The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Mississippi River Route:

On the other hand, staying on the Mississippi below Baton Rouge you will encounter very dangerous river conditions through New Orleans and Venice including poor campsites with toxic air and water conditions.  You will have to paddle several hundred miles of choppy crowded water sharing the main channel with sea-going freighters, cargo boats, re-supply vessels, and endless fields of barges as they fleet up for the long distance journey back up the river.  Commonly known as “Chemical Corridor,” some paddlers have gotten sick within this stretch when they ended up downwind of the wrong smokestack.  You will be camping next to refineries, chemical plants, plastics manufacturing, and lots of coal-fired power plants.   More toxins are dumped in the river here than any other piece of river in America.  No more remote camping, no more swimming, no more quiet sections of river teeming with wildlife.  This is a section of the Mississippi you paddle just to get through it.


Go to the Atchafalaya and the Old River Control Structure sections in the Rivergator for more description of the two routes, their respective lengths, and other aspects, to help you make your best choice.



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 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 which are available at most water outfitters such as The BackPacker or Massey's Professional Outfitters (Baton Rouge), Pack & Paddle Outfitters (Lafayette) 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, countless sunglasses 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 Tunica, or a group of Boy Scouts working on their canoe badge in the Memphis area -- or a group of KIPP middle schoolers from Helena who want to get on the river at the mouth of the St. Francis 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.


Us 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-South.  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!


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 second 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, “LBD Mile 736 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.