The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Your route: Main Channel vs. Back Channel

Rivergator will detail Main Channel which is almost always the fastest route on the water, but full of traffic, and Back Channel, which is slower but is full of wildlife and big trees.  Main Channel is always open regardless of river level, but back channel is dependent upon river levels.  Most back channels are closed in low water, open with slow flow in medium water, and full of strong flowing currents in high water.  Main channel hazards are buoys and towboats.  (Avoid both!)  In the back channel your main hazards are waterfalls over dikes (dependent on river level), snags, strainers and channel blockages (driftwood piling against trees or low bridge).   Rivergator will detail all known waterfalls and blockages.  But on the river things are in constant flux.  What one year is an uninterrupted flowing back channel might next year be blocked by a pile of logs and tree removal dropped by some logging operation.  Two things: 1) be a smart paddler and use you own best judgment about what’s safe to paddle and what isn’t.  And 2) let us know if you discover something of importance not listed in the Rivergator, like a dangerous waterfall or a blocked channel.  That way we can update Rivergator descriptions and keep other paddlers informed about these difficulties and possible hazards!  Dikes present special challenges to the back channel paddler.  At low water they are exposed, and you can paddle around any dike, but you will often discover strong eddies with ripping cross currents and whirlpools.   At medium water you can paddle over most dikes, but that is when the waters are at their most turbulent.  You may not see any solid evidence, but you will know they are there by the exploding boils, whipping currents, whirlpools and agitated turbulence.  In high water most dikes get swamped over by smooth flow and you hardly notice their influence.  In medium water back channels waterfalls sometimes form over a dike, with significant drops (2-3 feet), strong v-line tongues, standing waves, and turbulent side waters.  If you hear the sound of rushing water and see the plane of the back channel disappear and drop a level, and see leaping whitewater beyond -- Be especially cautious!   Remember the paddler’s mantra: when in doubt, stop and scout!


Mississippi River Maps & Mileage

For best navigation, use the US Army Corps of Engineers 2007 Maps of the Lower Mississippi River, which can be viewed or downloaded from the following website:  Mileage refers to the number of miles above the Gulf of Mexico (at the Head of Passes).  This section of river begins at mile 437 and ends at 229, hence it is approximately 208 miles on the Mississippi River.

River Speed and Trip Duration

The Lower Mississippi River averages 3 mph at low water, 5 at medium water, and 7 at high water.  An average paddler can make 2-3 mph.  Making adjustments for wind speed, stops along the way, and any alternate exploration, you can use the above to roughly estimate your time of travel on the big river. The last unknown factor is towboats.  You might lose time due to necessary waits for passing tows.  Never try to outrun a tow, and never paddle across their line of travel.


Expert paddlers only!

Expert paddlers only on Mississippi River.  Must be very familiar with your canoe or kayak, its abilities and its limitations.  Should be able to self-rescue in your vessel if necessary.  Your canoe should have high enough sides (recommended min. 13) and ends (recommended min. 20-22) to handle waves.  No racing canoes.  Kayaks should be made for big open waters.  If your kayak has an open cockpit you should bring and wear your spray skirt during inclement weather.  Sea kayaks are the best for the Mississippi because they are made for the big waters.  Shorter kayaks are okay, but playboats are generally not recommended unless you are a very strong paddler because they are slow. You should be strong enough to paddle through big waves, strong winds, and make long-distance ferry crossings from one side of the Mississippi River to the other (usually a mile or more).  You should be comfortable paddling in the vicinity of 1/2 mile long towboat/barges.  You should be able to negotiate big strong boils, powerful eddies, and possible whirlpools.  You should strong enough to paddle through transitions of fast currents (such as coming out of an eddy into the main channel).  You should be strong enough to handle long sets of wave trains, sometimes a mile or longer, with waves coming from multiple directions.  If you have any doubts about your ability go read the Rivergator safety section for details.  Write the author John Ruskey  If you still have doubts, call or write big river guide Adam Elliott in Natchez, go to and click on the Natchez section for contact info.  Adam can meet you just about anywhere and either fill in the questions you might have, or provide you expert guiding services, including outfitting, meals and shuttle (if desired).


Services for Lower Mississippi River Paddlers

Vicksburg to St. Francisville:

Fortunately for paddlers on this stretch of river, you have the nearby presence of big river guide Adam Elliott.  Adam is based in Natchez at the Quapaw Canoe Company Natchez Outpost, and provides expert services for anyone paddling through this entire region, including guiding and outfitting, meals and shuttle.  Call Adam 601-807-5382 or send an email, or go to and click on the Natchez section for more info.  Adam can meet you just about anywhere in between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge, and answer your questions and provide expert big river guiding (as well as shuttles, or equipment) with a smile and endless stories about the ever fascinating, mysterious big river.


St. Francisville to Baton Rouge:

For shuttles, resupplies, parking your vehicle, and logistics on the Lower Mississippi River, contact Baton Rouge natives Paul or Michael Orr.  While doubling as the Riverkeepers for the bottom end of the biggest river in North America, these two good hearted gentlemen have been providing support services for decades on the Lower Mississippi River, and are the experts on the stretch downstream from St. Francisville to the Gulf of Mexico.  Contact Paul Orr: (225) 300-3902, Michael Orr (225) 803-2999.


Services for Paddlers in LMR Tributaries

Bayou Teche Experience: While not connected at present to the Lower Miss, Bayou Teche is an ancient outlet of the big river, and is serviced by the cool dudes at Bayou Teche Experience.  Contact Cory or Ingo Werk, Bayou Teche Experience, 317 E Bridge St, Breaux Bridge LA 70517, 337.366.0337


Bayou Sara kayak Rental: Andy Green specializes in kayak fishing on this small tributary out of nearby St. Francisville, LA, but he can also provide support for long-distance paddlers on the big river.  For shuttling, kayak fishing/guiding, outfitting, and rentals call Bayou Sara Kayak Rental, 225-202-8822, or email


Pack & Paddle: Louisiana’s respected outfitter organizes paddling trips around the Atchafalaya Basin, and the bayous of South Louisiana.  Excellent source for camping gear and paddling equipment from the heart of the Zydeco country.  601 East Pinhook Road, Lafayette, LA 7050, (337) 232-5854,


Lower Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast

The Lower Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast is a fascinating document and will reveal many qualities of the river to the careful reader and interpreter of this gauge.  You can also jump from this page following its links to many associated NOAA pages full of useful information about the various Lower Mississippi River Gauges, as well as historical records, flood records, low water occurrences, observed precipitation throughout the valley, snowpack, ground saturation, rain forecasts, and other meteorological and hydrologic aspects leading to current river conditions and accurate predictions.  You can also follow links to the same for readings and predictions from the Ohio River Valley, the Middle Miss, Upper Miss and Missouri River Valleys, which all of course confluence and combine to form the big waters of the Lower Mississippi River.