Found it!  Here’s the scoop on what we’ve long been looking for:   the best time and place to go kayaking with kids.

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Missouri is home to some of the biggest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers in the world, and Labor Day Monday is the perfect time to go.  Sadly, families attempting to float our beautiful Missouri rivers are often disappointed by lewd and drunken behavior, obviously not suitable for children. It can all be rather frustrating, and legislation has been introduced to address the problem.

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Meanwhile, Green Spiral Tours has discovered that the Courtois River on Labor Day Monday is the perfect time and place to take kids on their first kayaking adventure.  Ponder this: if your city washes away, knowing how to kayak might save someone’s life someday.  It’s becoming increasingly important to raise resilient kids.

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You are headed for the Courtois River, which is really a creek.  “Courtois is french, meaning “polite river”. In Missouri, we pronounce it the “CODE-away”.  Kids should be old enough to swim, problem solve and respect wild rivers.  Middle School is the perfect age to learn to kayak, but of course people of any age will appreciate this trip.

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Paddle Courtois Jzka WEB

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Start by calculating your mileage to the GPS destination of Bass River Resorts at 204 Butts Road, 65565. Call Bass River Resorts at 800-392-3700 to check the price and reserve your kayak or canoe. You are headed out Highway 44, which also happens to be Route 66, the “Mother Road”. If you have a Green Spiral adventure map, the parade of water towers will help you pass some time along the way.  Exit 208 at Cuba will take you to Steelville, the jumping off point for many a river trip. Steelville is where you stop for food and gas.

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Stop for sandwiches at the Subway in either Cuba or Steelville, and gas up now for a quick get-away at the end of the day.  Then proceed to Bass River Resorts, just ten miles down the road.  If packing your own lunch, BYO+ is the way to go.  (Bring Your Own PLUS” something to share).  Cubed melon is refreshing on the river, as are carrots and frozen grapes.

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When kayaking, or on any adventure, it’s always good to bring friends, and a small group of less than 12 works best on the river. Remember that smaller groups move faster than large groups, canoes will travel faster than kayaks, and you will be limited by the slowest paddler in your group. Teenagers will sprint off and be gone before you know it, so make a plan with them to wait for you at the rope swing, until you get there.  The rope swing is about a third of the way into the trip.

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Bass River Resorts is a big operation; the rest rooms are clean, the sign in process is swift, and most importantly, you leave your car at the “take out” point.  This turns out to be important at the end of the day, when the sun is going down, and your tribe is getting hungry.  Always begin with the end in mind, and know when embarking on river adventures, there’s always a lot of “hurry up and wait”.  This particular trip minimizes the “hurry up and wait”, because your car will be waiting for you at the end of your paddling adventure.

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Unless you like wet car seats, bring a change of clothing and leave it in your car for when you get off the river. Free showers and changing rooms are available when you get off the river as well. Consider buying kids a face mask at the big Bass River store; they will love it.

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If you have coolers, big dogs, young children, or fishermen: get a canoe, and be sure to select the fiberglass “Old Towne” style, which slide more easily over the rocks.   Bringing a low slung chair for the canoe is not a bad idea, as a comfort measure for adults.  Put younger children in a tandem kayak with you, but let middle school kids try their own kayak, or perhaps they could tandem kayak with a friend. Be sure to bring friends for high school and college aged students.

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Two paddle

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Pay your money at Bass Rivers, sign the liability waiver, and ask for the “Blunt Trip” which is a 6 mile paddle, lasting about three hours — if you linger.  There is a longer trip, called the “Berryman Trip” which you can try later, when you have more time. You will be given a bus ticket, and directed to park just beyond the cabins and the horses at the river.  This is the “Take Out” point where you leave your car and jump on the bus.  Slather on sunscreen here, while you wait for the school bus, and use the restrooms one last time.

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Unless you like wet car seats, bring a change of clothing and leave it in your car for when you get off the river. Showers are also available here, where you parked your car. Consider buying kids a face mask at the big Bass River store as a spontaneous purchase. The kids will love it. Give your ticket to the bus driver and get on the school bus.

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Bass River

Bass River

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The bus will take you on a short ten minute drive to the “Put In” point.  The driver will then assign each paddler his or her kayak or canoe.  Ask for a life jacket for kids, and use your flotation device as a backrest in your kayak, unless you absolutely cannot swim, in which case you’ll feel more comfortable with a life-jacket.  You can see the bottom of the Courtois Creek on this whole trip, so fear not:  as the locals say,  “If you find yourself drowning, just stand up!”

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The kayaks are the “sit-upon” type, so wear quick dry shorts and flip-flops.  Bring a sunhat, polarized sunglasses, lunch, drinking water, your camera, field guides, and a bungie cord to lash your dry-bag to the kayak.  Or, go minimalist, leave valuables at home and simply use a plastic bag and a piece of string.

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Kayaks are highly maneuverable, they put you closer to the water, and you get stuck less often.  If you’ve never kayaked before, it’s easy to learn the unique swivel motion required to dip each paddle into the water. Take some time when you first begin kayaking, to practice maneuvering the kayak: go forward, backwards, practice spinning and get comfortable with the paddle. Then start paddling down the creek. In general, the Courtois starts out with high canyon walls, as well as swimming holes, rope swings and ledges; be sure to swim early in your trip, as the opportunities for swimming become fewer as you go along.

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Look! No crowds!*

There is lots of wildlife to enjoy as this trip proceeds. There are tadpoles, craw-fish and frogs to catch, snakes to chase, and large fish to spy beneath your boat. If you stand in the water, little fishes will come to nibble and kiss at your feet.  The torch-shaped red flower you see near the water in September is called cardinal flower; migrating hummingbirds love it.  The bright red leaves you will see belong to the sumac, the first leaves to change, already in September. You will also see lots of dragonflies and blue swallowtail butterflies.

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The Courtois runs down to meet up with the Huzzah (an old English victory cry among sailors), which then quickly meets the Meramec River  (an Algonquian term meaning river of ugly fishes), before all joining the Mighty Mississippi – the Father of Waters.   French, English and Native American, we are a melting pot of waters. If you live in South Saint Louis, you’re floating on your drinking water, so be careful about what you put in it.

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Leaving Saint Louis at a lazy 9 am, you can easily be on the river by noon, including the Subway stop, returning home before 7 pm, including a stop for milkshakes and hamburgers.  On the way home, stop at Dairy Isle, a local independent ice cream shop in Steelville, located near the Subway where you first bought your sandwiches. It’s easy to find, and marked on your Green Spiral Adventure map.

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All scream for Ice Cream

All scream for Ice Cream

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You might or might not get caught in Ozark traffic on the way home Labor Day Monday, so enjoy the sun-kissed feeling, the people in the car and one long last day of being unplugged before fall arrives and school settles in for good.    Bass River Resorts is open all year long, so you can kayak through the changing of the leaves, and even join a paddle on New Year’s Eve!  (Bring long underwear.)

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Watch the Green Spiral Facebook Page for downloadable “Kayaking With Kids” Adventure Maps, and stay tuned for a future collection of family adventure maps featuring this adventure in Amazon books.

Viva le polite river!

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