The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Big Trees and Floodplain:
The lower Mississippi River Valley was historically a vast expanse of bottomland and adjacent upland hardwood forests with scattered openings primarily created by fire, beaver, or large flood events by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These openings were generally comprised of herbaceous moist-soil areas that created excellent waterfowl and other wetland wildlife habitat or giant switchcane that was almost impenetrable and an extremely important habitat component for a variety of wildlife species. Once covering 22 million acres in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, bottomland hardwood forests have decreased in extent to only 4.9 million acres. Extensive clearing for agriculture (i.e. soybeans, corn, or cotton) and urbanization are two of the primary reasons giant bald cypress and oak trees of pre-settlement times no longer exist. However, giant bald cypress and oak trees characteristic of yesteryear can still be seen on some of these sections of the Lower Mississippi.
Important Note to Paddlers:
The Lower Mississippi is not for beginners, although there a couple of side channel places that beginners can get a taste of the big waters (in backwater places that open to the river such as Lake Ferguson and the Greenville Harbor, Lake Lee, Matthew’s Bend, Bunch’s Cut-Off, Old River, Stack Island Back Channel — and other protected flat water places connected to the big river — see page “Beginner Paddlers on the Lower Mississippi River”). Advance paddlers only in the main channel. You should be capable of self-rescue, and you should have previous big river experience, in specific: large volume waters with long crossings and industrial traffic (towboats). Your skills should include self-rescue, long ferry-crossings, paddling in the wind, paddling in the vicinity of towboats, paddling through violent boils, violent eddies, and large whirlpools. Ultimately you must decide whether you are capable of safely paddling the big river, and whether you are capable of leading your family or friends on the same. Be cautious. Take your time. Swallow your ambition and pride. Impatience has been the root cause of most problems encountered by Lower Mississippi River paddlers. Enjoy the moment, not the destination. Turn around if you aren’t sure or aren’t prepared. Use the Rivergator Safety section to assess specific skills and recommendations. Check the river levels and weather forecast with special attention to wind speed and direction. Carry extra food, water, and all-weather protection. Wear wetsuit or dry suit in cold water seasons (November through April). Carry cell phone and VHF Marine radio. Carry an extra paddle and leave a route plan with someone on shore. Large groups can notify the Coast Guard who will keep the towboat pilots informed of your progress.