The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

The river illusion is not uncommon amongst the muddy floodplain rivers of mid-America, like the Lower Missouri, the Lower Arkansas, and here the Lower Mississippi — rivers with big floodplains that squelch any serious bankside ambitions.  And by the very power of their unpredictable flooding waters which might jump and then fall 50 vertical feet in one season industry, suburbia, and most attempts at permanent infrastructure are kept at bay, and are tempered to a minimum.  The grain elevators, steel plants and power plants are confined to the few high banks, and the cities to a few high bluffs.  Otherwise, you can’t build it here, and as result the wild river rules a wild landscape.


The river illusion gets stronger the more time you spend on the river.  And if you make a long distance expedition you begin to feel like the heart and gut of America, the mid-South and the deep-South, is still a forested landscape like it was 200 years ago. That the land is still endowed with endless deep woods and the wild paradise they create.  That squirrels could still cross from the Ozarks to the Appalachians without touching the ground.


Two-thirds of the way down Loosahatchie Back Channel there is one last dike to cross.  In medium water this could be a waterfall and you will want to stay river left (towards the island) where most of the water pours through a narrow notch and its surroundings.  At high water there will be some turbulence, and by flood stage the dike is buried so far under muddy water that it becomes completely blown over and you can’t distinguish any extra fluid motion amidst the sea of motion.  Downtown Memphis will eventually appear over the bottom of the island with a dreamlike quality.  You might be surprised to find yourself directly opposite Mud Island with the Pyramid not far below!   After three miles of floating or paddling, you can now curl around the bottom of the island and prepare for the long crossing over to the Bluff City.


737.5 Ferry Crossing to Memphis from the Bottom of Loosahatchie Bar

If you are coming down the back channel of the Loosahatchie Bar and intend to make a landing in Memphis, you will have a fairly high pressure crossing that will require a combination of hard paddling and big river know-how.  Keep reading below for some tips to help you get safely across.


Here’s the challenge: a one mile crossing one mile above a bridge with a half mile below to get into the harbor.  There is usually lots of traffic along the Memphis riverfront.  Recreational boaters, the Memphis Queen Paddle Boat, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Rangers, Coast Guard vessels and work boats, local tows, resupply tows, crew boats, Army Corps vessels, and of course the omnipresent big tows going long distance.  Anytime there is a bridge to maneuver under, tow pilots get edgy, and with good reason: they have very little room for error.  If they are forced to make the difficult decision they will most certainly choose to run down an unsuspecting kayaker over hitting one of the I-40 piers possibly causing the entire bridge and all of it vehicular traffic to fall into the river!  The best approach in this area is to let them pass before attempting any crossing.  Especially the downstream tows, who have the least amount of ability to maneuver.  If you see a big tow coming down the main channel at the top end of Mud Island, stay back in an eddy, or hold position under the long dike and let them pass.  On the other hand if they are as far upstream as the Mouth of the Loosahatchie or above, go ahead and cross.  You will be over and up the Harbor before they even see you.  Upstream tows move slower, so you have more time to get there if you see one, but remember the river is carrying you towards their upstream passage.  It’s going to be difficult to clearly see any upstreamers downstream of the lower bridges, the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge/ Harrahan Bridge.  Monitor VHF Channel 13 if you have a marine radio.  If you can’t see any upstreamers steaming towards you above the lower bridges, you should be good to go.  On the other hand, if you do see one above the lower bridges halt your crossing until they reach you and pass upstream.  Remember, the safest place around a towboat is behind a towboat.

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Middle Mississippi & Bluegrass Hills / Bootheel 195-0, 954-850 ST. LOUIS TO CARUTHERSVILLE
Chickasaw Bluffs 850 – 737 CARUTHERSVILLE TO MEMPHIS
Caruthersville to Osceola
850 – 737 LBD Options for Paddlers in the Caruthersville Stretch
Above Caruthersville  
Below Caruthersville  
850 RBD Caruthersville Harbor Boat Ramp (1/2 Mile Up Harbor)
849 RBD Mouth of the Carutherville Harbor
849 RBD Trinity Barge Fabrication Plant
847 RBD Blaker Towhead
846.5 Caruthersville
846 RBD Isle of Capri/Lady Luck Casino and Casino Inn Suites
845 – 840 LBD Caruthersville – Linwood Bend
850 RBD – 840 LBD Day Trip: Caruthersville to Booth’s Point
840 LBD Linwood Bend Boat Ramp
839 Caruthersville Bridge
Bridges and Mud: How Deep is the Mississippi Mud  
Several Routes Around Islands 18, 20 and 21  
838 – 835 LBD Island 18 Towhead
829 – 832 RBD Island 20 Dikes and Towhead
823 – 829 LBD Island 21
Routes for the Paddler Around Tamm/Barfield Bends  
820 – 815 RBD Wright’s Point – Tamm Bend
819.3 LBD Mouth of the Obion River
Moss Island WMA  
817.7 LBD Tamm’s Landing and Ed Jones Boat Ramp
817.7 – 801.8 LBD Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge
No Levee?  
814 LBD Nebraska Landing
815 – 805 LBD Barfield Bend
809.3 RBD Barfield Boat Ramp
806 RBD Tomato Arkansas
805 – 801 RBD Island 25
Paddler’s Options in the Island 30 – Osceola Area  
800 – 796.5 RBD Island 26 and Forked Deer Island 27
803 – 787 RBD Ashport-Keyes Gold Dust
796 – 791 RBD Ashport Gold Dust Dikes
797 LBD Shoaf Landing
797 LBD Lower Forked Deer River
796 LBD Ashport-Keyes Boat Ramp
793 – 785 RBD Island 30
796 LBD Ashport-Keyes Boat Ramp
Neark (Jacksonville) Landing  
786.5 LBD Back Channel Island 30
785 RBD Osceola Arkansas
783.5 RBD Sans Souci Boat Ramp
Osceola to Shelby Forest
785 RBD Osceola Arkansas
783.5 RBD Sans Souci Boat Ramp
782 LBD Driver Island
779.8 LBD Old Mouth of the Forked Deer
779 – 778 LBD First Chickasaw Bluff
Alternate Paddler’s Route Around Hatchie River & 2nd Chickasaw Bluff  
778 – 773 RBD Sunrise Towhead – Island 34
777 – 773.5 LBD Hatchie Towhead
773.5 LBD Mouth of the Hatchie River
773.5 LBD Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refugee
771 – 772 LBD Angelo Towhead
771 LBD Randolph Landing
771 – 769 LBD The Second Chickasaw Bluff (Richardson Bluff)
768.9 LBD Richardson’s Landing
768 LBD Randolph’s Landing/Duvall’s Boat Ramp
766 – 763 LBD Below Richardson’s Landing Dikes and Bar
Dyess Arkansas, Birthplace of Johnny Cash’s Five Feet High and Rising  
Five Feet High and Rising  
767.6 – 761.5 RBD Island 35
767 RBD Island 35 Boat Ramp
Back Channels of Island 35  
767.6 RBD Entrance
761.5 RBD Exit Behind Dean Isand
Memphis Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
Reading Google Maps  
761.5 – 757 RBD Dean Isand
761.5 – 757 RBD Back Channel of Dean Isand
Third Chickasaw Bluff  
758 – 754 LBD Denseford Bar and Dikes/Hen and Chicks
752.7 LBD Shelby Forest Boat Ramp
Shelby Forest to Memphis
Memphis Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
752.7 LBD Shelby Forest Boat Ramp
Hen & Chicks Round Trip  
754 – 745 LBD Meeman Shelby Forest State Park
754 – 747.5 RBD Back Channel of Brandywine Island
Buoys and Dikes  
Paddling Into Memphis: Three Distinct Routes  
749 – 742 LBD Hickman Bar
Picknicking and Camping on Hickman  
746 LBD Upper Hickman
745 LBD Middle Hickman
744 LBD Lower Hickman
743 LBD Below Lower Hickman
740.6 LBD Loosahatchie River
743.5 – 740 LBD Redman Point Bar
Memphis Upper Waswater Treatment Plant  
M.C. Stiles Waterwater Treatment Facility  
739 LBD Conoco Lucy-Woodstock Memphis Chemical Terminal Dock
740.6 LBD Wolf River
738.4 LBD Mud Island Upper Boat Ramp
740 – 737.5 Loosahatchie Bar
737.5 Ferry Crossing to Memphis From the Bottom of Loosahatchie Bar
737 Memphis “M” Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge)
736 LBD 4th Chickasaw Bluff: Memphis
736 LBD Memphis Mud Island Harbor
Mud Island Riverpark & Museum  
Memphis Yatch Club Marina & Boat Ramp  
Coast Guard Boat Ramp  
Memphis Conveniences Useful to Paddlers  
Several Challenging Round-trips From Memphis  
The Lossahatchie Redman Figure-Eight  
The Loosahatchie Roundtrip  
Hickman Bar Roundtrip  
Upper Delta 737 – 663 MEMPHIS TO HELENA
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
Loess Bluffs 437 – 225 VICKSBURG TO BATON ROUGE
Atchafalaya River 159 – 0 SIMMESPORT TO MORGAN CITY
Louisiana Delta 229 – 10 BATON ROUGE TO VENICE
Birdsfoot Delta 10 – 0 VENICE TO GULF OF MEXICO