The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Cairo To Caruthersville

867 - 861 RBD Bar of Island No 13

Below Cherokee the river rolls into a distinctive S-shape formed by Little Cypress Bend revolving 180 degrees westward, followed by the Chute of Island 14, which revolves 180 degrees eastward. Total distance through the big S is around 15 miles. Low-lying bar of Island No 13 fans outwards from Cherokee around the entire perimeter of Little Cypress Bend. A giant blue hole forms below the 1st dike. You could stop for swimming and picnicking in low water, but this is also a popular spot for 4-wheelers. Most of the bar goes completely under in medium water, around 25CG, and no sand will be found except along the steep inside banks, but this not recommended for camping due to presence of hunting lodge and frequent human visitation. Best campsite for paddlers would be the bottom of Island No 13 Bar six miles downstream (Joe Eckles Towhead) where a high shelf of sand is found bank left around mile 861.5 that doesn’t go under until high water 30CG.


Caruthersville Gage (CuG) Water Levels Caruthersville to Memphis:

At this point in Rivergator we will leave the Cairo Gage (CG) and switch to the Caruthersville Gage which we’ll denote as “CuG.” All river levels will refer to the Lower Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast, which can be seen online at:


This guide will try and describe all important landings and islands and openings to lakes using three water levels, low water, medium water and high water.   The next designation would be flood stage (FS) or above.  This guide will make few if any descriptions of anything on the Mississippi at or above flood stage, at which level conditions become too dangerous for most paddlers.  This guide will make strong recommendations for not paddling on the Mississippi at or above flood stage.


Referring to the Caruthersville Gauge (CuG)


Low Water = 0 to 15 CuG 

Medium Water = 15 to 25 CuG

High Water = 25 to 32 CuG

Flood Stage = 32 CuG and above


Dikes and Water Levels Caruthersville to Memphis:

In the Caruthersville area you can use the following scale to gauge water flowing over dikes, although some dikes vary in height.  Also some have been “notched” in recent years as result there will be a middle notch that you can paddle through at much lower levels of water, some places down to 0 Caruthersville Gauge.


Using the Caruthersville Gage:

1-10 - water flowing through notches only

10CuG - rocks still exposed on all dikes  

10-11 dikes starting to go under, some flow through breaks & low spots

13 dikes completely under, but little flow 

15-20CuG  good flow and lots of boils & turbulence 

20CuG strong flow, turbulence, no dikes exposed anywhere

28CuG river bank full 

>32CuG Flood Stage.


Warning: above flood stage 32 CuG 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. 


860 RBD Secret Bar Kennedy Point

Paddlers rounding Kennedy Point looking for a rest stop (or campsite) could find the perfect place in a large alcove cut into right bank descending where the Little Cypress revetment ends and the Kennedy Sandbar begins. Great protection from southerly or westerly winds and storms


860 - 855 RBD Kennedy Bar

Kennedy Bar is another low flat sandbar inhabiting the inside of a big bend, that seem to be so common to this area. These flat bars are not good camping except in the most ideal of conditions where you have no wind, no storms, or no hot sun to hide from. The best camping is found bottom end RBD near 856. The DeSoto Conservation Area is found on the inside of Kennedy Bar.


859.3 - 867.5 LBD Lee Towhead Back Channel

The back channel of Lee Towhead is always open regardless of river level (except in extreme low water), and makes for wonderful back channel paddling. It’s no shortcut, in fact it will double your distance at least. But the peaceful passage, and the fantastic wildlife viewing including bald eagles makes the extra exertion well worth it. There are two routes the paddler can follow, the first is a simple foray around Lee Towhead, total distance 4 miles. Or you can jump into a tertiary channel that goes behind a 2rd island further back, total distance 6 miles. On the main channel this same journey would we 2 miles. The islands are posted, which is fine. There does not seem to be any good campsites anywhere around Lee Towhead save maybe the very bottom end. Continue on downstream to Robinson Bayou Bar or Island No 14 for better (and friendlier) choices.


856.2 LBD Fritz Landing Boat Ramp

Fritz Landing Boat Ramp is a rough concrete but perfectly serviceable boat ramp on the outside of the bend a mile and a half below Lee Towhead. Frequented by local fishermen. Not useful to paddlers as there are no services. Continue on to Caruthersville for resupply, restaurants, and etc.