The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Atchafalaya Upper


Atchafalaya River:

Old River Lock & Dam

to Gulf of Mexico

© 2015 John Ruskey

For the Rivergator: Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

 The is a free public use website
presented by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.
Re-printing of text and photos by permission only with proper credits.


Author’s Preface:

Welcome the the Rivergator: Paddler’s Guide to the Atchafalaya!  This major section of the Rivergator is split into seven different parts:


1) Preamble, 2) Introduction, 3) Mississippi River Access to Atchafalaya, 4) Lower Old River Canal, 5) Atchafalaya River, 6) Atchafalaya Delta and 7) Appendix.


On the website you will find “Upper Atchafalaya” which refers to everything from the Mississippi through the Lock & Dam to the mile -0- start of the Atchafalaya River; and “Lower Atchafalaya” which refers to everything below, from the beginning of the Atchafalaya River down to the Gulf of Mexico.  We have lumped together a pile of different documents and lists of interest to paddlers on the Atchafalaya in the “Appendix” as an entirely separate section.


We hope you find this section useful to the decisions you make in taking this route (or not).  We hope especially that the Rivergator: Paddler’s Guide to the Atchafalaya will increase your appreciation and enjoyment of this spectacular waterway.


Sincerely yours in service of the Big River,  -John Ruskey, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Atchafalaya River:



© 2015 John Ruskey
For the Rivergator: Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Consider the Atchafalaya

Gulf-bound paddlers, you have a wonderful alternate route available to you: the Atchafalaya Exit through the 1.2 million acre largest river swamp in North America, also known as the “River of Trees.”  This option opens up at the Old River Lock and Dam right bank descending at mile 303.8 behind Shreve’s bar in between Natchez and St. Francisville.  Many paddlers are not aware of it, but the Atchafalaya is perhaps the most beautiful possible completion of your epic adventure down the biggest river in North America.  Instead of more industry and very dangerous river conditions through Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Venice on the big river (including poor campsites with toxic air and water conditions), consider taking the Atchafalaya River and enjoy a paradise of wild variegated bottomland hardwood forests, tupelo gum swamps, and marshy coastal plains.  It also coincides with the heart of cajun country.  To be completely honest, there are some pipelines, and a few small oil storage and processing installations, but they are few and far in between.  Morgan City has five miles of industry and thick traffic, but that’s all.  Almost 1/3 of the Mississippi River is diverted down the Atchafalaya as a way of protecting the City and Port of New Orleans, creating the 4th largest and the shortest big river on the continent.  Why not go with the flow, and take the Atchafalaya? 

The Atchafalaya

One would be hard pressed to find a river in North America that actually gets cleaner as it flows downstream, as all rivers used to do.  But welcome to the Atchafalaya, the prime example of the healthy river.   The Atchafalaya River is a distributary of the Mississippi River; it flows approximately 150 miles through Louisiana before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.  The Atchafalaya ranks alongside the Everglades and the Okeefenokee in size, but it has a big river traveling through that the others lack.  As the Atchafalaya travels downstream, it flows through North America’s largest river swamp, breathing in and out as it flows along, filling the wetlands and marshes on the way in, the water returning to the main channel refreshed, and in the process rids itself of pollutants brought downstream from the Mississippi. It stands as a model of how the persistence and natural function of a river can improve water quality conditions if given the chance. Restoration of the Gulf Coast is also occurring at the Atchafalaya River Delta due to natural sedimentation; it is one of the few areas on the Gulf Coast that is gaining ground.