The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Caruthersville

The Seven Leave No Trace Principles

Leave No Trace Principles appropriate to paddlers on the Mississippi River include:

1) Plan ahead and prepare

2) Dispose of waste properly

3) Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 12 inches deep at least 300 feet from your camp or the river’s edge.  Cover cathole when finished. If you’re with a big group of people, insert stick above as marker “do not dig here” and inform your group of this practice.

4) Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

5) Leave what you find

6) Respect wildlife

7) Be considerate of other visitors


The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:


Where to camp before setting off on your expedition:

If you are driving to put-in on the Middle Mississippi at the Missouri River Confluence, the best camping in the area can be found in the St. Louis area at Pere Marquette State Park (Upper Mississippi, between Alton and Grafton):


Pere Marquette State Park, Route 100, PO Box 158, Grafton, IL 62037, 618-786-3323. Located 5 miles west of Grafton in Jersey County, Pere Marquette State Park comprises 8,050 acres making it Illinois' largest state park. The Park is famous for the beauty of its Fall colors and as a home for bald eagles in the winter. In addition to the spectacular views of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers from several scenic overlooks, visitors can take advantage of a variety of year-round recreational activities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, boating, and taking part in interpretative programs.


Pere Marquette State Park was named for Jacques Marquette, a French missionary who was a member of a European expedition led by Louis Joliet.  In 1673, Marquette and Joliet traveled down the Mississippi River as far as the Arkansas River. They were the first Europeans to reach the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. A large stone cross located east of the main Park entrance along Route 100 commemorates their historic landing.


The region’s history of animal and human habitation goes back to prehistoric times. Fossils can found in the strata, stripped bare by millions of years of erosion. At the foot of McAdams Peak, twin springs flow from Ordovician-Silurian rocks deposited 350 million years ago. Loess (pronounced ‘less’), the vertical banks of yellow clay seen along the road to the bluff-tops, is a windblown dust laid down a million years ago during the last Great Ice Age. This material covers all the ridges in the area and is topped by the rich black topsoil that supports the present flora.


The Park is dotted with over 150 small Native American burial mounds and the Illini Confederacy occupied the area when the Joliet and Marquette made their journey. A number of archaeological studies have been conducted here, most notably at the location of the Pere Marquette Lodge. Prior to its construction in the 1930's and again during the lodge’s expansion in 1985, evidence that the location was a prehistoric habitation site was uncovered.


Possible Dangers for Paddlers in the St. Louis Harbor, and How to Avoid:

As you prepare to paddle through the 20-mile long St. Louis Harbor you should be aware of a few critical elements: 1) Check the wind forecast. If the wind is going to be gusting anywhere out of the south above 20 mph stay on shore until it subsides. The harbor becomes a wind tunnel in a south wind, and the bridges increase the effect. Large crashing waves and accentuated turbulence as result. 2) There are very few opportunities for landing besides the waterfront in front of the Arch. Once you get started down the harbor there is no turning back, so make sure you have what you need and all business is taken care of so you can paddle with a clear and focused mind. 3) Avoid extreme turbulence around docking piers and Bridge pylons. 4) Best line of travel is Right Bank Descending from McKinley Bridge to Arch (inside of Chevrons), Middle channel below Arch, return to Right Bank Descending several miles above JB Bridge, after you pass all of the bankside wharfing and docks. 5) Chevrons have been placed RBD between Merchants Bridge and Stiles Bridge (RBD183-182). Added turbulence, especially around SLG 15-25. Paddle around chevrons (preferably on the inside RBD if there is no traffic) not through them. 6) Giant flotillas of fleeted barges are found anchored primarily on the Illinois side of the channel throughout the middle of harbor (below Arch). Dangerous position in front of any anchored vessels. Stay well away from fleeted barges, in particular don’t approach from top end. 7) Secure your decks, and make sure you have extra paddles, bailers and sponges, plenty of drinking water, lifejackets for each person on board and your vessel is not overloaded. You might be inspected along the way by the Harbor Patrol or Search & Rescue. 8) if you are on a large raft, or are paddling with a large group of paddlers, you might want to call ahead and alert the US Coast Guard. They will notify all commercial vessels on the water of your presence, which will add to the safety and success of your expedition.


Safe Paddling through the St. Louis Harbor involves the same elements for safe paddling anywhere, as detailed in the Rivergator Introduction: you need to have the right experience (big river skills), the right equipment (including a sea-worthy vessel) and the right preparations (did you check the wind forecast for the day?). For a complete breakdown and listing of the necessary skills and preparations you should have made, go to


Fleeted Barges:

Giant flotillas of fleeted barges are found anchored primarily on the Illinois side of the channel throughout the middle of harbor (below Arch). Dangerous position in front of any anchored vessels. Stay well away from fleeted barges, in particular don’t approach from top end. Maintain 100 yard distance. Tow companies will anchor barges mid stream for storage as the put together and break apart the massive tows for transportation. Their presence can confuse any paddler. It is sometimes difficult to determine if they are moving or not, especially in high water.   You will eventually realize that there is no towboat pushing them, but that doesn’t make them any the less dangerous. Fleeted barges present special challenges to paddlers. Do not allow your route to pass in front of any anchored vessels. For one thing, there will be an anchor point somewhere upstream, which may or may not be visible. If you inadvertently get to close, the water current can easily suck you under and the rake ends of the barges will immediately flip you over. This has happened to at least pair of paddlers with disastrous results. Stay well away from fleeted barges, in particular don’t approach from top end. Plan your route to keep you hundreds of yards away on either side.


Work Boats:

Works boats service the towboats with crew and supplies, and perform repair functions. They are small but the move fast and make big waves. Their wakes typically make steep crashing waves that might upset a small canoe or kayak. Watch for their unpredictable and erratic motions in and around other tows and barges.


Bridge Piers:

There are 10 bridges in the St. Louis Harbor (including the I-270, US 66, and JB bridges). Each one is supported by piers and pylons which are anchored into the bedrock below the river. Upstream of the bridge water typically piles against the pier. An unsuspecting paddler could easily be flipped by the weight of the water slamming against the solid concrete or steel (or stone as in the case of the Ead’s Bridge). The water rips past each pier, and then eddies behind on the downstream side with strong whirlpools and boils bursting nearby. You could easily be flipped in these strong cross currents. If you did flip over, you might get sucked under by the strong water motions sucking downwards below the pier.   Your best route is to maintain a healthy 100 feet from all bridge piers.