The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Caruthersville


St. Louis to Caruthersville

Middle Miss: 195-0

Lower Miss: 954-846

307 miles total


© 2014 John Ruskey

For the Rivergator: Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

 The is a free public use website

presented by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

Re-printing of text and photos by permission only with proper credits.


St. Louis to Caruthersville Introduction:

Welcome to the 2014 update to the Rivergator: Paddlers Guide to the Lower Mississippi River!


This section of the Rivergator starts at the wild confluence of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers above St. Louis, and continues down the Middle Miss to Cairo Illinois, and then down the Lower Mississippi to Caruthersville, Missouri. St. Louis sits like the center hub of a giant wheel. You find rivers every direction you go.   Big rivers. The rivers that define the very heart of America: the Upper Mississippi, the Meramec, the Osage, the Illinois, the Kaskaskia, and the “Big Muddy” Missouri. And the Middle Miss gathers them all together like a big mother hen and off they go slipping and sliding southward through a ten thousand year old glacial-carved valley that is roughly ten miles wide. The Big Muddy Missouri (headwaters Idaho/Montana divide) is the longest river in the sprawling Mississippi drainage, and makes the greater Mississippi Valley the longest in the continent and amongst the three longest rivers in the world. Add in the Ohio and you know have the biggest river in North America, now tossing and turning wildly in its broad floodplain in between the rolling bluegrass hills of Kentucky and the Missouri Bootheel, swirling around big wild Islands like Wolf Island and Island No. 8, around big bends like Bessie’s Bend (20 miles to go one mile), and through big forests and big trees like the ones found at Big Oak Tree State Park. Everything is big about the Mississippi: big sky, big waters, big islands, big bluffs, big towboats, big industry. If you are a long distance paddler coming down the Upper Miss, tighten down the hatches! Everything changes as you lock through the last dam (Melvin Price L&D and maybe the Chain of Rocks L&D). Read below for a warning.


Warning: St. Louis Harbor

Expert paddlers only through St. Louis where concentrated industry and large volume water hazards create a 30-mile long maze of bridges, towboats, harbor boats, fleeted barges, and unexpected changes in hazardous water with whirlpools and eddies over chevrons, around pylons and docks, and around industrial installations. The fun starts below the confluence at the notorious Chain of Rocks. Intermediate paddlers will be capable on all other sections of this stretch of river below St. Louis to Caruthersville. But not here. Maybe you will get lucky and pass through unscathed, maybe not. If you are overloaded, or in a home-made raft, or some craft of questionable reliability, you would be best to upgrade at St. Louis. Be forewarned: you might get pulled over by the St. Louis Harbor Patrol or the Coast Guard for a boat inspection. And for good reason. Many an expedition has met its demise in the St. Louis Harbor. Keep reading into the Rivergator for chilling real life stories about a couple of those that didn’t make it, and why they failed. Don’t lead your adventure to disaster. Especially if you have others on board with you. If you have any doubts about your ability, portage around the industrial stretch. Better yet, hire expert guiding services such as those provided by “Big Muddy” Mike of Big Muddy Adventures.  



The Rivergator is for your free use! Please print or access from your smart phone. (Presented here in roughly 100 miles sections from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico).

Best case scenario: 1) print up section of Rivergator that you will be canoeing or kayaking. 2) Print up accompanying USACE river maps. 3) Print up NOAA River Stage Forecasts the day before you embark on your adventure for latest river gage readings and forecast. 4) Lastly, listen to and print the latest weather forecast.


Secure the above by inserting pages into 8.5x11 page protectors and bundle into a 3-ring notebook or waterproof map casing (available at most water outfitters such as Outdoors Inc. Memphis or online at REI or NRS).


If using smart phone protect with water-proof casing! The river is hungry for electronic devices and equipment that doesn’t float! (I have personally left several marine radios, a half dozen knives and one camera with the sturgeon and catfish at the bottom of the river!)


The Rivergator is a public service brought to you compliments of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation with support from dozens of river experts and partner organizations


Who is the Rivergator written for?

The Rivergator is written by paddlers for paddlers. It will open the river for local experienced canoeists who have always wanted to paddle the Mississippi but didn’t know how or when or where to start. Canoe clubs, kayak clubs and outdoor clubs. Outdoor leadership schools. Friends and families. Church groups and youth groups. It could be used by the Girl Scouts for a week-long summer expedition to Cape Girardeau, or a group of Boy Scouts working on their canoe badge in the St. Louis area -- or a group of middle schoolers from Chester who want to get on the river at the mouth of the Kaskaskia for an easy daytrip. Paddlers seek out new places to explore. You could read the Rivergator during the winter months from your home and by spring snowmelt you could be making your first paddle strokes on a life-changing adventure down the Mississippi! Rivergator will help you get there if you’re a long-distance canoeist who started at Lake Itasca, or a kayaker who is coming through south after paddling the length of the Missouri River from Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains. You could be a stand-up-paddleboarder who put in at the Great River Confluence of the Upper Mississippi and Big Muddy Missouri in St. Louis.


We paddlers are all the same: canoeists, kayakers, stand-up-paddleboarders, rafters. We look for the same kinds of currents on the river, and enjoy the same kinds of remote islands. We are slow, but efficient. We know the river better than any other river pilots, at least the pieces of river we have paddled on. We have more in common with towboats than motorboats. Regardless of what you paddle, the Rivergator will you help you find the essential landings and the obscure back channels that you would otherwise miss. It will help you safely paddle around towboats, and choose the best line of travel to follow around the head-turning bends and intimidating dikes, wing dams, and other rock structures. It will identify which islands to camp and which to avoid, and where the best picnic spots are found and where blue holes form. It will lead you to places of prolific wildlife and mind-blowing beauty. It will help explain some of the mysterious motions of the biggest river in North America. It’s written for canoeists and kayakers, but is readable enough to be enjoyed by any arm-chair adventurers including landowners, hunters, fishermen, communities along the route, historians, biologists, geologists, and other river-lovers. The river is the key to understanding the history, the geography and the culture of the Mid-America. It’s the first high speed “router.” It connected our ancestors much like internet does today.   It’s the original American highway, migration route, freight route, newspaper route, and trade route. But it’s also a church, a sanctuary, a playground, a classroom. The river is the rock star, The Rivergator is merely a guide to help you interpret and enjoy the songs of the river!

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