The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Shelby Forest to Memphis

Main Channel (17.5 miles): follow the fastest water down the middle of the river sliding gently towards right bank down to the Loosahatchie Bar then slowly crossing back over to Mud Island for final approach into the Harbor.  Advantages: you’ll get there faster with less paddling, and you won’t have to worry about any surprises like “is the water high enough to get over that dike?”  or “Is that channel going to be blocked by driftwood?”


River Right behind Redman, and Loosahatchie (19.7 miles): Only possible when the river is 15 MG and above.  Stay river right down to Memphis and you will be able to jump behind Lower Brandywine, Redman and Loosahatchie Bars, for a fantastic glimpse of the beauty and wildlife of the back channel, as well as the shade afforded by tall trees along the narrow channels, the protection from the wind on a windy day, and from severe storms on a stormy day.  Warning: if you go back channel Loosahatchie Bar and intend to make a landing in the Mud Island Memphis Harbor, you will have a to execute a high pressure crossing that will require a combination of a long hard paddle and big river know-how.


River Left Behind Hickman (18.2 miles) Possible above 15G, but best done above 20MG.  Stay river left and follow the Tennessee shore downstream along the deep forests of Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park with possible stops on two sand spits with big trees not far behind (see below for more description).  Cut into the first of the Hickman Islands and stay back channel six miles behind six islands.  Keep river right and cut into the mouth of the Loosahatchie for a short detour, continue downstream past Upper Wastewater Treatment Plant, make a quick detour into the Mouth of the Wolf River, and then continue down following along the shore of Mud Island, under the M Bridge and into the Beale Street Harbor.


LBD 749-742 Hickman Bar


Several long miles downstream of Shelby Forest, after about an hour of paddling, you will encounter the first of a long group of islands hugging the left bank (the Tennessee side of the river).  These are the many islands of the Hickman Bar archipelago.  At or above medium water level (15 MG) the water flows behind the islands and you can turn inwards and enjoy the beauty of the back channel.  The journey is longer and the river is slower, but your appreciation of the river increase many-fold.  You will also enjoy more wildlife and glimpses of big trees and extensive willow forests.  At 15MG there will be some exposed rock along the dikes with shallow crossings and some big drops.  You might scrape your canoe or kayak on some submerged rocks or boulders.  Or even worse, you might run aground and be flipped over.  I’ve had this happen to me one time in a kayak, and I lost everything I had in the cockpit save a watercolor notebook.  It’s best to wait until the river is 20MG and above.  The water speed will be significantly enhance also.  At 25MG there will be good flow throughout, and at 30 a fast flow.  Above flood stage 34MG all islands will be underwater.