The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Cairo To Caruthersville


Cairo to Caruthersville

Lower Miss: 954-846


Welcome to Kentucky: flowing past Fort Defiance and into the Green Ohio jaw-dropping scenes of the extensive Kentucky Bluffs open up as far as you can see downstream as you are swirled around and around in the turbulence of the meeting waters. Look far over the deep forests Eastward, the somber Ohio approaching from its run out of the Alleghenies & the Blue Ridges & Cumberland Plateaus. Very similar to the dance of the Missouri & the Mississippi at their confluence above St. Louis, the waters of the Middle Mississippi and the waters of the Ohio approach each other, then retreat, then approach again, turn away again, and then at long last after many miles of this courtship the more elegantly dancing Middle Mississippi at long last succumbs to the sheer Suma wrestler weight of the Ohio and slams into the bigger river at a blunt angle, pushing all of her water far over bank left against the Kentucky Hills in a surprise maneuver that forces the green waters of the Ohio into a much narrower band which hugs the Wickliffe Bluff in terror while the much more turbulent waters of the Muddy Mississippi churn along its edges and slowly infuse the sparkling green channel into brown. The Green flood might have the volume but the Brown has the color. Within ten miles all is a golden brown, and thirty miles later the sinuous meandering character of the Missouri/Mississippi also prevails, the lower Miss becomes a dizzy course of rolling meanders below Hickman. We’re now on the home river! The Lower Mississippi, the wildest, the brawniest, the baddest river in North America!


The Lower Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast

The Lower Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast is a fascinating document and will reveal many qualities of the river to the careful reader and interpreter of this gauge. You can also jump from this page following its links to many associated NOAA pages full of useful information about the various Lower Mississippi River Gauges, as well as historical records, flood records, low water occurrences, observed precipitation throughout the valley, snowpack, ground saturation, rain forecasts, and other meteorological and hydrologic aspects leading to current river conditions and accurate predictions. You can also follow links to the same for readings and predictions from the Ohio River Valley, the Middle Miss, Upper Miss and Missouri River Valleys, which all of course confluence and combine to form the big waters of the Lower Mississippi River. Go to: NWS (National Weather Service) Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center:


Lower Mississippi River Mileage

Mileage indicates miles above the "Head of Passes," the ground zero of the Mississippi River, the fork in the road 10 miles below Venice and 90 miles below New Orleans where the Mississippi splits into its Delta channels as it pours into the Gulf of Mexico the three primary channel being the Southwest Pass, the South Pass and the Pass L’Outre. All mileage between Cairo and the Caribbean is measured on this scale, Pilot Town at mile 3, Venice mile 10, New Orleans 95, Baton Rouge 230, St. Francisville 265, Natchez 363, Vicksburg 437, Greenville 537, Helena 663, Memphis 737, Caruthersville 846, New Madrid 889, and Ohio River 954.   The mouth of the Ohio River at Cairo Illinois is mile 0 for the Middle Mississippi (195 miles upstream to the Missouri River Confluence) and mile 982 for the Ohio River (up to Pittsburgh).


Switching to the Cairo Gage

For the first 100 miles or so of the Lower Mississippi River the Rivergator will make all water level observations in reference to the Cairo Gage (CG).  What’s happening in Cairo directly effects whatever happens downstream to Caruthersville, and usually within 24 hours (there are no big tributaries between the two places). In other words, a one foot rise in Cairo will lead to an approx. one foot rise in Caruthersville a day later.


On the Lower Miss we will try and describe all important landings and islands and openings into back channels using three water levels: 1) low water, 2) medium water and 3) high water.   The next designation would be flood stage (FS) or above, at which point the river becomes unsafe for most paddlers.


Referring to the Cairo Gage (CG):

Low Water = 0 to 20 CG

Medium Water = 20 to 30 CG

High Water = 30 to 40 CG

Flood Stage = 40 CG and above

Warning: above 40 CG paddlers are advised to stay off the river.  Limited access.  Most landings and approach roads will be underwater.  Most islands will be gone.  No easy camping.  All sandbars will be covered.  Fast waters with many hazards.  All islands and landings will be surrounded by flooded forests full of snags, strainers, sawyers and all other dangerous conditions associated with floodwater moving through trees.  Docks, wharves, dikes and any other man-made objects will create strong whirlpools, violent boils, and fast eddies.  Towboats will create large waves.  The Rivergator will not describe the river and its islands at any levels above flood stage.