The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Caruthersville

Wild Miles:

The wonderful thing about the Middle and Lower Miss is that they are still wild! You will see some industry and agriculture between St. Louis and Baton Rouge, but for the most part your experience will be big water, big forests, big sandbars, big bluffs and big skies. Does this sound like Alaska? Or Lake Superior? Or Puget Sound? Yes -- but it’s not. It’s nothing but the muddy big river, the biggest river in North America, and the longest stretch of free-flowing waters in the Lower 48.


Wild Miles between St. Louis and Caruthersville:

In this stretch if river between St. Louis and Caruthersville wild places include:

Mile 136 to 130, 6 Wild Miles Above St. Genevieve, including historic Fort DeChartres. The lights of St. Louis can be seen dimly above the northern horizon Mile 121 to 110, 11 Wild Miles, below St. Genevieve to above Chester, including Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge-Kaskaskia Island and other protected public-use islands. Mile 105 to 82, 23 Wild Miles, below Chester to above Grand Tower, including Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge-Rockwood Island and Wilkinson Island as well as other protected public-use islands, parks & campgrounds. Mile 80 to 54, 26 Wild Miles Note: below Grand Tower to above Cape Girardeau with protected public-use islands and Trail of Tears State Park. Mile 45 to 8, 37 Wild Miles, below Cape Girardeau to above Cairo. Mile 935 to 925, 10 Wild Miles, below Columbus to above Hickman Mile 920 to 890, 30 Wild Miles, below Hickman to above New Madrid Note: Near Reelfoot Lake State Park -- frequent bald eagle sightings. Mile 867 to 850, 17 Wild Miles, below Tiptonville to above Caruthersville Harbor

Note: unbroken forests - very wild feeling.


What are the Wild Miles?

According to there are 515 Wild Miles on the Lower Mississippi River between Cairo, Illinois, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which means that 71% of the scenery viewed from canoes or kayaks paddling down that stretch of river looks & feels “wild.” Wild Miles are the places along the river where nature predominates and nothing is seen of mankind save passing tows (and other river traffic) and maybe a tiny hunting camp or a single fisherman buzzing by in a johnboat.  These are places where the landscape is filled with giant islands bounded by endless mud banks & sandbars, where the river is overseen by big skies and where the sun sets uninterrupted by buildings or wires and where big river predominates with creative wild beauty, each high water results in shifting sand dunes and re-made sandbars.  This is a floodplain valley where only deer & coyote tracks are seen along the sandbars and enormous flocks of shy birds like the white pelican and double breasted cormorant are comfortable enough to make landing for the night.  These are places where it's dark & quiet at night, where the stars fill the skies like brightly shining jewels poured out on a dark purple velvet blanket, almost as thick & vibrant as the night skies of the Great Plains or Rocky Mountains.


America has an opportunity to find the "wilderness within" by recognizing and preserving the below Wild Miles in the center of the country, and it just so happens that the gigantic floodplain of the Mississippi creates these Wild Miles.  These places have been preserved mostly by neglect, by the power of the river, by its catastrophic rises & falls, and the danger of building anything within its floodplain.  Moreover, in light of recent flood cycles and the declining population of the lower floodplain, this area is receiving attention as one of the best places to restore native bottomland hardwood forests.  Restored forest creates habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, a buffer to flooding, and is an important means of reducing the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone," caused by nutrient runoff into the river. For this reason the recent efforts to reopen the New Madrid Birdspoint floodway would have a detrimental effect on the entire Lower Miss, at the very least in flood control.


Developers: Instead of building any new sites within these Wild Miles, please consider placing new industry and agriculture construction outside the Wild Miles -- and stay within those places already industrialized such as within one of the many harbors along the way, or building it far enough behind the levee that it won't be seen or heard or be directly connected to the river.


Big Trees and Floodplain:

The Middle/Lower Mississippi River Valley was historically a vast expanse of bottomland and adjacent upland hardwood forests with scattered openings primarily created by fire, beaver, or large flood events by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These openings were generally comprised of herbaceous moist-soil areas that created excellent waterfowl and other wetland wildlife habitat or giant switchcane that was almost impenetrable and an extremely important habitat component for a variety of wildlife species. Once covering 22 million acres in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, bottomland hardwood forests have decreased in extent to only 4.9 million acres. Extensive clearing for agriculture (i.e. soybeans, corn, or cotton) and urbanization are two of the primary reasons giant bald cypress and oak trees of pre-settlement times no longer exist. However, giant bald cypress and oak trees characteristic of yesteryear can still be seen on some of these sections of the Lower Mississippi. 


Important Note to Paddlers:

The Middle/Lower Mississippi is not for beginners, although there a couple of side channel places that beginners can get a taste of the big waters (in backwater places that open to the river such as Ellis Bay, Ste. Genevieve Harbor, the mouth of the Meramec, the mouth of the Kaskaskia, Mary’s Creek, Hickman Harbor, Caruthersvlle Harbor -- and other protected flat water places connected to the big river -- see page “Beginner Paddlers on the Lower Mississippi River”). Advance paddlers only in the main channel. You should be capable of self-rescue, and you should have previous big river experience, in specific: large volume waters with long crossings and industrial traffic (towboats). Your skills should include self-rescue, long ferry-crossings, paddling in the wind, paddling in the vicinity of towboats, paddling through violent boils, violent eddies, and large whirlpools. Ultimately you must decide whether you are capable of safely paddling the big river, and whether you are capable of leading your family or friends on the same. Be cautious. Take your time. Swallow your ambition and pride. Impatience has been the root cause of most problems encountered by Lower Mississippi River paddlers. Enjoy the moment, not the destination. Turn around if you aren’t sure or aren’t prepared. Use the Rivergator Safety section to assess specific skills and recommendations. Check the river levels and weather forecast with special attention to wind speed and direction. Carry extra food, water, and all-weather protection. Wear wetsuit or dry suit in cold water seasons (November through April). Carry cell phone and VHF Marine radio. Carry an extra paddle and leave a route plan with someone on shore. Large groups can notify the Coast Guard who will keep the towboat pilots informed of your progress.