7 Great Midwest Rivers to Float and Paddle This Summer
When it comes to soaking up the dog days of summer, a leisurely float trip is one of the best ways to experience the Midwest's abundant waterways. We've rounded up seven of the region's best locations to float and paddle with your crew. No gear? No problem. Local outfitters can provide the essentials—just pack your sunscreen and a cooler full of your favorite refreshments, and pile into the car to head to one of these popular destinations.
Upper Iowa River, Winneshiek County, Iowa
Of all the places to drift in the Midwest, the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa might be the coolest. This remarkable region is a veritable oasis left untouched when glaciers flattened much of the area about 12,000 years ago. Rent gear from an outfitter like Upper Iowa Resort and join the Upper Iowa River as it meanders past towering limestone bluffs, surprising waterfalls, secluded hardwood forests and historic bridges. It is one of the most scenic rivers in the nation—National Geographic listed the Upper Iowa River as one of the top 100 adventures in North America!
Related: A Fall Road Trip to Decorah, Iowa
Apple River, Somerset, Wisconsin
This 77-mile-long tributary of the St. Croix River offers the best of both worlds; the journey kicks off with a gentle current before transitioning to livelier rapids to thrill more adventurous types. In the middle, a substantial sandbar always seems to host a spirited beach volleyball match and picnickers. Outfitters in and around Somerset provide rentals and transportation for this popular tubing river. Looking for a more unique experience? Try tanking, the tubing alternative in which you float down the river in a 500-gallon stock tank.
Meramec River, Steelville, Missouri
The Land of the Ozarks excites with its broad range of water-focused offerings, but trust us when we recommend a float trip on the Meramec River. Stretching over 200 miles, it's one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the state. Its most popular sections for float trips are between Maramec Spring and Meramec State Park. Find an outfitter near the start at the Upper Meramec and let the river do the rest! Along the way, cliffs, caves and soothing springs usher you through one of the most beautiful sections of the Show-Me State. Traveling from St. Louis? Day trippers won't have to go far, as most outfitters are located about a 90-minute drive away in Steelville.
Niobrara River, Valentine, Nebraska
If Nebraska doesn't conjure up images of serpentine Midwestern waterways, visit the Niobrara River midsummer and get back to us. Situated in the beautiful Sandhills of north-central Nebraska, this river is a statewide favorite for tubers and kayakers. Its slow-moving pace means you won't miss glimpsing 200-plus waterfalls along the way. The most common route is from the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge's launch site to Brewer Bridge (both are public access landings). Outfitters are concentrated around the town of Valentine.
Tippecanoe River, Winamac, Indiana
Affectionately called "Tippy" by locals, the Tippecanoe River derives its name from the Miami Indian word for "buffalo fish." Cruise its glassy waters and admire historic structures as well as an amazing spectrum of biodiversity, including bluebreast, gilt, spotted and Tippecanoe darters. The popular section of the river to float is about three and a half miles long, and outfitters can be found in Winamac.
Root River, Preston, Minnesota
Minnesota may be called the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but the state's rivers have much to offer, too. Though there are plenty to choose from, a float trip down the Root River rewards with charming towns and fantastic bike trails along the way. The water propels floaters at a leisurely-to-moderate pace, and they can wave to fishermen casting their lines for the river's plentiful bounty. Check out outfitters in Lanesboro.
Chippewa River, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
Gentle currents and scenic views abide in the Chippewa River, easily accessible via the aptly named town of Mt. Pleasant in central Michigan. The 4 mph current is the perfect pace, and the cool, clear water provides a pleasant relief from Midwest heat. You won't see a single wave or rapid on this river, just beautiful wildlife and happy, slightly sunburned Michiganders.