The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Cairo To Caruthersville

924.6 RBD Dorena Boat Ramp

Dorena Boat Ramp is an excellent all-season concrete boat ramp descending over revetment into deep water outside of Beckwith Bend opposite Beckwith Bar. If you are putting in or taking out at Dorena be ready for fast water conditions which are concentrated here on the outside of Beckwith Bend. Be equally ready for the possibility of crashing waves, which are accented here after the passage of tows, and in strong southerly winds.  


924 RBD Dorena Crevasse

The word "crevasse" comes from an Old French word, "crevace," which meant a crevice, fissure, or crack. From the French settlers on the lower reaches of the Mississippi, American planters learned to apply the word to a breach in the levee system. Before 1928, the cry of "Crevasse! Crevasse!" was heard all too frequently on the Lower Mississippi. Every inhabitant of the valley knew that it meant that the levee had broken, that the flood waters were pouring over the land, and that their lives and their property were in grave danger. Often people had to run for their lives, sometimes taking refuge on rooftops or in trees, and waiting for days to be rescued.

During the great flood of 1927, local residents around the rural community of Dorena, Missouri, were extremely concerned about their levees. On April 16, 1927, John Clifft went out just before dawn to take a look at a section of the levee that had appeared to be in poor condition the day before. He had just decided that it looked much better when

he noticed a small stream of water pouring in through the base of the embankment. Clifft ran for help, and the flood fighters gathered rapidly to try to stop the flow.

It was already too late; a short while later a whole section of the levee collapsed and John Clifft watched as the water poured through the breach, tearing down trees, sweeping over buildings, and snatching up chickens, pigs, and calves and whirling them away. Clifft heard later that the raging sea of flood water had demolished a schoolhouse 15 miles inland from the crevasse.   New Madrid, Missouri, was inundated by the crevasse water from Dorena, and on April 29 it was reported that the water inside the city levee was 1.5 feet higher than the river water outside the levee. Dorena was one of many crevasses in 1927. Since the mainline levee system was built in 1928, no crevasses have been experienced at Dorena, but the community still suffers occasionally from backwater floods when major floods cause the water to back into the lower part of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway. (From Braggs: Historic Names)


922.6 RBD Dorena - Hickman Ferry Landing

One of the last ferry operations on the Lower Mississippi River operates between Dorena, Missouri, and Hickman, Kentucky. Paddlers be watchful of the small tow + barge outfit as it makes its transit back and forth across the channel. The Hickman Harbor is approximately one mile downstream of the Dorena Landing.


From Kentucky Tourism Website: “Drive your car or walk-on the Dorena-Hickman Riverboat Ferry for a ride on ‘Old Man River’ experiencing a rewarding, unique opportunity of the Mighty Mississippi River.  The Riverboat Ferry holds 12 cars and 149 passengers to cross the Mississippi River between Missouri and Kentucky.  The Riverboat Ferry operates from the Hickman Harbor Landing with 15 regular river crossings during daylight hours. The Riverboat Ferry connects KY Highway 1354 at Hickman, KY with Missouri Route A and Route 77 near Dorena, Mo.  Kentucky and Missouri are the only border states that are not directly connected by a road, making the only direct route between the two states – the Mississippi River.  The ferry, located at mile marker 922 from New Orleans, is half-way between Memphis and St. Louis on the Mississippi River.”    


921.5 LBD Hickman Harbor

Hickman upsets the wild miles paddlers experience below Wolf Island, but only for a minute. All industry is all contained within the harbor, mostly in wharfing and docking facilities, including a grain elevator located just below the harbor mouth. The US Coast Guard has a Hickman base. Call them in case of any emergencies or infarctions of the Clean Water Act. The boat ramp is located about a mile up the harbor, on the right bank (south) side, past all docks. Access to town is through the flood wall. Unfortunately beautiful downtown Hickman is mostly shut down, but the public library still operates at the top of the hill. All other businesses of possible interest to the paddler are several miles out, such as the grocery and hardware and pizza place. A long walk might be enjoyable, but some friendly local will probably offer you a ride. That’s just the way people are in Hickman. Be sure to secure your vessel first, and maybe hide it, or leave someone on guard. If dehydration is your only worry, you could easily refill your water jugs here walking to the nearest tap.


921.5 LBD 4th Kentucky Bluff: Hickman, Kentucky

Hickman, Kentucky sits on top of the 4th Kentucky Bluff, which is the last of the Kentucky Bluffs. Goodbye hills; hullo delta! Hickman the last of any evidence that paddlers will see of high ground for another 140 miles downstream. The next high ground is found amongst the Chickasaw Bluffs of Tennessee, which make their first river appearance near Fort Pillow (at the spectacular 1st Chickasaw Bluff).


The Wiggles

From Cairo to Hickman the big river follows a predominantly southerly course with some gentle meandering. Maybe the shock of meeting each other has required 40 miles to work things out between the Ohio and the Mississippi. Below Hickman things change. The Lower Mississippi takes on its true nature as a wild creative force, a land gobbling snake slipping outwards ten or twenty miles in one direction to rotate around a colossal river bend so long you can’t tell if its straight or rounded, a classic curving floodplain river of global scale. Below Hickman the big river begins making some of the giant turns it is so famous for. In the thirty mile run to New Madrid, the river makes three of these mega turns. The first comes in the convoluted course around Island No. 8. The second is the 180 degree turn around Donaldson Point. The last is compass turning Bessie’s Bend, which takes paddlers in an almost complete circle around the floodplain with New Madrid at the northernmost quadrant. Everyone has different names for this meandering propensity of the Lower Mississippi River. National Geographic called it “Where the Big River gets Lost.” I have heard some paddlers refer to it as the “Twilight Zone,” because the curves leave you a little confused about where exactly you are and where you’re heading. I have heard some tow pilots call it simply “The Wiggles.”   Whatever you call it it is definitely a river of a whole different order of magnitude than what you’ve been paddling on the Middle Mississippi. It seems to have taken on its own vital life force, some creation in which the sum is greater than its parts. Furthermore, it seems to have become alive in a way that it wasn’t before, with a mostly benign character, but one that can turn humorless in a turn of a vicious eddy.   Finally, it commands so much of your vision - and the atmosphere around you - it is no longer a landscape, it is a riverscape. Whether you are on the island, the sandbar, or the muddy waters, the river dominates it all.