castle. There is no reason for paddlers to stop here unless you just want a different angle to view the confluence, or maybe a fresh view of eagles flying through. Frequented by tourists and birders. Also steep rip-rap landing at low water. For best land access, continue on downstream to the Canoe & Kayak Landing below Duck Island.
195 - 194 RBD Duck Island
Duck Island is a one mile tall forested island with sandy ledge on south (bottom) end good for low, medium and even high water camps. Giant sandbar top end at low water gradually disappears as the river rises and is nowhere to be seen at high water (above 25 on the St. Louis Gage). In high south winds you could find a protected forest camp top end at most water levels up to flood stage. Avoid Bald Eagle nesting site halfway down island on East bank (main channel side).
Duck Island comes to view as you round the corner out of the Missouri River and join the waters of the Mississippi. You will have no idea that you are paddling within the vicinity of millions of city dwellers in greater St. Louis because all you see is flowing water, lines of trees, and Duck Island. This is the very first river island paddlers will encounter on the Middle Mississippi, and a good one for picnics or possible limited camping (Note: best bet for camping is further downstream on Mosenthein Island). Duck Island is considered public land, but is inhabited by families of bald eagles, coyotes, raccoons and migrating birds. Bald eagles build nests in the high branches of the tall cottonwoods along the southeastern shore. Respect the nesting eagles and make landings on the western side of the island, top or bottom.