The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
RBD 761.5-757 Dean Island
Visit Google Maps while reading about Dean Island:
Note: This google map depicts Dean Island during low water. You can see the back channel is open, as well as the inlet reachable through the bottom of the island. The gravel bar is visible and the sand extends unbroken to bottom end.
Multi-layered Dean Island is the best camping for canoeists and kayakers in this area. Dean Island boasts giant gravel bars, giant sandbars, extensive forests, wetlands, and spectacular back channels to explore. The top end gravel bar at low water ascends downstream into a giant sandbar. The very bottom end rises to a willow-capped bluff. The back channel open in all but the lowest of waters. If you are planning a stop in Memphis, you are now within easy striking distance of one day’s paddle (20-25 miles downstream depending on where you plan on pulling out). Unless you need to reach the city sooner, pull off and camp at Dean Island. There are other choices further on (notable Densford, Hickman and Loosahatchie), but each have their drawbacks and each brings you closer to city lights and city noises. Dean Island on the other hand promises good protected camping at all water levels up to flood stage. You can always find the protection of low willow vegetation when you need to get out of the wind, and there is always plenty of driftwood about for your campfire. Furthermore you’ll find interesting sandy inlets full of waders and fish, turtles galore, and endless locations for good swimming. Cell service is sketchy here, and you see nothing but more water, woods and sand. There is no sign of the biggest city south of St. Louis. That is, until after dark. The sky glows an ethereal orange to the south and a long line of FedEx jets makes their arrival overhead one after another, all night long, the world’s precious goods and packages being ferried by the modern version of camel caravans.
At low water the top end of Dean Island stretches out unbroken two to three miles with no protection, and is not good camping (no protection, no privacy) but indeed excellent fossil finding and rock-hounding. The presence of coal reminds us of the 1913 Sprague disaster (see Island 30 for description). As you paddle down the length of the island the sandbar rises steadily to a high sandy willow-topped ridge bottom end, which ends abruptly falling into the river channel below. This is where you’ll find your best campsites. The choices are endless at low water along the mile-long southeast-facing shore, as the river rises the choices narrow. But even at high water bank full Dean Island still has plenty of dry sand. If one campsite doesn’t look good keep going on to the next. Several shallow inlets bisect the sandy ridge, and then a large back channel, and then a low lands filled with often flooded forests.
At high water a middle channel opens up which paddlers coming downstream around Island 35 can easily make passage on through and make a landing at Dean Island Lower, or continue on downstream towards Memphis. Low water campsites can be found throughout this middle sandbar region RBD 758. The last possible choice for camping is another high sandy ridge RBD 756.2 which in recent years has become overgrown with clumps of poison ivy (but still affords limited campsites), and might harbor copperhead snakes. Until the next high water anyway! Several years ago a patch of watermelons was found thriving at this spot which myself and several kayakers enjoyed several of. The next year these watermelons were nowhere to be found, nor the next. Such are the migrations of plants made mobile by the movements of the big river.