Paddling and Painting the Missouri River

Steve Snell has paddled the length of America’s longest river in 88 days. On June 2, he set off along the Missouri River from Three Forks, Montana. Over the summer, he canoed 3,770km to the confluence of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. 

Steve Snell stands infront of his canoe

Photo: stevesnell5000/Facebook


But this journey was about more than just paddling. Snell is an artist. Besides canoeing for up to 12 hours a day, he painted a series of watercolors. He was inspired by artists such as Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, John James Audubon, and Thomas Hart Benton, who all traveled and painted the Missouri.

Unlike these other artists, though, he wanted to do more than paint. He paddled, and at each campsite, he also kept up a video narration as he painted. In total, he produced 90 large watercolors and 30 postcard-sized ones. 

A collage of paintings from the journey

Photo: stevesnell5000/Facebook


Every day, Snell followed a similar routine. He started with coffee and painting, then paddled until nightfall or until the weather forced him ashore. He did not plan a certain distance each day. “If the weather was nice, I’d prioritize paddling and just put in as many miles as I could,” he said. He knew that eventually, bad weather would give him a break.

An aerial shot of the campsite as Snell paints

Photo: stevesnell5000/Facebook


On the upper Missouri River, the wind kept Snell ashore for many days. On the lower Missouri, the paddling became easier and even allowed him to paint in the canoe. The water was flat enough that he could let it drift along. 

Painting on the river

Photo: stevesnell5000/Facebook


Though he paddled alone, he met many people along the river — so many, that he says that made more friends during the journey than he had in the past five years. Not only did they provide conversation, but some offered food and places to stay or do laundry. 

Snell holds a painting of the Missouri River

Photo: stevesnell5000/Facebook

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.