Chain of Rocks on the Mississippi

Class III features, ranging from eddylines to big holes and waves at some levels and locations. Reliable river role is a MUST!

"Runnable" pretty much year around, but the best playspots are in the Missouri Shoals near the water treatment plant. These spots are only available when the gauge is 7 feet or less. Unfortunately the gauge isn't real reliable because it is downstream after the canal rejoins so depending on the amount diverted for the canal, it may or may not be accurate.

Further complicating the gauge readings is the large amount of silt brought into the Mississippi by the Missouri River.

Can't get out on land that touches the Missouri bank because this is private property owned by the City of Saint Louis (for the water treatment plant) Security is no longer allowing folks to get out of their boats.

There is a nasty low head dam in the middle of the shoals. 100 yards or so below Blockhouse but above the other play features. "Oil Can Hole" is a dangerous life threatening hole that is difficult to rescue from.


Illinois side (1): Take Rt. 3 Exit from I-270 one block south to stop light. Turn west for two miles to unpaved road vearing left down to the river's edge parking area. Advantage: One can both put in and take out here. Disadvantage: Better only at levels below 6 feet on the St. Louis Gauge, and to get to the good stuff on the Missouri side requires ferrying the entire river, twice.

Missouri Side:
I-270 Bridge (2): At northern edge of chain link fence surrounding Old Chain of Rock Bridge property, pull off on east side onto MO DOT access (unpaved) road. Advantage: Easiest route to middle, excellent put in for playing river left or right sides. Good for novices: allows warm up on forward stroke down river right side with easiest rapids and good eddies for practice. Disadvantages: Need to shuttle from Spring Garden; extremely muddy after rains.

Spring Garden (Riverside Trail) (15):Put in requires attaining one mile paddle upstream but allows for same take out as put in. But only 250 strokes or so to Mosenthein Island rapids at optimal levels from 5 feet to 9.8 feet on St. Louis Gauge.

Chain of Rocks Map
  Numbers on Map correspond to feature numbers.
Aerial Photograph with spots highlighted

Description of Features

NOTE: Do not paddle without a knowledgeable guide as there is rebar, steel beams, and atleast one dangerous hole out here. Do not use this as your guide, use an experience paddler who has done the Chain of Rocks as your guide. Paddle responsibly, and with responsible paddlers.

The Trolls (5): Huge, 6 to 10 foot high, reforming wave train with squirrely eddies on both sides with about 10 waves (visually to end of Illinois side rift-raft bank of rocks) Waves #2 and #4 can provide awesome surfing for longer boats. Simply drift down Illinois side below white water tower and then position yourself in the Notch. We often paddle facing upstream through Wave 1 to catch Waves 2, etc.

Leprauchauns (6): Not nearly as big as The Trolls, but consisting of 4 to 6 foot waves that also reform and fold inward unpredictably. Simply peel out on the Missouri side of the water tower and drift down to position yourself for the Notch. Both channels are deep and safe. Eddy right about Wave 6-8.

The Illini (4):From river left side of The Trolls. Excellent ferry practice for boat control, peel outs, s-turns and stern squirts from The Trolls to the Illinois side eddy below the Chain of Rocks. Best levels: Below 5 feet at St. Louis. Forms very interesting chutes for play and practice during rare times river gets down to 0 feet or lower. The Silos (4) rapids close to the Illinois bank provide excellent ferry, peelout and eddy-hitting practice for novices; and good surfing and squirts for experts when river is below 6 feet at St. Louis. Do not run the Illini below 6 feet: Rebarb may ruin more than your day.

Missouri Breaks (7):Stay parallel or higher than the Illinois rock bank over your right shoulder to ferry between eddies separating roughly six main water chuttes (e.g., behind Missouri (red and white) water tower to an eddy behind a large pointed rock (9) when water level is 6.5 feet or lower. Optimal levels: Five feet and lower at St. Louis gauge. Do not run the Breaks below 6 feet. Rebarb may ruin more than your day.

(Water Treatment Area)

Block House Wing Dam (11): Shallow playspot that varies greatly by water levels. At higher (10+ feet) levels there is a large hole that forms here. Can be a bit sticky and will certianly be unsettling for novices. At various levels up to 50 yards wide there are a number of small waves and holes that form at most levels. Caution is advised, cause it can be very shallow here. Also, be very careful of Oil Can Hole directly in back of you about 100 yards!
Paul Knobeloch Surfing Block House in August, 1999 at 10 feet.
Rookies Hole (12): First eddy along Missouri shore at start of 100 yards of natural limestone shoals has an optimal wave-hole at minus half a foot up to 7.5 feet on the gauge. Even experts can enjoy back surfing, flat spins, etc. Oil Can Hole is safely 100 yards distant toward the Illinois side.
Playing Rookies shot from downstream.
Cobblestone (13): One of the best holes on the Chain. Retentive, but kind of shallow. Too shallow for vertical moves except on the waves on each end (and they must be fast and high). Eddy service leaves a bit to be desired, and with the recent ban on getting out on the bank, this has become something of a one shot ride on your way down.

Erik Johnson surfing Cobblestone at 5.7 feet on Dec 5, 1999.

Primo (13): Quite possibly the finest feature on the Chain of Rocks. Five to ten feet to river left of Cobblestone is a wave that when it is breaking nicely is great for all kinds of play moves. Retentive with a foam pile, but only 5-8 feet wide depending on the levels. As the water comes down it greens out until it eventually fades away. Rough guess, is breaking from 5.5-7 feet and flat much above that. Below that it is a nice green wave down to about 0 feet. It is next to S-Eddy, so named because the eddy snakes predictably at many levels. S-Eddy will hold three or five boats comfortably. As the level gets lower the attainment eddy becomes very small.

Secondo (13):Illinois side of S-Eddy has a good novice-intermediate wave or hole from 5.5 to 7 feet.

Last Drop: Around half a foot to minus half a foot, a great surfing hole develops about 100 feet below Primo.

Salmon Run Hole (9): As the island about 30 feet below Oil Can becomes larger, an entirely safe hole forms along the NE corner of the island. From 2.5 to 5.1 feet on the St. Louis gauge, this is the premier retendo spot on the river because the hole actually forms into two downstream smiles with retendo moves easily made on both sides and the middle! A good, safe eddy formed by a huge pyramid-shaped rock protects the paddler from Oil Can Hole.

Part breaking wave, part hole and various combinations of the two this feature is good for a number of freestyle moves, including cartwheeling in a short boat in the right spots. Shallow in some places/levels though.

Mosenthein Island Area

Watch out for these spots, while traditionally thought of as very deep, up near the tops of them they aren't always. Some rocks disguise themselves as waves in the "wall" section.

The Gravy Train: The 1993 Flood created two breaks in the levee protecting Mosenthein Island with drops of 1-7 feet, depending on St. Louis Gauge readings. Optimal retendo levels for experts are 8.5 to 9.8 feet for The Mouth (first hole on Southside). Very strong eddy lines and a super wave-hole allow for all retendo moves, but currents make for very difficult rolling at end of the wave train. Excellent spot for novice-intermediates and slalomists to practice peelouts, ferries, s-turns, etc. from 5 feet to 7.5 feet.

Mashed Potatoes Hole: The second wave train south is less powerful and shorter. Optimal levels for are from about 5 feet to 8 feet. The first hole (Mashed Potatoes) Good novice-intermediate and slalomist practice of peelouts, ferries, s-turns etc. from 5 to 6.5 feet.