All week long we're rolling out content from our Summer Guide 2014. In it you'll find all the best ways to enjoy the season in and around St. Louis. Click here to read the rest of the guide or pick it up in print at the red Riverfront Times box nearest you.
According to the Farmers' Almanac, it's going to be another hot Missourah summer. There is no better way to beat the heat than to jump in the car and head out for some aquatic adventures. Whether your idea of fun includes jumping from cliffs, lounging on a deck or wending your way downriver with a cold one, we've got you covered.
Canoe the Mississippi River Mark Twain once said that the Mississippi River is "in all ways remarkable," but our fair city often takes it for granted...or worse, spurns the legendary river as a polluted barge highway with a treacherous current. Anne McCullough of the Cherokee Station Business Association has been trying to change that perception by luring more St. Louisans to the riverbanks and out onto the water. "We don't have mountains or an ocean we can escape to, but we do have this incredible river right here," McCullough says. "It's calming and peaceful, but also so full of excitement. More people need to get out there and have this adventure." McCullough and river runner Mike Clark of Muddy Rivers Adventures (314-610-4241 or www.2muddy.com) recently began leading a monthly group kayak trip on the Mississippi. McCullough says that just north of the city there are no barges to mess up your Mississippi experience, just a few quaint fishing boats, a lush shoreline, the sounds of rushing water, cooing fowl and your own lifted spirits.
Stand-up paddleboard the lakes Stand-up paddleboarding may have gotten its start in St. Louis when Shane Perrin, founder of SUP St. Louis (636-346-7473 or www.supstlouis.com), took to Creve Coeur Lake with a paddleboard he made at home out of wood strips. This new sport, which has in a few short years become the water sport du jour of both coasts, started making waves locally last summer. Perrin says stand-up paddleboarding — in which an individual stands on a large board and uses a paddle to propel herself forward across the surface of the water — offers a unique perspective on rivers and lakes. "When you're up on your board, you can look down and actually see fish. Birds will fly by your head. It's a much more interactive way to experience the water," he says. Perrin teaches classes for beginners on Creve Coeur Lake and Simpson Lake in Valley Park, and leads guided trips down area rivers (including the mighty Mississippi). He also does rentals and runs a club for enthusiasts.
Cliff dive at the Off-Sets The Off-Sets at Mine La Motte (2578 Highway OO, Mine La Motte; 573-783-3040 or www.theoffsets.com) isn't for the faint of heart. Named for the first (white) guy who set foot there more than 300 years ago, Mine La Motte is part abandoned quarry, part cliff-divers' paradise, part underwater cave-divers labyrinth and part party hole. Fearless hoosiers and St. Louis suburbanites get together to leap off of 50-foot cliffs and into a spring-fed quarry that was used as a mine during the Civil War. If amateur acrobatics in murky water isn't your thing, sit back with a Busch and enjoy the show. The Off-Sets are privately owned and charge a small entrance fee. It's just an hour south of St. Louis and also offers ziplining, scuba rentals and camping.
Scuba dive at Table Rock Lake Midwestern scuba-diving spots are few and far between. But some say that the pristine waters of Table Rock Lake hold as many underwater wonders as the Caribbean. The lake — a far more peaceful alternative to Lake of the Ozarks — contains rock formations that look like submerged Martian landscapes, as well as dense kelp forests, prehistoric catfish and schools of glistening shad that like to encircle divers. "There's a lot more to see than people think," says Dick Dalager, Table Rock State Park's harbor master. "It's just like rappelling, but you don't need ropes since you're underwater." Dalager, or "Diver Dick" as he's known, adds that unlike the Caribbean, there are no predators at Table Rock — no poisonous fish, malicious eels or toxic reef. "You can be as clumsy as you want here," he says. "You're not going to get hurt." The State Park Marina Dive Shop offers a two-hour "trial class" for newbies, where you can get your sea legs and enjoy 25 to 30 feet of visibility in the shallows. Even from the safety of a boat, the lake looks like a stunning freshwater aquarium in the early summer months. The State Park Marina at Table Rock Lake (380 State Park Marina Road, Branson; 888-993-2628 or www.stateparkmarina.com) also offers windsurfing, jet-skiing, sailing, boat rentals, guided fishing trips and daily cruises. Tip: While in Branson, stop by the campy, Ozarks-themed amusement park Silver Dollar City. Bluegrass, old-timey frontier costumes, roller coasters, butter-churning demonstrations and dorky family fun await.
Explore Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park There are no thrills quite like the ones Mother Nature gives us. Over a billion years in the making, Johnson's Shut-Ins' (148 Taum Sauk Trail, Middle Brook; 573-546-2450 or www.mostateparks.com/park/johnsons-shut-ins-state-park) all-natural, good times water wonderland is like no other place on Earth. Looking for some good, clean, safe family fun for the kids? Head to the top or bottom of the shut-ins where the shallows provide perfect wadding pools and small slip 'n' slide rocks for the kiddos. Feeling reckless and invincible? At the heart of the shut-ins, rushing water forcefully propels you from pool to pool along slippery prehistoric stones. Whirlpools spin the waters, and an elephantine boulder provides an irresistible and risky-looking jump. Is it unsupervised? Yes. Is it dangerous? Maybe. Sometimes. Probably. Will it be the most fun you've ever had outdoors? Almost certainly. Pack bottled water, and wear water shoes. If you're too cheap to shell out for them, sacrifice a pair of old tennis shoes. (Flip-flops will float away, and your feet will suffer.) Johnson's Shut-ins State Park was destroyed by a reservoir flood in 2006, and the subsequent restoration of campgrounds and trails — and the construction of a sparkling new visitors' center — make it one Missouri's crown jewels.
Float the rivers No listing of Missourah summer water adventures would be complete without a couple of float trips. Myles Arbeeny, lead paddle instructor at the Alpine Shop, says his favorite day trip right now is with Old Cove Canoe (1316 Old Cove Road, St. Clair; 636-629-2220 or www.oldcovecanoe.com), just 45 minutes from the heart of St. Louis. Old Cove Canoe & Kayak is a newer, family-run outfitter that provides canoe, kayak and tube rentals, and runs 4.5- and 9-mile floats on the Meramec River. "It's pretty pristine out there near St. Clair. Their float gets the Meramec just before the river becomes the sort of muddy mess near Six Flags," says Arbeeny. He recommends bringing a football or frisbee to toss around while picnicking on the river's long sandbars. Dan Zarlenga, communications specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that one of his favorite floats (for people who don't need an outfitter) begins at the concrete dock in the Huzzah Creek Conservation Area (Route 8, Steelville; 636-441-4554) in Crawford County. Pick from any of the three rivers that meet there: They're all rustic floats for people who want to glide peacefully over clear waters without seeing or hearing much from other boaters. "It's kind of a relaxed way to travel through nature," Zarlenga says. "It's just you and the paddle."