The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Vicksburg to Natchez

Phatwater Mississippi River Challenge RIP

The Claiborne County Harbor served as the start place for the now defunct but legendary Phatwater Mississippi River Challenge.  Phatwater stoked the greatest passions of international competitive paddling community for 13 years between 2000 and 2013, and delivered the race in splashing displays of color and brawn, highlighted with creative marketing and glossy appearance.  The brainchild of Natchez kayaker/photographer/philosopher/poet Keith Benoist, Phatwater annually “shut down” the river to towboats while race canoes and surf skiers, and high-performance kayaks chopped the water into a froth for 42 miles downstream with a spectacular finish line at Natchez- Under-the-Hill.  Alas, like all good things: nothing lasts forever.  Phatwater enjoyed its glory days as the preeminent race on the Mississippi River and then died abruptly in 2014 after arguments with controlling authorities on the river.  Hopefully Phatwater (or some incarnation of it) will be revived on the future.  However, at writing time Dec 2014 no such plans were in place.


404.2 RBD Yucatan Ditch

For an other-worldly glimpse into the ragged and primeval Delta jungle, stay right bank descending below Middle Ground Island (through Yucatan Cut-Off of 1929) and look for a narrow opening through the scruffy woods.  This skinny channel closes off around 10VG, but for paddlers this is no problem.  Ditch your canoe or kayak as close as you can to the opening and walk across the sand.  Good excuse to stretch your legs and it will be just as interesting.  The opening to Yucatan Ditch is located at the base of a skinny willow-topped peninsula that ends just above the top of Coffee Point Dike #2 at mile 404.2.  This dike is almost directly opposite the Claiborne County (Port Gibson) Harbor, but a little downstream.  Entering the Ditch immediately puts you in another world.  Paddle quietly and you might see beaver, snakes, turtles, and alligators.  The birdlife is fantastically rich here, waders like the Roseate Spoonbill and everything else from egrets to herons to storks will be found.   Keep your camera handy.  If the river is falling, the ditch runs out.  If it’s rising, the ditch runs in.  Steady river, no flow.  Regardless, you can paddle as far as you feel like paddling, then turn around and paddle back out.


399 LBD High Bluffs

High gravel/sand bluffs.  One of the few places that didn’t go underwater in the 2011 flood.  You could count the others on your fingers, and one of them is not far downstream, at Spithead.


395 LBD Bayou Pierre

As you paddle around Coffee Point, the channel of Bayou Pierre is found only a mile over the trees and running parallel to the main channel of the Mississippi, even though the confluence is still another ten miles downstream.  Like most Mississippi River tributaries Bayou Pierre follows the mother river for a while meandering back and forth as if deciding whether or not it really wants to join the matriarch or not.  But of course eventually gravity and the big momma river eventually win over all others, and Bayou Pierre finally comes in at a severe angle and joins the Big Momma River like all waters before and after.


As with the Big Black, you can put in on Bayou Pierre and paddle into the Mississippi for  a gradual and thorough introduction through all the varied ecosystems of the deep south: 1) the loess bluffs with its collapsing cliffs, unique vegetation, and even a few waterfalls found in some deep ravines, 2) the rolling hills in between the bluffs featuring a complex temperate forest (although today these lands are mostly cleared and farmed) 3) the cypress/tupelo gum bayous and swamps, covered with spanish moss 4) the bottomland hardwood forest, and 5) the willow/cottonwood forests common to the big river islands and flood-prone riverbanks.  The bottomland hardwood forest, for instance, is the richest and most extensive such landscape in North America.  A paddler coming down a tributary like Bayou Pierre will enjoy a long cross-section of these deep woods full of the largest trees of their kinds.  Although these forests are frequently cut by lumber companies, and very few (if any) of the old growth giants remain, they are so productive and self sustaining that evidence of its greatness can be seen in isolated stands and harder to reach gullies.  Give any one acre seventy five years to recover and only a trained eye would be able to discern the difference between it and a mature forest. 

Paddlers can put in 17 miles upstream Bayou Pierre at the two mile bridge and paddle into the Mississippi meandering back and forth between bluffs and floodplain.  Best done after rainfall when Bayou Pierre is running full.

Mississippi River Water Levels

St. Joseph Louisiana: at this point in the Rivergator we’ll switch over to the Natchez Gage.  Low Water is 0-20.  (Giant sandbars, back channels not passable)  Medium water is 20-33 (Most back channels open, water flowing over dikes).  High Water is 33-47.  (All back channels open and flowing strong). The river is bank full at 40 Natchez Gage, and at 45 almost all islands are under water.  Flood Stage: 48.  To view water levels, go to:   Paddlers are advised to stay off the Mississippi River at or above flood stage, which is 48 on the Natchez Gage.


Natchez Gage (NG)


Water levels according to the Natchez Gage


Low Water = 0 to 20 NG 

Medium Water = 20 to 33 NG

High Water = 33 to 47 NG

Bank Full = 40 NG

Flood Stage = 48 NG and above

(NG = Natchez Gage)


Flood Stage Warning: above 48 NG paddlers are advised to stay off the river.  Limited access.  Most landings and approach roads will be underwater.  Most islands will be gone.  No easy camping.  All sandbars will be covered.  Fast waters with many hazards.  All islands and landings will be surrounded by flooded forests full of snags, strainers, sawyers and all other dangerous conditions associated with floodwater moving through trees.  Docks, wharves, dikes and any other man-made objects will create strong whirlpools, violent boils, and fast eddies.  Towboats will create large waves.  The Rivergator will not describe the river and its islands at any levels above flood stage.