Look! No crowds!

Look Ma! No crowds!

Found it!  Here’s the scoop on something we’ve long been searching for:   the best time and place for kayaking with kids!

About ten years ago, we discovered that Labor Day Monday was a fabulous day to canoe and kayak, especially with a tribe of friends.  Families attempting to float our beautiful rivers are often sorely disappointed by the conduct of drunken people, and exposed to all sorts of lewd behavior not suitable for young children.  I’m not necessarily opposed to drunken silly behavior or profane language; I’m more opposed to mono-cultures, and our beautiful rivers have become a monoculture of loud and obnoxious behavior, especially on weekends.

On Labor Day Monday, or really anytime during the week, the rivers are fairly peaceful and uncrowded.  For this adventure, a day trip works better than an overnight, because the drinking still goes on right through Labor Day Sunday.

Steelville, at about 1.5 hours from Saint Louis, is the jumping off point for many a river trip, and on a hot tip from a friend who has a cabin on the river, here’s an easy adventure based on her best advice:

Stop for sandwiches at the Subway in Steelville, (located in a gas station strip mall), and proceed to Bass River Resorts, just a few minutes down the road.  If packing your own lunch, we find the “BYO+Plus” method to be extremely efficient, meaning “Bring Your Own PLUS” something to share.  Cut melon is refreshing on the river, as are carrots. Chips are always nice, but  chips are not crush-proof nor waterproof!

Bass River

Bass River

Bass River Resorts is a big operation, the kind of thing Green Spiral Tours normally misses in favor of the road less traveled.  However, Bass River is clean, well run, and most importantly, perfectly located 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. The “take out” point is the parking lot of Bass River Resorts, right where you conveniently left your car, so all you do is jump in the car and zip on down the road to the nearby ice cream shop for a milk shake.

With clean bathrooms, short bus rides to the “put in” points,  and a speedy check out line, Bass River Resorts is a nicely run operation.  On Labor Day Monday, it is so quiet you don’t even have to reserve your kayaks or canoes because the crowds are gone, gone, gone, and the staff is happy, happy, happy.  If you are canoeing, be sure to get a fiberglass canoe, not the old fashioned metal kind.  (You’ll only make that mistake once.)  The kayaks are the plastic “sit upon” style, which means you sit upon them, close to the water; in fact you sit IN water for much of the day, so think about what to do with your wallet.

You are headed for the Courtois River.  Courtois is french, and in Missouri, it is pronounced “CODE-away”, don’t ask me why, but we can guess.   In french, it means “polite river”.   The Courtois is a very beautiful and polite little river, not runnable during dry years, and not very deep.  In the words of our energetic and charming  bus driver, with the bicep tatoo:  “If you find yourself drowning, just stand up!” There are no rules on the river, which is refreshing, because no one is there to bubble wrap the toddler, but combined with all that drinking, one begins to understand why people drown.  It’s hard to believe you could drown in the Courtois, but it goes without saying that experienced adventurers teach children respect for rivers and waterways at all times.

The short 6 mile float is about three hours long, and along the way, there are canyon walls, a few swimming holes, rope swings and ledges from which to jump. The good news is that it may be the prettiest little river to kayak with kids near Saint Louis;  the bad news is that now you have spoiled yourself from the very start.

2013-09-02 fishing

There are frogs to catch, snakes to chase, and gigantic gars to spy beneath your boat. The torch-shaped red flower you see near the water is 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.  More than names, it’s the relationship between bird and flower, between red leaf and sunslant, that is most interesting to nature people.

Kayaks are great for bigger kids, while canoes rule the day for little kids, dogs and fishing.  A fleet of friends to share the fun is better than a solo family alone, plus, it’s nice to swap seats in the canoe, as the canoe seats get uncomfortable after a while.  Bringing a seat-back or low slung chair for the canoe is not a bad idea.  Also, bring carabiners or lashes to tie your backpack to the kayak; the list of sunscreen, drinking water, sunhats and polarized sunglasses, I will leave to you.

The Courtois runs down to meet up with the Huzzah (an old English victory cry among sailors), which then quickly meets the Meramec River (Meramec is an Algonquian term that means river of ugly fishes).  French, English and Native American, we are a melting pot of waters.

Back to the river trip, you have the choice of a long day (13 miles) on the Courtois, or a short day (6 miles).   Basically, the long day may be too long, and the short day may be too short.

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.   This is for the short trip, leaving Blunts and arriving at Bass River Resorts. If you are new to kayaking, like to fish, have little kids, or have a lot of friends, do the short trip, and meander as much as possible.

For the long trip, bring your own sandwiches, leave Saint Louis closer to 8 am, “put in” at Berryman near 10 am, arriving at Bass River Resorts in the late afternoon. Smaller groups and families with older kids or teenagers can move faster and will easily fit the long float into their day.  Canoes travel faster than kayaks; you will be limited by the slowest kayak paddler in your group.

On the way home, stop at Dairy Isle, a local independent ice cream shop in Steelville, located within sight of the Subway shop where you first bought your sandwiches.  It may be crowded, so relax and enjoy the tunes; if you’re hungry, get a hamburger and make it a dinner stop.

All scream for Ice Cream

All scream for Ice Cream

You’ll get caught in Ozark traffic on the way home Labor Day Monday, so enjoy the sunburned feeling, the people in the car and one long last day of being unplugged before school and winter kick in for real.   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.)

While I regret not being able to offer this field trip through Green Spiral Tours, due to liability issues, here’s an unfinished map for the Courtois River Adventure which is obviously not drawn to scale, but rather drawn to inspire.   When you’ve done the Courtois a few times, (it’s worth doing at least twice), you might then try the Meramec River, details of which I will upload in future postings.  Viva la polite river!

A polite river runs through it

A river runs through it

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