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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends
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North Dakota canoeing rivers


Missouri River

Dotted with sandbars and lined by gentle river bluffs, this broad, swift waterway commands respect from numerous standpoints. Its historical, recreational, and natural values within the state are unparalleled. The Missouri River ranks as North Dakota’s most prominent river.

Double DitchThe Missouri River has influenced the lives of people and the course of history for the past 12,000 years. “Modern” history of the Missouri corridor began with Native Americans. Indian occupation of the river valley peaked during the 1700s and continued into the 1800s. Cultural remnants of villages remain at several sites along the river: Knife River Indian Villages near Stanton, Double Ditch State Historic Site north of Bismarck, and On-A-Slant Indian Village at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

The famed Lewis and Clark expedition, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, came through what is now North Dakota in the fall and winter of 1804-05 and the spring of 1806. North Dakota has many historic sites along the river and several document the expedition, such as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan at Washburn.

The Missouri River corridor eventually became a hub for the state’s development and growth. Fur trading, steam-boating, and military relics can still be found on the river’s banks.

Unique and rare flora and fauna inhabit the river and surrounding land. Four federally threatened or endangered species make the river their home: bald eagle, least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon. The river bottom forests provide one of the biggest expanses of woodland in the state. Many wildlife species use this corridor for food, shelter, water and as a migration route.

The swift current and surrounding scenery make the Missouri a challenging and exciting river to canoe. The clear, cold water that is released from the Garrison Dam has transformed the river into the top recreational river in the state. The extended canoeing season, which typically runs from May into September, boasts excellent conditions throughout the summer. Swift current and underwater deadfalls are the biggest hazards. Because the river is so wide, high winds can make paddling difficult. Sandbars provide fun spots for picnicking, loafing or sunbathing.

Public access points are most numerous along the southern stretch of the river and most are good. Several public sites can be used for camping for canoeists who wish to make an extended trip. Canoe rentals and outfitters are also available.

Where to go for day trips

Several options are available. In the upper stretches, a leisurely paddle from the Washburn City Park to Cross Ranch State Park, or from Cross Ranch State Park to Steckel Boat Landing would take two to four hours. The more serious canoeist might want to canoe from the Garrison Dam Downstream Recreation Area to the UPA boat landing, which would take about four to six hours. Short trips are also possible near the cities of Bismarck/Mandan, but the river’s flow slows near Bismarck and heavy motorboat traffic can be a hazard. The following day trips are recommended.


  • Garrison Dam to UPA Boat Ramp Near Stanton - 4 to 6 hours. This is a very scenic stretch of the river, with beautiful river bluffs near waters edge. It is also a very undeveloped stretch. Hazards - Underwater deadfall, sandbars, swift current.
  • Washburn City Park to Cross Ranch State Park - 2 to 4 hours or Fort Mandan Historic Site to Cross Ranch State Park - 3 to 5 hours. Hazards - Underwater deadfall, sandbars, swift current.
  • Cross Ranch State Park to Steckel Boat Ramp - 1 to 2 hours or to Burnt Boat ramp - 5.5 miles, 2 hours. Hazards - Underwater deadfall, sandbars, swift current.


  • Cross Ranch State Park - 701.794.3731
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - 701.255.0015 or 701.654.7411