If you’ve ever boated from Kansas City to St. Louis on the Missouri River, chances are you know about Cooper’s Landing. Not only has the rustic waterside outpost been serving boaters for some 30 years — it’s currently the sole marina between the two cities. That’s 340 miles from point to point, with Cooper’s Landing lying just about in the middle at Mile 170.
Located 12 miles from Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, and 30 miles from Jefferson City, the state capital, Cooper’s Landing occupies ground once belonging to a town that was swept away by a massive flood in 1844. (Nashville, Mo., for you history buffs out there.) After the great inundation of water, the townsfolk moved up the bluff and founded Providence, Mo., now a suburb of Columbia.
Native Missourian Mike Cooper purchased the land in the early 1980s and opened a bait and tackle shop as “a hobby, more or less.” Over time, the shop and surrounding property evolved into a local family entertainment area, featuring a boat club, RV sites, campgrounds and picnic area. Today, it’s a mashup of past and present, rural and urban — with a warm, authentic Central Missouri vibe.
Cooper’s Landing is shaded by giant sycamore and cottonwood trees and overlooks a wide swath of river. Rock dikes line the shore upstream and downstream, slowing water flow near the bank and preventing the accumulation of sediment. Boating amenities include a launch ramp, temporary trailer parking, and a service dock with gas and pump-out stations. The other docks are mainly reserved for boat club members, but transients can arrange for overnight stays, based on availability, by calling ahead.
The main building, or lodge, consists of a well-stocked convenience store, gathering room with flatscreen TV and WiFi, kitchen, laundry and restroom with shower. (Three outdoor Porta Potties and water faucets are available 24 hours a day for added convenience.) The kitchen serves breakfast year-round on Saturdays and Sundays and also offers barbecue and family-style meals based on the season. There’s a communal feel, with longtime RV residents and boat club members pitching in with the cooking.
In a nod to the latest culinary fashion, there’s also a food truck — well, a converted camper trailer — moored on one side of the building. Called Chim’s Thai Kitchen, it serves hot meals throughout the spring and summer. On the other side of the building, a covered patio protects the smoker and barbecue grill, and also serves as home base for Big Muddy Bikes, which provides repairs, accessories and rentals to area two-wheelers.
Parks and Recreation
Having a bike shop handy is important, as the Katy Trail, the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project, runs along the eastern border of Cooper’s Landing. The Katy stretches 240 miles from Clinton to Machens, Mo., with segments of it connecting to the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail and the American Discovery Trail. So, foot and pedal traffic do happen. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon to see spandex-clad cyclists sharing a picnic table next to swimsuit-wearing boaters and Birkenstock-shod campers.
You can also expect an eclectic crowd at Cooper’s Landing for its live music, fishing contests and festivals, which take place during the spring, summer and fall. Local bands and singers/songwriters perform on weekend nights and at other times during the week. Several annual fundraisers for local non-profits and other charities bring entertainment such as dance, art, poetry and plays to the property. A full calendar of events can be found here: www.cooperslanding.net/events.php.
If you want to take in some of the local sights during your trip to the area, be sure to visit Boathenge (www.boathenge.net). Just a short distance north of Cooper’s Landing on the Katy Trail, this “sculpture” can best be described as an innovative way to use decrepit boats as art. Be sure to take your camera.
Also nearby, about six miles north, lies Rock Bridge State Park. Located at the headwaters of the Little Bonne Femme watershed, which empties into the Missouri River about 100 yards northwest of Cooper’s Landing, it contains remarkable “karst” features like caves, sinkholes and underground streams. The park is also the site of an early Boone County grist mill and whiskey distillery.
There are more beautiful, all-natural places to visit — the Eagle Bluffs, Plow Boy Bend and Three Creeks conservation areas come to mind — but if what you crave is incredible views of the Missouri River in a comfortable and casual setting, you don’t even need to leave Cooper’s Landing. New landscaping has added to what was already a premier stretch of wooded land along the river, and Cooper says he has more improvements in store for the season.
So, sit back, relax and take in all that the Big Muddy and its most unique river port have to offer.
AT A GLANCE
11505 Smith Hatchery Road South
Columbia, MO 65203
Contact: Mike Cooper
Hours: Store hours are 7 to 8 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays; 7 to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. weekends. Will make special hours for boaters at service/fuel dock, if needed.
Fuel: 87-octane gasoline; diesel available upon request
Slips: No slips, but space for approximately 12 vessels on parallel docks
Water depth: Average 12 feet at service/fuel dock
Amenities: Water; ice; launch ramp; pump-out; restrooms; shower; laundry; convenience store; WiFi; camping and RV sites; bike rentals and repair
Getting there by boat: On main channel at Mile 170 left descending bank (LDB); rock dikes at boat ramp and 100 yards upstream and downstream
Getting there by car: From I-70, take Exit 128A towards US-63 S/Jefferson City. Remain on US-63 S and take the MO-AC/Grindstone Parkway exit. Turn right, then drive until reaching South Providence Road. Turn left and continue straight onto S Route K/MO-K. Turn left onto South Old Plank Road. Stay straight to go onto Smith Hatchery Road South.