The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Introduction

Your route: Main Channel vs. Back Channel

Rivergator will detail Main Channel which is almost always the fastest route on the water, but full or traffic, and Back Channel, which is slower but is full of wildlife and big trees.  Main Channel is always open regardless of river level, but back channel is dependent upon river levels.  Most back channels are closed in low water, open with slow flow in medium water, and full of strong flowing currents in high water.  Main channel hazards are buoys and towboats.  (Avoid both!)  In the back channel your main hazards are waterfalls over dikes (dependent on river level), snags, strainers and channel blockages (driftwood piling against trees or low bridge).   Rivergator will detail all known waterfalls and blockages.  But on the river things are in constant flux.  What one year is an uninterrupted flowing back channel might next year be blocked by a pile of logs and tree removal dropped by some logging operation.  Two things: 1) be a smart paddler and use you own best judgment about what’s safe to paddle and what isn’t.  And 2) let us know if you discover something of importance not listed in the Rivergator, like a dangerous waterfall or a blocked channel.  That way we can update Rivergator descriptions and keep other paddlers informed about these difficulties and possible hazards!  Dikes present special challenges to the back channel paddler.  At low water they are exposed, and you can paddle around any dike, but you will often discover strong eddies with ripping cross currents and whirlpools.   At medium water you can paddle over most dikes, but that is when the waters are at their most turbulent.  You may not see any solid evidence, but you will know they are there by the exploding boils, whipping currents, whirlpools and agitated turbulence.  In high water most dikes get swamped over by smooth flow and you hardly notice their influence.  In medium water back channels waterfalls sometimes form over a dike, with significant drops (2-3 feet), strong v-line tongues, standing waves, and turbulent side waters.  If you hear the sound of rushing water and see the plane of the back channel disappear and drop a level, and see leaping whitewater beyond -- Be especially cautious!   Remember the paddler’s mantra: when in doubt, stop and scout!