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


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 Ottumwa to Eldon, on to Selma, Keosauqua, Bentonsport, and Bonaparte,and 
take out at the Des Moines River (Van Buren) Access 
Distance: 54 miles

The most challenging task in this trip is finding the boat ramps.  The river is wide and free of obstacles, except when there is debris from a rain storm.  When the water is running fast, a 40 mile day is possible.  The trip should not take more than 2 days.  There are 6 boat ramps with overnight facilities along the trail.  The Austin Park is 28 miles downstream, but no longer has facilities for camping.  Keosauqua is another 8 miles, with the Hotel Manning right next to the boat ramp.

Cliffland Access is maintained by the state, but it is difficult to find and there are no signs off Hwy. 34.  Detailed driving directions are in the previous section.  Cliffland has a park and a boat ramp.  It is in the Fox Hills area, and is quite scenic with its tree lined bluffs and deep forest.  It is a quick row down to Eldon, about 11 miles.  Eldon is the home of the American Gothic house (Grant Wood).  The city boat ramp is right next to the fairgrounds.

The next boat ramp is at the Shidepoke Access near Selma, 5 miles downstream.  There are picnic tables, and there is room for camping. 

This is the first access in the new Van Buren County water trail.  Expect informational kiosks, water trail signs, and modern outdoor toilets.  If you are going on, the river begins to pick up speed through this area, about 5 miles to the Douds bridge across V64 (there is a new boat ramp at Douds as of 2/1/07). 

You are 4 miles  from the Big Bend, which is a horseshoe bend to the west, and back to the east and north, past Keosauqua.  As you turn sharply west, it is 6 miles of paddling along a very wide stretch of the river and you come upon Austin Park on the west bank.  It is 15 miles from Shidepoke to Austin Park.

Another 6 miles and you pass Lacey Keosauqua park with it's high bluffs, pass under the new bridge, and arrive in Keosauqua, founded in 1839 just 4 years after the Dragoons took their journey of exploration through Indian territory.

From Keosauqua, the river bends east and north 4 miles , then runs 4 miles to Bentonsport, a retored village maintained by Van Buren County.  There is an excellent campground,  a shelter with restroom facilities, and the buildings are "riverboat gothic."   Check out the new boat ramp and the SST  (sweet smelling toilet).  Iron and Lace and the General Store are must sees.

Another 4 miles downstream is Bonaparte, a Main Street city with historic facilities, including the Bonaparte Retreat restaurant with an old mill atmosphere and great food.  There is a city boat ramp and park should you care to stop.  The rapids can be passed on foot, or run them if you dare.  It's about 3 miles down to the Van Buren Access boat ramp.  Another 3 miles brings you to Farmington, with a rather steep boat ramp but an excellent restaurant and very friendly people.


Driving Directions Cliffland Access, 1.5 miles S of  Hwy 63/Hwy 34 intersection, turn E on River Road J12 for 4.5 miles, left on Cliffland Rd., N across the river, E bank.  

The Eldon city boat ramp is steep and offers street parking.  Stay on Hwy. 16 to the south edge of town, turn east to the river.  Or, ask for directions to the fairgrounds.  Hwy 16 through Eldon,  W on 1st St., S .3 miles on Water St. E bank.

Shidepoke Access is just west of Selma, off Hwy. 16 on J12, across the bridge, and to the east.  Cliffland to Shidepoke is a great one day outing.  Hwy. 16, W on Bridge St., across bridge, N on Eagle Dr., W bank, N of bridge.

The Douds access is just before the bridge on V64 (1 block to the south).

Austin Park boat ramp is about 2 miles from the west end of the big bend.  Take J40 through Keosauqua, cross the bridge at Pittsburg, then go north on the county road.  Off Hwy. 1 in Keosauqua, J40 W, over Pittsburg bridge,  .2 miles N on Bridge St., 1.8 miles NE on Eagle Dr., W. bank

The Keosauqua boat ramp is just east of the Hotel Manning, past the gorgeous new bridge, on the north side of the river.  There are several restaurants and convenience stores, and a very modern library.  Check weather and river levels on the public access internet computer.  Hwy. 1, E of bridge on Park St., N bank.

The Bentonsport boat ramp is just past the J40 bridge, and just before the restored iron truss bridge.  Go past the fudge shop, buy some fudge, then stop in at the general store and museum.  The boat ramp is just down the street, north of the post office.  For real comfort, stay at the Mason House and see the Murphy bath tub. 

The Bonaparte boat ramp is off J40, next to the woolen mill and the Bonaparte Retreat restaurant. 

Van Buren (Des Moines River) 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. 

Access/Landmark Latitude Longitude
Cliffland Access, Agency N40 57 30.7 W92 20 34.8
Eldon boat ramp N40 54 35.8 W92 13 03.1
Shidepoke, Selma N40 52 14.8 W92 09 30.4
Douds, V64 bridge access N40.50.09.4 W92.05.19.6
Douds1, bend to sw (2 miles) N40.48.02.4 W91.58.31.7
Douds 2, bend to w (4 miles) N40.46.08.3 W91.57.50.5
Austin Park N40 46 03.1 W91 58 06.1
Ely Ford N40.43.03.5 W91.59.16.7
Keosauqua boat ramp N40 43 49.6 W91 57 35.5
North end, big bend N40.45.38.2 W91.54.00.8
J40, Bentonsport boat ramp N40 43 31.8 W91 51 22.0
J40, Bonaparte boat ramp N40 41 51.7 W91 48 21.8
Des Moines River (Van Buren Access) N40 40 16.8 W91 45 29.3



Journal Entries

The trick was to find Cliffland Access



I have done the Des Moines

Clear water and golden waves


The Beautiful Land, Near Bentonsport

The last 12 miles of my 400 mile journey began with a winter camp out overnight at the Bentonsport campground, just below this scenic overlook on J40.  It was December, and it was cold



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