Because the Des Moines River doesn't begin at Hwy 20 and end at Hwy. 92
Bonaparte to Keokuk

Des Moines River Float Trips (Best viewed in Classic mode on mobile devices) 


updated 1/09: for river stories and pix, see the DMRWT PBase gallery


The Des Moines River is
Iowa's longest trail system
Take a float trip from Van Buren (Des Moines River) Access, near Farmington, to Ft. Pike Access by the toll bridge at St. Francisville, Mo., and on to Red Wing Access in Keokuk
Estimated Distance: 34 miles

The  trip from Bonaparte to Keokuk may be done in one or two days.  The Des Moines River runs at 3-4 mph. as it nears the Mississippi.  I paddled after a day of heavy rain, and at times was moving along at 6-8 mph.  At one point, streams running into the river looked like frothy torrents, and I had all I could do to stay off snags as the river turned sharply east and west.  I made the entire 30 miles in one day in October of 1998, with a stop for a snack at the convenience store near the Ft. Pike Access.

The Des Moines River (Van Buren) Access is a hard surface boat ramp with camping and lots of parking  about 3 miles north of Farmington, which has a city boat ramp with limited parking.  Van Buren Access is about 3  miles south of the Bonaparte rapids, which have dumped many an unwary paddler, including Chuck Offenburger.  The water moves right along, past the Riverview Cabins right on the river. 

This is a remote area of the river, but it also carries you past the high bluffs and loess hills of the Shimek State Forest, which is ablaze with color in the fall.  Some 4 miles down the river is Croton, where Confederate artillery  lobbed cannonballs across the river from Athens, Mo. in 1861, the northernmost battle west of the Mississippi.  Croton Road runs along the east side of the river from Farmington, and you can visit the war memorial and picnic in a lovely park.

There is an access point called Turkey Run about 10 miles south of Farmington.  It is deep in the forest, off a gravel road that winds through the forest called Belfast Road.  This access point has an excellent boat ramp.  To get to Turkey Run from Farmington, take the Croton Rd. (which is the first right after you cross the Hwy.2 bridge on the east side of the river) through Croton, then turn on Belfast Rd. just outside of Croton.  You can also access Belfast Rd. from Hwy. 394 just north of the Hwy. 394 bridge outside of St. Francisville.  It is another 10 miles or so down to the Ft. Pike Access, which has camping, a hard surface boat ramp, and a convenience store.  I made the run from Farmington to Ft. Pike in 4 hours.

Once you pass the St. Francisville, Mo. bridge, it's a winding 11 mile run to Red Wing Access.  I have marked out some major bends in the river in the coordinates section.  The river is wide and fast, and you need to pay attention or else you'll be swept into snags as the river turns sharply.  There is lots of activity in the greenbelt, but there are false turns and deceptive lagoons that can be bypassed by drifting with the current until the true channel is identified.  Blue herons in considerable numbers will be your escorts. 

In December of 2001, I was caught in the ice in this part of the river.  In my wet suit I went in up to my chest, broke through the ice, and got over to the shore.   I pulled my boat out, followed the GPS to a farmhouse and got help.  This is my river, but it owns me.

This is the wild and scenic river that was first seen by Marquette and Joliet, the river the Indians called Moingona.  There is an Illinois Indian encampment excavation just outside of St. Francisville that was visited by Marquette and Joliet.


Driving Directions Van Buren Access is on the west side of the river.  From Bonaparte, W on Hwy. W40, cross the Young bridge, 3 miles S on Eagle Dr. W bank Just follow the excellent signs. 

The Farmington Access is south of the Hwy. 2 bridge along the river.  The road that passes the city boat ramp becomes Croton Road and takes you to Croton. 

Turkey Run Access is west off Hwy. 394 to Belfast Road.  Hwy 394 at Argyle, W 2 miles on 295th St., NW 3.7 miles on Belfast Rd., E bank  It can also be accessed from the north by following Croton Rd., then turning onto Belfast Rd.

The Ft. Pike Access is south and east of the Hwy. 394  bridge at St. Francisville, Mo.   

Red Wing Access in Keokuk is the last ramp before the Mississippi.  North of the Hwy. 61 bridge about 2 miles, turn west on Hilton Rd.  There is a large sign visible travelling north or south.  Hwy 61, Hilton Rd. W .5 mile, Larson Ln S 1 mile,  Valley Rd. W .4 mile, N bank    The access area is clean, the boat ramp is new and excellent. 

Access/Landmark Latitude Longitude
Van Buren, Farmington N40 40 16.8 W91 45 29.3
City Ramp, Farmington N40 38 19.7 W91 44 37.7
Croton, Riverbank marker N40.35.23.3 W91.41.37.9
Turkey Run, Bryan Hill N40 33 00.1 W91 39 14.9
Ft. Pike, St. Francisville, Mo. N40 27 40.0 W91 34 00.5
RR09, turn to southwest (1 mile) N40.27.25.2 W91.31.27.1
RR09A, turn to south (1 mile) N40.26.02.3 W91.31.45.8
RR10, turn to southeast (1 mile) N40.25.03.8 W91.31.35.7
RR11, turn to east (3 miles) N40.24.16.9 W91.30.20.5
Red Wing , Keokuk N40 23 14.3 W91 26 53.1


Journal entry After a heavy rain, debris in the water and a fast 30 mile trip
There's more to Croton than just a few cannon balls

Near St. Francisville, Mo., the outline of the toll bridge by the Ft. Pike boat ramp casts a shadow in the muddy water.  Conservation, anyone?



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