The Missouri River is arguable the longest river in North America. The length varies with sources but the most common measure used is 2,341 miles. Even though it is considered a tributary to the Mississippi River, it is about 100 miles longer.
The Missouri River officially begins in Montana, where the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin Rivers join. The Lewis & Clark Expedition named these rivers on their journey west. They knew that the Jefferson River was the main flow, so that is the fork that they proceeded on. This is called the Three Rivers area. The men of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-1806) were the first Americans to explore the Missouri River on their successful quest to reach the Pacific Ocean.
This area is primarily for canoeists and kayakers as the waters can be shallow and swift. This is beautiful country that is best seen from the river.
The upper Missouri River is a paddlers paradise as it winds it's way through the mountains and plains
There are six dams on the upper Missouri River, but none have locks. That means those paddling the river must portage around them. The dams form large lakes that are havens for lake boaters, who can go no farther than the distance between the dams.
Photo shows Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, SD. It is the last downstream dam.
The Missouri River becomes navigable for commercial vessels and pleasure craft near Sioux City, Iowa that includes the lower 750 miles of the river.
The nickname "Big Muddy" is due to its rich silt laden waters which carry the sediments of the western and midwestern deserts, prairies and mountains. This creates the brown color that is often seen, particularly after heavy rainfalls.
Keep in mind that "dirty water" and "muddy water" are two different things. Dirty implies polluted waters. The Missouri River is and always has been an alluvial river carrying materials that builds the land in other places including the Mississippi Delta.
The good news is the the Missouri river is much healthier than it was 50 years ago, but it will always be muddy.
Pictured is Omaha, Nebraska. The Missouri River offers plenty of natural beauty and remote locations, but that remoteness can also cause challenges for boaters needing fuel and supplies, but there are also some great cities and towns to visit.
Omaha is one of those "boater friendly" cities that embraces their river heritage and understands the value of this great natural resource. Not only does Omaha/Council Bluffs, Iowa have a beautiful riverfront but has docks, marinas, and other facilities helpful to transient boaters and visitors.
In addition to lack of fuel docks, there are two other challenges that boaters must be aware of. Since the Missouri is free-flowing from Yankton on down, the currents can be very swift, since there are no dams to control it.
Wing dikes (photo) are structures placed in a river to redirect the river's own energy to provide a variety of effects. The structures are usually constructed out of stone. and are used to direct the flow toward the channel to deepen the channel and provide adequate depth for navigation. These are necessary in the absence of dams to keep the channel deep. During low water, they are easy to see and avoid, but in higher water, they may be submerged, but still be hit by a boat. They are best avoided by having charts that show their location and watching for the turbulence created by them.
Unfortunately Kansas City, Missouri is not "boater friendly" but there is a gem there for those following the river by car. The Steamboat Arabia Museum is a must see.
The Arabia was a steamboat that hit a tree snag and sank in the Missouri River near Kansas City on September 5, 1856. It was rediscovered in 1988 and excavated in a field where the river once flowed. Today, the remains of the boat and many other artifacts recovered from the site are housed in the museum.