Paddler’s Guide – Foreword

If you ask anyone who lives along the Lower Mississippi River “is it safe to paddle on the Mississippi River?” the answer you’re most likely to receive is “Are you nuts?  Have you lost your mind?  Its crazy to paddle on the Mississippi River!  You won’t come back!”

Is this right?  Well, yes — and no. Yes, the Mississippi River is notoriously hazardous.  And yes, unfortunately a lot of people have gone out and not come back.  The river and its tributaries have probably claimed more lives than all other rivers in North America put together.  But, no, it’s not crazy.  Maybe it could be considered extreme.  After all we’re talking about the biggest volume river in this quadrant of the planet!  You have to do it right.  Also, most of the fatalities have been motorized accidents — many involving ignorance, alcohol, and lack of a life jacket (or a properly worn life jacket).  

You can safely paddle the Lower Mississippi River.  Ask the thousands of canoeists and kayakers who paddle it every year.  Stand Up Paddleboards are fine on the Lower Miss — using the same precautions outlined below.  All you need is the right experience, the right equipment and the right preparations.  

The Lower Mississippi River is dangerous like how paddling in San Francisco Bay is dangerous.  Like paddling on the Great Lakes.  Like Paddling Puget Sound, or the Inside Passage of Alaska, or in Long Island Sound.  Think big boats (towboats & freighters), big water, big waves, big hydraulics, changing weather, wind, and cold water conditions (Fall, Winter, Spring).  

Climbing a big mountain is dangerous and yet millions of people climb mountains every year.  Paddling the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is dangerous and yet thousands of people do it every year.  There are certain hazards, and then there are techniques you can learn to either avoid or live with those hazards.

There are many challenges and hazards for anyone on the big river, but contrary to popular opinion it can be done safely.  (Note: your most dangerous journey will be driving there!)  The Mississippi is the biggest navigation channel in North America.  Some people call it “America’s Super-highway.”  Compare it to other highways.  You wouldn’t get on the interstate highway if you didn’t know how to drive, would you?  If you didn’t have the right vehicle, right?  If you didn’t know how to read the signs, right?  If you didn’t know what to do in case of breakdown, right?  Okay, its the same on the big river.  You won’t want to get on the Mississippi unless you know how to paddle your canoe (or kayak or SUP), read the river, and take care of yourself in wilderness conditions.  This is NOT the river to learn how to paddle.  But for the advanced paddler its an incredible experience.  A life-changing experience.  An experience of the middle of America like no other.

The Mississippi River presents many challenges for paddlers, but when properly approached by experienced paddlers with the right equipment it can be the amongst most rewarding paddling in North America.  Safe Paddling on the Lower Mississippi River involves: 1) advanced paddling experience, 2) good preparation, 3) The Right Vessel and 4) the right equipment.  Go to Safety Page for detailed descriptions of safe paddling.