We may not have beaches or ocean breezes here in flyover country, but we have plenty of freshwater fun. The land around St. Louis is rich with rivers and lakes that offer scenic getaways and outdoor recreation possibilities galore. Whether you want to fish, sail, float, swim, or gaze out over a placid lake, here are the best bets in mid-Missouri.
Mississippi River

Without The Mighty Mississippi there would be no St. Louis. But what’s the best way to enjoy it? The Gateway Arch Riverboats are owned and operated by the same group that manages the Arch and can be found just across from the south leg of the Arch at the levee. Cruises are offered March through December, and include one-hour sightseeing tours, dinner cruises with live jazz music, and occasionally other themed cruises. The park at the Arch grounds are a great place to relax and watch the barges roll by. You can take a free shuttle from the Arch grounds to Laclede’s Landing, where you can soak up the historical riverfront atmosphere and enjoy some St. Louis blues music and fine eateries like Joey B’s or Morgan Street Brewery.

Creve Coeur Lake

Just north of the city lies one of the STL’s favorite urban playgrounds, Creve Coeur Lake. The quiet little lake is a convenient spot for sailing and boating, and the surrounding park is a wonderful place to jog, bike, picnic, or just relax and enjoy the scenery. One of the newest developments around the lake is the Creve Coeur Water Trail, a 6-mile journey across the lake and up the creek that you can enjoy by canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. The new Go Ape Treetop Adventure course is St. Louis’s only canopy adventure course, and boasts the first skateboard zip line in the Midwest. Rope ladders, crossings, Tarzan swings, and zip lines create more than 2,600 feet of pure fun and adventure.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins

Every kid who grew up in the St. Louis area has fond memories of Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, a natural water park that offers a variety of recreation options. This is a favorite recreation area for families, scout troupes, youth groups, and young adults looking for a getaway. This is a spot in Reynolds County where the East Fork Black River is broken up by huge masses of smooth igneous rock, creating a series of pools and mini-falls. Swimming in the pools is a popular way to cool off from the heat of the St. Louis summers, and the park is also a well-loved camping, hiking, and rock-climbing destination. Hikers who climb nearby Taum Sauk mountain are rewarded with a waterfall at the very top that can be very impressive in rainy weather. Johnson’s Shut-ins and Taum Sauk are connected by a length of the Ozark Trail.

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The Huzzah River

Lakes are nice, but St. Louisans are historically river people, and we love to get away for weekend float trips on the smaller rivers that surround the city. These float trips usually involve an overnight stay in a tent or cabin, lots of friends, copious amounts of ice-cold beer, and fire-engine-red sunburns. The Huzzah River is just one possibility, of course; the Upper Meramec, Big River, St. Francis River and the Black River are all popular choices within two hours of the city. Steelville is a great place to find a campground and outfitter for your float. The Huzzah Valley Resort, Garrison Canoe and Campground, and Bass River Resort are all located in Steelville.

Tablerock Lake

The Ozarks have been a favorite getaway for St. Louis families for generations. Years ago, most people headed to Lake Ozark and Osage Beach, but these days it’s hard to resist all the hubbub in Branson, which draws visitors to Tablerock Lake. Vegas-style shows with a country theme, amusement parks, waterslides and outlet malls create a festive family vacation destination, and the flashing neon on the strip is reminiscent of Times Square, but the real draw here has always been the lake itself. Boating, fishing, jet-skiing, or quietly watching the sunset reflected on the calm water are favorite pastimes. Dinner cruises and restaurants with lakeside decks are lovely ways to enjoy the water, too.

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Lauren Haas is a nomadic freelance writer who travels the world, using St. Louis as her base. Visit her blog at http://www.thesoulofajourney.com.