From Randall Creek the Missouri meanders for 13-1/2 miles to the first river access point on the trip at Sunshine Bottoms. There is a boat ramp and a small parking lot on the Nebraska side of the river. If you paddle just another ¾ of a mile you can stay at a primitive campsite on private land also located on the Nebraska side of the river. There is a pit toilet and fire ring however there isn't any potable water. The road that leads to State Highway 12 is dirt and gravel, and can be impassable during bad weather so consider it an unreliable pull out.
The river continues for another 15 miles to Verdel Landing west of Niobrara State Park. Another eight miles will bring you to Niobrara and the end of western half of the Missouri National Recreational River. The pull out is on the Nebraska side past the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. Past Niobrara the waters of Lewis and Clark start and eventually lead to Gavins Point Dam.
If the idea of paddling your own boat is exhausting but you still want to explore the Missouri you are in luck. During the summer months you can take a 15 mile 2-1/2 hour guided tour on the Little Pearl, an eleven passenger motor powered rubber raft. Guests are taken by van from park headquarters at Niobrara State Park to Verdel Landing where they then paddle, float and motor their way to the boat ramp at Niobrara State Park. The boat's captain is your guide to the Upper Missouri River providing you insights on history, geology, hydrology, flora, fauna, and local color of the region. Reservations are strongly recommended for the intimate trip, which is a bargain at just $12 per person. Tours will occur rain or shine (unless conditions are unsafe) so come prepared for the elements.
In between the two units of the Missouri National Recreational River sits Lewis and Clark Lake. People come from hundreds of miles to have fun in the calm warm waters behind the dam, and try their luck at fishing and hunting.
South Dakota and Nebraska offer five different parks on the banks of Lewis and Clark Lake. In South Dakota the Springfield Recreation Area, Sand Creek Lake Access, and Taber Creek Lake Access offer boat ramps, picnic facilities and primitive camping. Springfield Recreation Area also offers two rustic cabins, 45 improved campsites with showers, hookups and a dump station. A fishing dock, fish cleaning station and a playground are also available.
Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area in South Dakota has the best facilities in the region. The park has 380 modern campsites, 342 with hookups. Some are located directly on the lake and trees surround many sites. There is a separate facility for horse campers and the park offers over six miles of multi-use trails. The resort at the eastern end of the park has a 24-room lodge, restaurant, a heated swimming pool, and offers 10 fully equipped cabins, some with three bedrooms. An additional 13 rustic cabins are available, some directly on the lake and located close to a public swimming area, playground, and a one mile long Nature Trail. There is also a private bed and breakfast overlooking the Missouri River in a secluded area of the park. The park even has camping trailers that can be rented. Home to the largest marina in South Dakota, features include 375 slips, a convenience and parts store, repair service, fuel, and even has jet ski rentals.
Not to be outdone the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area in Nebraska (that faces it's sister park on the South Dakota side of the lake) also has a wealth of facilities. Most of the park's facilities benefited from a $3 million renovation in 1997. A total of 341 campsites, 274 with hookups, in three campgrounds are available from April to November. Three playgrounds, four boat ramps, a swimming pool, a public beach, showers, two dump stations, picnic facilities and hiking trails are also available. The park also has a full service marina with short-term docking, gas service, convenience store, bait, tackle and a snack bar. For an interesting adventure you can rent a pedal powered water cycle that can glide over the surface of the water at 15 miles per hour.
At Gavins Point Dam tours of the small hydroelectric plant are offered. The base of the dam is a popular location for fishing and a visit there will make you realize why. Hundreds of fish come to feed upon the debris and small prey that is churned up by the outflow of the dam. From the electrical plant at the base of the dam you can gaze down the concrete wall and see their sleek dark bodies gliding through the murky water.
Fishing and hunting is one of the biggest draws to the Missouri National Recreational River and the surround region. Walleye, sauger, largemouth and small mouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and the prehistoric looking paddlefish are found in the waters of the Missouri. Northern pike can be caught in the lower Niobrara during the spring. At the end of summer fishing at Lewis & Clark Lake offers excellent opportunity to catch white bass.
During the fall excellent hunting is possible along the banks of the Missouri River where allowed. Whitetail deer, mourning dove, wild turkey, duck and geese hunting are all extremely popular. Wild turkey hunting in particular is excellent. Seasons are also available for hunting rabbit and squirrel.
When things get colder activity in the region around Missouri National Recreational River doesn't stop. Along the banks of the river snow shoeing, cross country skiing and snow mobiling are popular activities when weather conditions allow. Ice fishing and skating is also popular when ice thickness on Lewis and Clark Lake reaches a safe thickness.
As you gaze out upon the Missouri River from one of the many bluffs flanking the national park it is hard to believe that Lewis and Clark paddled against the current in heavy long boats almost 200 years ago. The areas unique biodiversity, rich history and scenic beauty make this an outstanding recreational destination.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Missouri National Recreational River
Location: Northeastern Nebraska, Sioux City, Iowa
Nearest Major Air Service: Yankton, South Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sioux City, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska
Fees & Permits: Park access to the national park is free. Nebraska and South Dakota state fishing and hunting permits are required. Niobrara State Park, $2.50 daily park access fee or $14 for an annual permit. Ponca State Park, $2.50 daily park access fee or $14 for an annual permit. Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area in South Dakota, $5 daily park access fee or $20 for an annual permit. Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area in Nebraska, $2.50 daily park access fee or $14 for an annual permit.
Why Visit: One of the only remaining wild stretches of the Missouri River. A wealth of activity at eight different state parks offers an inexpensive vacation getaway. Badlands National Park and the world famous Black Hills are only a half-day drive away.
When To Visit: May to October
Essential Gear: Depends on a wide variety of activity. Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, lip balm, windbreaker, camera, binoculars, and drinking water. Other gear is strongly recommended.
You Should Know: Swimming in the Missouri River outside of Lewis and Clark Lake is not recommended due to strong currents. Weather in May and in the fall can be unpredictable. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially at Niobrara State Park in Nebraska. Respect private property around the boundaries of the river and follow range etiquette. If you will be traveling from Nebraska to South Dakota or vice versa by boat be sure to have fishing permits for both states. The area is very remote and major services are limited.
More Information: Missouri National Recreational River, PO BOX 666, Yankton, SD 57078, (402) 667-5530. Randall Creek Park, Fort Randall Project, Pickstown, South Dakota 57367-0199, (605) 487-7847. Ponca State Park, PO BOX 688, Ponca, Nebraska 68770-0688, (402) 755-2284. Niobrara State Park, PO BOX 226, Niobrara, Nebraska 68760, (402) 857-3373, Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area, 43349 South Dakota Highway 52, Yankton, South Dakota 57078, (605) 668-2985, Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area, Rural Route 1, Box 308, Crofton, Nebraska 68730-0308, (402) 388-4169.