Lakes in Missouri and Near St. Louis

Natural Escapes

Simpson Lake

Tucked in a serene stretch of Valley Park, near the Meramec River, Simpson Park is home to the 72-acre Simpson Lake, where SUP St. Louis provides guided paddles and board yoga classes. 1234 Marshall.

Creve Coeur Lake

Powerboats are not allowed on the largest natural lake in Missouri, so it’s peaceful in a way that few publicly accessible lakes are today. The Creve Coeur Sailing Association is the group to connect with if you sail. Its focus is on racing, and it encourages interested skippers to come on race day either with their own boat or ready to crew on someone else’s. The lake is also home to the St. Louis Rowing Club, which has been using it since 1870. They took a break in 1904, when Olympic rowers took over the waters. These days, the club offers Learn-To-Row classes for everyone from weekend athletes to those with their sights set on competing. 143 Creve Coeur Mill, www.co.st-louis.mo.us/parks/creve.html; sailccsa.com; stlouisrowingclub.com

Forest Park Boathouse

The Boathouse is in the heart of Forest Park and sits on the edge of Post-Dispatch Lake. From there, you can reach any of the waterways throughout the park. Though the park restricts the use of any outside watercraft, the boathouse does rent out paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards by the hour. 6101 Government.

Cuivre River State Park

If you’ve had it with chlorine, head to Cuivre River State Park. It’s only about 30 minutes outside of St. Louis, near Troy, and though north of us, it feels like the Ozarks (read: kinda wild). Known for its trails, it also features Lake Lincoln, which has a public swimming beach and change house, so you can take a nice dip in a natural setting but not have to wriggle back into your clothes in the car. 678 State Route 147, Troy, Mo., 636-528-7247, mostateparks.com/cuivre.htm

Favorite Fishing Holes

When people think fly-fishing, they tend to think trout. But since trout don’t do that well in warmer climates like ours, your opportunities to fish them around here are predominantly in stocked waters. What we do have in natural abundance are small-mouth bass. They, like trout, are good fighters and fun to catch on a fly rod. Go anywhere in the Huzzah Creek or Big River systems to find them. If trout is what you’re after, naysayers be damned, you’ll want the upper Current River near Montauk, Mo. For beginners, Montauk State Park offers a fishing pond, complete with lessons. Those with more expertise should check out the trophy trout section below the park. See entries at mdc.mo.gov/areas/stlouis/fish

Beaches Within an Hour’s Drive

Innsbrook: Book an A-frame cabin for a weekend, and enjoy the amenities of the resort-style lake and golf community, where you can go swimming or sailing, fishing or canoeing, or just soak in the sun on one of the beaches.

Carlyle Lake: Illinois’ largest manmade lake boasts four public swimming beaches, each equipped with picnic shelters.

St. Joe State Park: Located an hour south of St. Louis, the park has two easily accessible swimming lakes featuring beaches, changing houses, restrooms—and restricted access by gas-powered boats.

Lake Livin’—Sans Boat

Who said the outdoors has to be synonymous with roughing it?

Table Rock Lake

If you happen to think that Big Cedar Lodge (bigcedar.com)—owned by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris—is only for anglers, think again. The ornate, log cabin–themed resort is an ideal getaway for couples, with a carriage house–inspired spa, horse-drawn carriages, and fine dining. Those looking to get out on the lake can sign up for ski school; take a sunset cruise aboard Lady Liberty, a luxury dinner yacht; or do yoga—on a paddleboard. If you’re looking for another way to escape Branson’s crowded Route 76, rent a lakefront room at Chateau on the Lake(chateauonthelake.com) and book a massage at the 14,000-square-foot Spa Chateau. Afterward, soak in the Roman-inspired outdoor whirlpool that overlooks the shore, and enjoy lake life with a view.

Lake of the Ozarks

So Party Cove’s not your style, and the yacht’s in the shop—but who says you need a boat to have fun? The golf courses surrounding the lake are the real draw anyway. At The Lodge of Four Seasons (4seasonsresort.com), you can play three acclaimed courses: The Cove, The Ridge, and The Club at Porto Cima. Another option: Rent a golf cottage at Old Kinderhook (oldkinderhook.com), and play the memorable, par-71 Tom Weiskopf Signature course, carved into the Ozark hills just west of Camdenton. (There’s even live music on Fridays and Saturdays.) Or if you’d prefer to skip the resorts altogether, you can rent a place elsewhere and book a golf package through Lake’s Hottest Rentals (573-539-9900), allowing you to play courses without lodging, such as the Arnold Palmer–designed Osage National Golf Resort(osagenational.com), Bear Creek Valley Golf Club (bearcreekvalley.com), and The Golf Club at Deer Chase (deerchasegolf.com).

Lake Michigan

The gleaming, 92-story Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago(trumphotelcollection.com/chicago) stands at the edge of the Chicago River, near the Magnificent Mile and 20 minutes west of Navy Pier. Among the hotel’s biggest draws: a 23,000-square-foot spa and the Michelin-rated Sixteen restaurant. Farther north, The Peninsula Chicago(peninsula.com) also houses an award-winning spa, as well as the acclaimed Shanghai Terrace. And right on the waterfront sits the W Chicago–Lakeshore (starwoodhotels.com), with the popular rooftop Whiskey Sky bar/lounge and a view that overlooks Navy Pier.

Swimming Holes

As the weather continues to warm up, plunging into a pool of nice, cool water sounds more and more enticing. With recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, though, public pools aren’t an option for many people, and not everyone has access to the oasis private backyard pools can bring. Luckily, there’s an all-natural alternative: swimming holes and lakes, many of which are only a day trip from St. Louis. These are just a few of the beautiful destinations within driving distance of St. Louis. Be sure to pack your swimsuit, sunscreen, and water shoes before visiting. 

Finger Lakes 

Location: Columbia

Drive: Two hours and 3 minutes

Swimming is allowed here anywhere except the boat ramp, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This man-made quarry lake has a beach and a pier to swim from, and canoes, kayaks, and boats with electric motors are all allowed for some extra boating fun. The lake is large, the water is clear, and there are lots of other activities allowed nearby, including fishing, hiking, and ATV-riding. 

Three Creeks 

Location: Boone County

Drive: Two hours and 9 minutes 

If Finger Lakes is too crowded for your taste, drive the extra few minutes to visit this smaller, more remote spot. Where Turkey Creek, Bass Creek, and Bonne Femme Creek meet is a swimming hole in the Three Creeks Conservation Area. The swimming hole itself is not particularly big, but the surrounding creeks can be waded through as well. This spot is made even more fun by the rope swing tied to a tree, where visitors can swing into the water. Be prepared to hike to this spot, though the hike down the horse and bike trail is manageable, even for younger swimmers. 

Rocky Falls 

Location: Winona Township

Drive: Two hours and 49 minutes

Rocky Falls is exactly as its name suggests: a series of rocks forming small waterfalls. It’s a shut-in, similar to the popular Johnson’s and Castor River shut-ins, though this one isn’t good for riding down. At the bottom is a pool, though, which is perfect for swimming. Although there’s an easy, short trail to the swimming hole, for those looking for a long hike before cooling off, the 6-mile Klepzig Mill Trail also leads to the water. 

St. Joe State Park 

Location: Park Hill

Drive: One hour and 12 minutes 

This park has not one but two swimming beaches for visitors to enjoy: the Monsanto and Pim lakes. For certified scuba divers, you can dive here as well, as long as you check in with the office first. The beaches are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, and while you can picnic at the shelters here, be sure you leave your cans, glass bottles, coolers, and pets at home. 

Sinking Creek 

Location: Newton Township

Drive: Three hours and 2 minutes

Sinking Creek is part of Echo Bluff State Park and is a tributary of Current River, a popular river for floating down. The water is surrounded by tall bluffs, making your swim extra scenic. There are both shallow parts for wading and deeper parts for swimming. Keep your eyes out for smallmouth bass and goggle-eye fish, which are known to being in the area. 

Wakonda Lake

Location: La Grange

Drive: Two hours and 21 minutes

For those missing their summer trip to Florida due to the pandemic, Wakonda Lake offers Missouri’s largest natural sand beach, with 20,000 square feet to social distance along. The beach is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Relax on the sand, play some sand volleyball with your family, then take a dip in the water to cool off. 

Mark Twain Lake

Location: Hannibal

Drive: Two hours and 27 minutes

From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., boat, fish, or swim on this stretch of lake. Although it’s less popular than Lake of the Ozarks or Table Rock Lake, Mark Twain Lake has 18,000 acres of water to have fun in, as well as a beach to relax or picnic on, though alcohol and pets are not allowed. 

Big Piney River

Location: Dixon

Drive: Two hours and 13 minutes

If floating sounds more appealing than swimming, Big Piney River may be your pick of places to visit. At 21 miles long, the tributary of the Gasconade River is surrounded by scenic limestone bluffs and pine trees. The swimmers of the family can swim or wade in the water while the rest relax in a tube. This river tends not to get too crowded, making it an even better place to visit. 

Tips for Staying Safe

None of these swimming holes will have a lifeguard on duty, so it’s even more important to know basic water safety. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you and your little ones safe:

Keep your eyes on your kids. Make sure you’re supervising your children, even if you know they can swim and they’re carrying a floaty. This is especially true for kids under the age of 4, who should never be more than an arm’s length away. Don’t let them play in the water out of sight, and be sure they’re within swimming distance should you need to go rescue them. 

Make sure everyone in your group can swim. If you or your kids don’t know how to swim, a swimming hole may not be the best choice for you. Instead, maybe choose one of the beautiful dry hiking trails or bike paths across the state. Don’t assume your kids know how to swim; if you’re not sure, it’s probably better to avoid the heat a different way or make sure you stay in the shallow end. 

Jump in feet first. You know all those signs on the sides of swimming pools that show a figure hitting its head on the ground? That can happen in a swimming hole, too—easily. It’s imperative to make sure the water is deep enough before jumping in at all, and once you’ve decided it is, never dive or otherwise jump head-first. The depth of a swimming hole can change from visit to visit, since it often depends on how much rain the area has gotten lately, so don’t blindly trust what you think is deep water. 

Stay where you’re supposed to be. Heed signs in the area as they’re there for a reason. If they tell you a place is unsafe for swimming, don’t swim there, even if you’ve swum there before. If a sign says swimming is prohibited, don’t swim there. If the place you’re supposed to be swimming is in any way roped off or you see a barrier, don’t go past that barrier. 

Learn CPR, just in case. In the case that something terrible does happen while you’re swimming, make sure you know CPR. Many areas offer classes, but there are also resources for learning the life-saving action online and many of them only take a few minutes. If tragedy strikes, this is the best way to be prepared while waiting for professional help to arrive. 

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

If the weather permits, a weekend at the southern recreation area is filled with cozy fires, various trails, and a quick swim.

“Wait… Are you serious?” That’s the response I often received after telling someone I was heading to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park—perhaps the most iconic Missouri State Park—for the very first time. I know, it’s unfathomable. I grew up in St. Louis, yet had never made it south to the gem residing in central Missouri. I knew that had to change, so I set out on a peak-foliage weekend in late fall. I booked the campsite, stopped in at the visitor center, hiked a few trails, swam with the shut-ins, and made s’mores over a campfire under a pristine sky filled with stars. Now, I’ve compiled the top 10 things you must do on a visit to Johnson’s Shut-Ins. 

1. Book well in advance. Johnson’s Shut-Ins is one of the busiest state parks in Missouri. It’s imperative that you get on the website and book your campsite well ahead of your stay.

2. Walk into the visitor center. We pulled in late on a Saturday afternoon, and it looked deserted. I walked up and gave the door a tug—it was open—and an employee was able to give key information about the park, the campground, and the surrounding area. The visitor center highlights not only the geological wonders of the park, but also details its history, such as on December 14, 2005, when the Tom Sauk reservoir broke through its walls, sending billions of gallons of water rushing down the valley and through the shut-ins. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and the park reopened for full use in 2010.

3. Buy yourself an “atomic candle.” There is a firewood restriction at the campground because of the pervasiveness of the emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle that is ravaging forests across the state. In an effort to keep the pest contained, firewood must be purchased on-site, and the camp store has a barn full at $5/bundle. The store clerk assured me that the wood had been seasoned sufficiently. After struggling to get a fire going, I returned to the store, and he pointed me toward an “atomic candle,” a handmade concoction of wood chips, kerosene, and a binding agent in a small paper cup. For $2, it was worth a shot, as what I was doing was not working. Sure enough, 20 minutes later we had a roaring campfire—$2 well spent. 

4. Keep it basic. If you’re car camping, or driving and not walking to your site, the park’s basic campsites offer everything you’ll need. A nice concrete area to park the car, flat and shaded ground to pitch your tent, a functional picnic table for dining needs, a fire pit with a flip-over cooking grate, and a bag-hanging station to keep food or trash away from wildlife. This campsite loop is fairly small, with the toilet/shower block on one end and a water source at the other. If you’re lucky, you’ll nab a a campsite midway between the two. Don’t expect a ton of privacy during peak season, as the campsites are close together, but there are some trees and shrubs that delineate one from the next. 

5. Hike the Scour Trail. It’s an easy 2-mile loop that winds through the area of the park where the flood waters raced through in 2005. The trailhead is just up the road from the visitor center, with clearly marked signage along State Road N. It’s a simple hike from the parking lot, through the forest, down into the valley, along the stream bed, up the ridge, and back to the parking area. The trail is worn and well-marked, even along the valley floor. The repaired reservoir sits high on a hill in the distance, the effects of the flood still readily apparent 13 years later. While unlikely, do mind the signs and keep your ears open. There is a new alert system that will sound an alarm in the event of another flood. If you do hear something unusual, head to higher ground immediately.

6. Do the Shut-Ins Trail counterclockwise. Arguably, the shut-ins are the reason so many people flock to this park. The trail offers a varied terrain and spectacular views of the surrounding hillsides. It’s a moderate hike, as Scour Trail is a more easy one. The Shut-Ins Trail has boulders to navigate, rocky crags that require close attention, and a few steep sections of ascent/descent. Pets are not allowed, so your four-legged friends will have to stay behind. That said, if you’re up for the challenge, be sure to do the trail counter-clockwise. That way, you will have completed the 2-mile loop upon your arrival at the shut-ins. 

7. Go for a swim. Regardless of how cold the water is, a swim will be invigorating and refreshing. A quick dip might make for the best part of the trip. 

8. Avoid the crowds. We visited the park in late fall, and were immediately startled by the size of the parking areas. Vast slabs of concrete and asphalt looked ready for all those summertime revelers. On our trip, the parking lots and trails were empty. While the campground wasn’t empty, it definitely wasn’t full. I can’t even imagine what the park is like midsummer, those massive lots full of cars, the campgrounds full of trailers. Yikes. To avoid the crowds, go in the shoulder season—early spring or late fall—and try to go during the week if you can. You might even end up having the entire shut-ins swimming area all to yourself like I did. 

9. Take a trip to those famous Elephant Rocks. If you’re already at Johnson’s Shut-Ins, you might as well stop at Elephant Rocks State Park on the way back to St. Louis. It’s a small park, day-use only, and is centered around these massive igneous monoliths that rise out of the Earth. It is really something to behold. An adventurous trail, ample bouldering opportunities, and great views of the surrounding countryside combine with neatly spaced picnic areas to create an ideal spot for a relaxing afternoon on the way back to the city. 

10. Take plenty of photos. These two parks offer myriad photo opportunities when it comes to unique landscapes and otherworldly rock formations. Slip down a rockslide, climb a boulder, and be sure to capture the moment—you’ll want to remember your visits to the Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks state parks.

Float Trips

Depending on when you go (it gets crowded on holiday weekends), the rivers can be serene retreats or hosts to drunken, sloppy ragers. Whichever you prefer, knowing which streams to float and what to pack will help make your trip memorable or memoryless (again, preference).

WHAT TO PACK

  • Sunscreen: Sunburns set in quickly when you’re on the water. Sweat-resistant sunblocks fair well. Hats and clothing fair better.
  • Drinks: Foremost, pack water. Dehydration is not your friend on a several-hours-long float. That said, beer seldom tastes better than when sipped while meandering down a calm stretch of water. Many craft breweries, including some of St. Louis’ own, now offer beers in adventure-ready cans. River-worthy local brews include 4 Hands’ Contact High—a hoppy wheat ale brewed with orange zest—and, really, any of Schlafly’s four Can Sessions beer styles. Don’t sleep on what a little boxed wine can do for a float, either. Ditch the box in the car, and sling that bag-o-wine from boat to boat.
  • Neck-strap coozies: A coozie is crucial. Being able to paddle through a stretch of rapids without spilling your drink is a huge modern-day advantage you have over ol’ Huck Finn. Most float-trip outfitters sell these hands-free coozies in their general stores, in case you don’t have your cabinets stocked with them already.
  • Lunch: Double-wrap your meal in sealable freezer bags. A soggy sandwich might as well be a soggy diaper. If you didn’t bring another dry one, it’s going to be a fussy ride back. Also, consider packing Red Hot Riplets.
  • Dry bag: Dry bags come in all sizes and are worth the investment. As bad as a soggy sandwich is, a soggy phone or camera is much worse.
  • Lifejackets: Or you might prefer personal floats. Most float outfitters will supply you with them.

WHAT TO LEAVE ON SHORE

  • Flip flops: They will float away. Lose them for a sporty pair of sandals (a la Chaco, Keen, or Teva), tight-fitting mesh-top water shoes, or an old pair of tennis shoes. You want something with a rubber sole that will stay on your foot despite the current. Most of the Ozark streams are rock-bottomed, so unless you’re Fred Flintstone, trying to tip-toe barefooted along the stream will leave you cut and bruised.
  • Glass bottles and beer bongs, bro: Glass bottles are illegal on all Missouri waterways, and beer bongs aren’t allowed on most.
  • Foam coolers: They’re bad for the environment and bad for your drinks when they inevitably crack open. Bring a real cooler. Bungy it to the canoe or raft.

WHERE TO FLOAT

The Ozark streams to our south and southwest offer the best floating in the state and arguably some of the best in the country. Fed by a robust system of natural springs, most have remarkably clear, cool water and an abundance of wildlife. Here are some of the float-trip outfitters that St. Louisans can drive to within two hours.

Huzzah Valley Resort  (970 E. Hwy. 8, Steelville, 573-786-8412, huzzahvalley.com)

  • Floats: Courtois Creek and Huzzah River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $24 per person, kayaks for $30 per person, tubes from $15 to $25, and rafts (4-man, 6-man, 8-man and 10-man rafts are available) from $103 to $340
  • Lodging: Tent campsites, RV sites, cabins, and houses

Garrison Canoe & Campground (Hwy. TT and Garrison Lane, Steelville, 573-775-2410, garrisonscanoe.com)

  • Floats: Courtois Creek, Huzzah River and Upper Meramec River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $44 per boat, rafts (4-man, 6-man, 8-man, 10-man, 12-man, 14-man and 20-man rafts available) from $100 to $385
  • Lodging: RV sites, cabins, cottages, and houses

Bass’ River Resort (204 Butts Road, Steelville, 800-393-3700, bassresort.com)

  • Floats: Courtois Creek, Huzzah River and Upper Meramec River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $24 per person, kayaks for $30 per person, tubes for $25.55, and rafts (4-man, 6-man, 8-man and 10-man rafts available) from $102 to $340
  • Lodging: Tent campsites, RV sites, cabins, and houses

Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort (200 Ozark Outdoor Lane, Leasburg, 573-425-6837, ozarkoutdoors.net)

  • Floats: Courtois Creek, Huzzah River and Upper Meramec River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $46 to $50 per boat, kayaks for $30 per person, tubes for $15 to $25, and rafts (4-man, 6-man, 8-man and 10-man rafts available) from $102 to $340
  • Lodging: Tent campsites, RV sites, cabins and condos

Cherokee Landing (8344 Berry Road, Bonne Terre, 573-358-2805, cherokeelanding.com)

  • Floats: Big River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $50 per boat, kayaks from $30 to $50 per boat, tubes for $20, and rafts (4-man and 6-man rafts available) from $100 to $150.
  • Lodging: Tent campsites, RV sites, and cabins

Sam A. Baker State Park (Hwy. 143, Patterson, 573-856-4223, samabaker.com)

  • Floats: St. Francis River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $40 per boat, kayaks for $30 per boat and 6-man rafts for $100
  • Lodging: Cabins

Riversedge Campground (2100 Peola Road, Lesterville, 573-637-2422, riversedgeblackriver.com)

  • Floats: Black River
  • Rentals: Canoes for $38 per boat, kayaks for $30 per boat, tubes for $15 and rafts (4-man and 6-man rafts available) from $85 to $110.
  • Lodging: Tent campsites

Prices based on weekend or Saturday rates.

The Current and Jacks Fork rivers are two of Missouri’s rivers that fall just outside our 2-mile drive-time radius, but are well worth exploring for a full weekend. Together, they comprise the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park to protect a river system. 

Meramec River: Aside from attending a Cardinals game and cooling off with a Ted Drewes concrete, floating the Meramec tops off the list of St. Louis quintessential summertime activities. To get on the river but spare the long drive, a canoe or rafting trip down the Meramec is the way to go to experience beautiful Missouri landscapes and relax into the slow pace of nature. Be mindful of the weather and season with any float trip, especially on the Meramec, where fluctuating water can be the difference between a bumpy ride and a swift current. The Meramec is a great entry point for first-time floaters.

Drive: 30–40 minutes

Floater’s favorite: Twin Rivers Canoe Rentals at Brookdale Farms, Eureka, Mo., 636-549-4610

Courtois Creek: Pronounced “coat-away,” Courtois Creek is known for its crystal clear, spring-fed water. Just about 100 miles outside of St. Louis near Steeleville, there are a variety of floating, kayaking, and rafting options along this 18-mile creek. One seasoned Courtois Creek floater recommends the Berryman to Blunt section of the creek, a beautiful four- to five-hour canoe trip down the more curvaceous section of the creek. Along the way, enjoy riverside picnics, swimming, and fishing.

Drive: 2 hours

Floater’s favorite: Bass’ River Resort, 1-800-392-3700; Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort, 1-800-888-0023

Current River: About three hours southwest of St. Louis, the Current River is worth the trek—but plan to camp or stay in a nearby lodge to take in the natural beauty of southern Missouri wilderness. Insider’s tip: Canoe the Pulltite to Round Spring leg of the Current River for amazing scenery, clear blue waters, eerie caves, and natural wonders along the way. And if you plan to camp, avoid crowds at the newly opened Echo Bluff State Park by opting to set up camp at Round Spring Campground, near Eminence. Watch for wild horses—they are known to roam the land!

Drive: 3 hours

Floater’s favorite: Carr’s Canoe Rental, 1-800-333-3956; Running River Canoe Rental, 573-858-3371

Eleven Point River: Because of its breathtaking beauty and protection as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, some call the Eleven Point River the best place to float in Missouri. The Eleven Point River runs wild and free: There are no dams or shoreline developments. Floaters can expect rapids, caves, springs (check out the Greer to Riverton stretch), and a dreamy blue pool at Boze Mill Float Camp that feels like scene out of the Caribbean.

Drive: 3.5 hours

Floater’s favorite: Camp on the river for a full immersion into nature. Regular floaters recommend White Creek or Greenbriar camp sites. Also recommended: Eleven Point River Canoe Rental, 417-778-6497.

Meramec River

Blue Springs Ranch in Bourbon, Mo., offers memorable float trips on the Meramec. You can do a 5-mile float by raft or canoe or a 10-mile canoe-only float. The ride is gentle, and the scenery is pretty. Midway through the trip, keep an eye out for a trail along the bluffs that leads to an amazing cave, which you can hike up into. (Make sure to pack a flashlight along with your towels.) 800-333-8007, bluespringsranchresort.com

Paddle Like a Pro

If you want to paddle a kayak or a canoe without incident, here’s a primer from Russ Tamm, who teaches kayaking for the Alpine Shop.

Before you go up a creek, you’ll need a paddle. The starter is a cheap and sturdy metal shaft with plastic paddles at the end. When you’re ready for commitment, there’s carbon fiber or fiberglass—the lighter the paddle, the less fatiguing.

Paddle on the left side, then the right, in a smooth, graceful rhythm that doesn’t make a splash. For a kayak, there are two styles: high-angle and low-angle. In high-angle, your hands are crossing in front of your body at about eye level; in low-angle, they’re crossing at about chest level. The high angle is more powerful but more fatiguing. Save it for whitewater, when you need a faster response.

Canoe paddling doesn’t divide into separate techniques, only straight-shaft versus bent-shaft paddles. “It’s a preference, but the bent shaft will give you a little more efficient, powerful stroke,” Tamm says, “because of the angle of the paddle blade as it enters the water.” With a straight shaft, as soon as the paddle blade passes your hip, it’s starting to swing upward, lifting the water. And that’s less efficient.

Watch out for flutter. If you feel the paddle start to wriggle a little, either you’ve got the wrong paddle, or your motion’s wrong. You want to see whitewater up ahead, not in your paddle’s wake.

Use your core, not just your arms and shoulders. “You want to be twisting at the waist as you do your forward stroke. We see people trying to power through their stroke with their arms and shoulders, and that can lead to injury and exhaustion.”

Water Parks

Six Flags’ Hurricane Harbor: Thrill-seekers should head to The Tornado, where they can ride inner tubes down a steep tunnel before shooting into a 60 foot-wide funnel—or consider Bonsai Pipelines, where the floor of an enclosed capsule drops out, sending you free-falling onto a slide. sixflags.com/stlouis

Splash City: Not to be confused with the rapper (that’s Flo Rida), FlowRider pumps 36,000 gallons of water per minute up a small incline, allowing surfers to catch the perfect wave—in landlocked Collinsville, Illinois. splashcity.org.

Aquaport: At this municipal water park in Maryland Heights, the popular Extreme Bowl attraction sends riders swirling down a blue-and-yellow funnel before they fall into a deep pool. marylandheights.com

Raging Rivers Water Park: At this riverside attraction along the Great River Road, riders can cruise down the Cascade Body Flumes, two adjacent slides that loop through a forested region of the park. Or check out the Swirlpool, a two-bowl aquatic attraction—touted as the only one of its kind in the nation. And try a funnel cake from Casa del Rio. And go after 3 p.m. to save $5 per person. ragingrivers.com

Pools & Aquatic Centers

Facilities that elevate the meaning of “community pool”

1. Aquaport: Slide down the funnel-shaped Extreme Bowl. Maryland Heights, 314-738-2599.

2. Koch Park Family Aquatic Center: Kids absolutely love the water playground, complete with sprayers, climbing ropes, and slides. Florissant, 314-839-7686.

3. The Lodge’s Indoor Aquatic Center: A flume slide weaves in and out of the building. Des Peres, 314-835-6150.

4. North Pointe Family Aquatic Center: A 910-foot lazy river’s ideal for relaxing. Ballwin, 636-227-2981.

5. Recreation Station: The “Dive-In Movie,” Madagascar 3, plays June 28. Kirkwood, 314-822-5855.

6. Chesterfield Family Aquatic Center: A water playground and lazy river are among the biggest draws. Chesterfield, 636-537-2552.

7. The Heights: After you’re done swimming, visit the library next door. Richmond Heights, 314-645-1476.

8. St. Peters Rec-Plex Natatorium: The 10-meter diving tower is a major draw for divers. St. Peters, 636-939-2386.

9. Wapelhorst Aquatic Facility: The five-story speed slide is a must. St. Charles, 636-936-8118.

10. White Birch Bay Aquatic Center: The dome-shaped bubble slide was the first of its kind in the region. Hazelwood, 314-731-0980.

“The Crestview Middle School pool is clean and well kept. When I was a senior, I practiced there for 15 to 20 hours each week. I also like the Rec-Plex in St. Peters, because it has slides and diving platforms.” —Phillip Willett, who’s competing at the 2016 Olympic trials in the 200-meter breaststroke

“I have a lot of great memories from the Cool Dell Swim & Tennis Club. I started swimming on a summer team there when I was 5. My current club team practices at Shaw Park Aquatic Center, which is big, really nice, and open to the public.” —Evie Pfeifer, who competed at the 2016 Olympic trials in the 200-meter freestyle, 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, and 200-meter backstroke

Crestwood Aqauatic Center And Heman Park Swimming Pool

To get into the coveted St. Louis County pools, you’ve got to “friend” a proper resident (more difficult than on Facebook). We especially recommend getting chummy with someone from Crestwood, as their supremely well-designed water park has everything from zero-entry kid fun and a mondo slide to a lazy river that actually lets you loll around on tubes, unlike some of those so-called lazy rivers where you actually have to propel yourself. Heman Park is one of your best bets for public swimming, no matter where you live. Non–University City residents pay $6 for a dip — whether it’s a lap, a go down the slide or an hour watching the kids in the shallow waters of their pool. 845 Whitecliff Park, 314-729-4860, ci.crestwood.mo.us/departments/parks/parks.aspx; 7210 Olive, 314-505-8700, ucitymo.org/index.asp?NID=101

Related Reading:

A Guide to the Mississippi River

Midwestern Riverfronts

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