The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Caruthersville

Reading the Rivergator:

The Rivergator reads like a big river expedition, starting above St. Louis at the confluence of the Missouri and following the Middle and then Lower Mississippi downstream mile-by-mile. (Note: we are currently in the third year of a four year project: ultimate start place will be St. Louis, with end place in the Gulf of Mexico, almost 1200 miles of free-flowing river). The descriptions are factual and the information is the most up-to-date available, but I have tried to enliven the writing with “the feel” whenever possible. Each piece is titled with headings in bold that include 1) the name of the important features along the way, 2) which side of the river it’s on, and 3) its mileage.   For example, “736 LBD Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor.” 736 is the mileage above the head of passes near the Gulf of Mexico. RBD=right bank descending and LBD=left bank descending. Paddlers are offered many route choices beyond the main channel in the plethora of sluices, back channels, secret passages, and tributaries along the way, using Google maps for illustration. On your laptop or home computer you could open two pages, one for the text and one for Google maps. On the river you can switch back and forth on your smart phone. Or you can print the text and use the US Army Corps Lower Mississippi Maps hard copy or online. The Rivergator is three guides wrapped up into one, because every island, landing and riverbank has to be described in three different water levels, low, medium and high. It provides paddling routes, as well as history, geography and culture. The Mississippi fluctuates 40-50 vertical feet in any given year, with enormous changes as result, whole islands disappear in high water, while some good landings become fields of mud at low water.

Panel of Experts:

All writing is reviewed by a panel of paddlers, naturalists and other river experts including (for this section) Dean Klinkenberg, author of the Mississippi Valley Traveler series; Dave Herzog, Missouri Dept of Conservation; Kimberly Rea, USACE Riverlands project director, Janet Moreland, big river kayaker; Amy Lauterbach, big river paddler; John Sullivan, canoe/kayaker, retired WDNR water quality specialist; Scott Mandrell, voyageur, teacher, historian; Betsy Tribble, big river paddler; Chad Pregracke, Living Lands & Waters; Janet Meredith, National Great Rivers Museum, David Hardesty, big river paddler; Cliff Ochs, big river researcher, University of Mississippi; John L. Hartleb, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge; Bryan Hopkins, Water Resources Center, Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Ethan Engerski, Natural Resource Specialist USACE, Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Steve Schnarr and Melanie Cheney, Missouri River Relief; Greg Poleski, Greenway Network, Layne Logue, kayaker; Norman Miller, big river kayaker; Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing Mississippi, Paul Hartfield, USFW endangered species biologist; Michael Clark, St. Louis river guide, owner of Big Muddy Adventures; Mark River Peoples, St. Louis native and big river guide; Braxton Barden, big river guide. I, John Ruskey, am primary author. I first descended the Mississippi in 1982 on a 12x24 foot raft, and have been taking notes, photographs and documenting the river ever since. St. Louis area Rivergator contributor Mike Clark has been exploring the Confluence and the Middle Miss for over a decade. He is considered the expert on running the Chain of Rocks. In 2002 and in 2006 Mike Clark and I spent 5 months exploring the entire Missouri River in dugout canoes, the second time as engages in Scott Mandrell’s “Then & Now” Lewis & Clark Re-enactment. Our experiences paddling dugouts to the confluence and over the Chain of Rocks are here in the Rivergator. In 2009 Mike Clark and I guided German film-makers from St. Louis to Caruthersville (and on down to the Gulf of Mexico) on a giant raft (actually a “canoe-ma-raft,” a 16 x 30 platform supported by 2 voyageur canoes as pontoons). Big Muddy Mike has made dozens of other Middle Miss voyages after the 2001 formation of his Big Muddy Adventures, which is based near North Riverfront Park in St. Louis (including a “Huck ‘n’ Jim expedition” where he paddled it all after dark just like Huck and Jim did -- this is not recommended). Rivergator contributor Mark River Peoples was born and raised along the Mississippi River in St. Louis and East St. Louis. Mark River is now a full-time guide on the Lower Mississippi River, and writes a blog, appropriately called the “Mark River Blog.” Contributors Mark River and Braxton Barden explored St. Louis to Cairo one last time in the low water of Nov 2014 to verify everything. Braxton Barden is a full time guide and photographer on the Lower Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company. And so the Rivergator is the culmination of over 30 years of personal exploration and the experiences of other hardened river rats. I have paddled the Mississippi on anything that floats (including a log!). To verify all information I have been making refresher “exploratory expeditions,” (We last paddled this section with a team of explorers during the June rise, 2014 and then a second time in low water Nov 2014). I’ll try to keep myself out of it as much as possible, and let the river speak for herself. But I’ll also spice the journey with stories and vignettes from my adventures along the way, and others who have first-hand experience. Other important Rivergator sources include the National Weather Service “Lower Mississippi River Gauge and Week Forecast,” the 2011 Upper Mississippi River Navigation Charts (Middle Miss), and 2007 Flood Control and Navigation Maps: Mississippi River (Lower Miss), Google Maps Satellite View, Marion Braggs’ Historic Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River, Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, Great River Road website, Built St. Louis website, Charles Dee Sharp’s The Mississippi River in 1953, John James Audubon Birds of America, Parkman’s LaSalle, DeSoto’s Narrative, the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge website, the National Wildlife Refuge Website, Eve Beglarian River Project Blog, The Riverlorian, Wikipedia, Quapaw Canoe Company and Wild Miles. See “Sources” for complete listing, links, and suggestions for further reading.



The Rivergator was born in 2011 and is coordinated by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. The Rivergator is made possible by many partners, in this stretch including Joan Twillman, Mississippi River Trail Association; Charlene Waggoner, Greenway Network; Annette Anderson, 1 Mississippi; Terry Eastin, Mississippi River Trail, Thomas Malkowicz, Washington University Videographer, the Missouri Division of Tourism, National Great Rivers Museum, Missouri Dept of Conservation; USACE Riverlands Project Office, Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, Water Resources Center, Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, Missouri River Relief and the Walton Family Foundation, which believes in "conservationomics": lasting solutions that make sense for the economy and the environment.