In Missouri, the fun flows from backyards to rivers


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Much of the content in this edition of the Jewish Light (printed paper July 28th issue) is devoted to transforming outdoor living spaces into relaxing sanctuaries. We hope we’ve piqued your interest and enticed you to watch a 30-minute video at, which showcases eight St. Louis Jewish homeowners’ backyards and outdoor properties. These spaces truly are stunning, and the video thoroughly captures their essence, using drones to shoot aerial views and close-up videography that makes you feel as if you are actually walking through the woods or listening to a waterfall. 

Of course, many of us have more modest acreage and fewer resources and/or desire (and drive!) to create an outdoor paradise at home. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of what the St. Louis region has to offer and the fact that we are surrounded by rivers.
Let me digress. 

My introduction to Missouri rivers came roughly 40 years ago when friends suggested we go floating. Silly me, I thought “go floating” meant we would literally float on a blow-up contraption in some random lake or backyard pool, whiling away the day. 

It wasn’t until we arrived in Steelville, about 90 minutes southwest of St. Louis, that I realized floating wasn’t exactly what I had thought. 

I grew up in New York and was lucky enough to spend my summers at sleepaway camp in the Adirondack Mountains. We had all kinds of activities at camp, especially water sports since the camp was located directly on a lake. One such activity was canoeing, which upon checking into the outfitter in Steelville, looked a lot like what my friends had in mind when they suggested floating.

Was this like a sundae or “sunda” kind of thing? Soda or pop? Roof or “ruff”? A quirky Midwest regionalism that required a different word for the same activity?

It wasn’t until we were navigating the river that I realized canoeing and floating weren’t the same in Missouri, at least not as I remembered canoeing from my childhood. In summer camp, we had to kneel in the canoe while we paddled, which tended to provide better balance but also was uncomfortable and hard on the knees and legs. And we had to paddle, a lot. Like the entire time we were in the canoe.

On this “float” trip, we could sit comfortably on the bench seat in the bow or stern to paddle, though honestly, there wasn’t all that much paddling involved. Much of the time, the river’s leisurely current carried our canoe merrily along, with us paddling only on occasion to help steer. Our paddles were mostly used as a mechanism to help push us away from fallen tree limbs and other debris in our path as we floated. 

I’ve taken dozens of float trips on rivers in Missouri and elsewhere since that first one four decades ago. And while we used to float in canoes, kayaks and even inner tubes, we began opting for rafts because more people can fit in them, including kids.

Last Friday, after not having done so for several years, I took a 5-mile float trip along the Courtois Creek to the Huzzah and Meramec rivers, with my stepdaughter, daughter-in-law and her mother. We drove 75 minutes to Ozark Outdoors in Leasburg, where we rented a raft and were joined by hundreds of other floaters. The river was more crowded than we would have liked, and the water levels a little low, but that didn’t get in the way of us thoroughly enjoying ourselves. 

It was wickedly hot and humid, but we rarely felt the heat, stopping often at gravel bars to cool off in the refreshing, chilly water and enjoy icy cold beverages that we had packed in coolers. 

Our float took us past steep limestone bluffs and lush greenery that stretched for as far as we could see. With the exception of some birds and lots of small fish, we didn’t encounter much “wildlife,” though we heard one group of floaters shrieking about a snake. We took note and paddled away from the ruckus.

With stops to swim, eat lunch and enjoy those icy cold beverages I mentioned, the float took us about five hours. The best part: All we needed to do when we were done was drag our raft to shore, dry off and drive away — our car was parked just a few yards away from where the float ended. 

During the car ride home, we talked about how much fun we had, and wondered why we didn’t do this more often. We also agreed that September and October would be the perfect time to float, while the weather is still somewhat warm, and the leaves begin to turn color. Even better, pick a day during the week.

Geographically speaking, Missouri may not have an ocean or mountains (sorry Ozarks, but you’re not the Smokies or Rockies), but it does have a host of amazing rivers that offer sparkling clear water, stunning vistas and incredible nature, all within a few hours drive of St. Louis. Our Missouri rivers are a natural resource to behold, cherish and most of all, enjoy.

We hope that our Outdoor Living Showcase will inspire readers — and viewers of the online video — to reimagine what their own outdoor spaces could be. 

But as my recent getaway reminded me, you can also find inspiration and relaxation with a drive, a hike or a float trip, whether it’s of the Adirondack or Ozark variety. 

For ideas and places to float on Missouri Rivers, visit