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Boone River in Iowa

Trip Overview

I had the paddlin' itch. I told my daughters, Megan(12) & Alyssa(10), to be ready "cuz we're going kayaking tommorrow". I was greeted with the typical response that they had their day planned out already. You know, lounge in bed, hair, nails and a Hannah Montana marathon on the TV all day. Besides, "Ally" had already expressed her fear about getting back in her kayak alone. She got pinned between her "Yak" and a boulder last Spring on the Turkey River receiving a "skinned" knee and a bruise on her shin. Tough stuff for a ten year old but then she rebounded by rolling through Class IV's while rafting on the Penobscot River in Maine two weeks later. We couldn't wipe the smile from her face that day.

Three months earlier, I laid out two grand for two Wilderness System Pungo 14.5's for the girls. What am I going to do, leave them at home when I go on these paddling adventures?

I loaded up my Ocean Kayak SOT Prowler 13.5(fishing kayak) along with the Pungos. We arrived at the city park in Webster City around noon. Not much of a park but the parking is good and a small sign says "Camping" with no after mention of a fee. A new well-maintained bike trail runs through the park and follows the Boone River SW for miles. A large placard display at the parking area explains the establishment of a water trail(a new and exciting idea in Iowa)and describes the wildlife one is likely to encounter.

The Boone River is a "gem" in north central Iowa. The bottom is sandy with gravel riffles and enough large boulders to keep things interesting. Unlike many rivers in Iowa, sedimentation has been kept to a minimum even though there are steep mud banks in numerous places.

We had left in such a rush that I forgot to check the USGS Water Data website for the river flow. The Boone River is known to run low during long dry spells and friendly boils in the water can turn into a real "rock garden"(a minimum of 200cfs is recommended). No matter, the river looked good and we started our float with partly sunny skies and 74 degrees.

Within the first mile, we had to stop three times to swim and fish. The water was perfect with three feet of visibility. I caught several nice smallmouth and rockbass. The girls wanted to swim in every deep hole we came to.

Several miles downstream, below highway 20, the bike trail crosses the Boone on a beautiful pedestrian bridge. Just downstream from there, river left, is a fantastic multi-tiered waterfall. We played, swam and fished there as well.

We paddled several more miles of slack water and riffles. We passed Brigg's Woods Park which has small cabins, camping, a lake, picnic areas and a golf course. We passed under the highway 17 bridge and over a very small roller dam.

Here, the river became more interesting. It begins to twist and turn more regularly with a few boulder strewn Class I's and limestone ledges - classic smallmouth habitat.

The girls wanted me to go first through the first Class I we encountered. I did and told them to "follow my track". I made it through after grinding on the bottom a little and the current pushing me toward a knife edge rock with a large boulder just below that.

Megan got her Pungo hung up sideways on the knife edge rock perpendicular to the stream. Ally, being the most inexperienced, had no recourse but to try and slip past Megan. She did it as I watched from below the rapids. How she maneuvered her boat through an opening no wider than two kayaks, I'll never know. I congratulated her as I waded through the rapids to pull Megan's kayak off the large rock where the swift current had pinned it. With Ally's new found confidence, we paddled on.

The river in this section was absolutely beautiful. The water turned a clear emerald green from the pure sand bottom. I caught several more smallmouth bass and a channel catfish. The girls found numerous large healthy mussels in the stream bottom. I explained to them how important mussels are in cleaning and filtering the stream flow. We took out another mile or so downstream at Albright's Access for a total of 8 miles.

The Boone River, when paddled at normal water levels(200-400cfs)is an absolute joy and a hidden gem. It is about an hours drive north of Des Moines. A two day float can be made from the Webster City park down to where the Boone joins the Des Moines River. More adventurous paddlers can continue on down the Des Moines River.

There are almost no houses visible from the section which we paddled and we encountered only one other family of paddlers. I retrieved almost sixty empty beer cans from the banks and rock shoals(mainly from fishing spots on the banks)but litter was at a minimum too. The river setting was solitary and serene - a beautiful day.

Brigg's Woods Park is an ideal place to set up a base camp. There is a nice paved(canoe/kayak)ramp going from the campground right down to the river's edge. The Hamilton County Conservation Board does a great job of maintaining the park and they, along with other interested groups, have great plans for protecting the Boone River as an unspoiled state designated Water Trail.

The best part of the day was when Ally exclaimed to me, "Dad, this is an awesome river"! Yep, more fun than a swimming pool, more fun than Hannah Montana on the TV.(Flow rate for the day was 180cfs)


Camping/Cabins at Brigg's Woods Park. Motel facilities in Webster City. Check for camping at Tunnel Mill access further downstream. Numerous sand/gravel bars at lower water levels.


No fees for paddling or city park.

Nominal fee for camping/cabins at Brigg's Woods Park.


From Des Moines, IA, I-35 north to Hwy 17. West to Webster City. One mile North on Hwy 17 into town - turn right on the main E/W street in town. Go east under steel bridge. City park is immediately on the right.


Paddling Iowa by Nate Hoogeven

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip