The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Floating underneath a bridge is one of the most sensational of Mississippi River experiences. For the paddler on the wide open Mississippi River it’s difficult to get a sense of motion, speed, and the river current.  Sometimes it feels like you are sitting in a lake not a river, even though you are indeed floating within the throes of the biggest and most powerful river in North America!  That is until you pass underneath a bridge.  As you scoot downstream the water piles up high against the bridge pylons and then swirls around the backside with violent convulsions and contortions of water, and you will enjoy the distinct sensation of river motion as the bridge abutments mysteriously slide by and the geometric trusswork and solid concrete road bed swing overhead with surprising speed, the higher the water the faster the speed.  At high water this experience can be slightly disconcerting so fast the bridge slides by with sickening sucking sounds and explosions of agitated water.  If you entertained any previous doubt about the power of the big river it will now be forever dashed away!


[Insert: Helena Bridge Highwater Video]


Note: the bridge pylon is a very dangerous place for any paddler, regardless of river level.  Keep at least twenty-boat lengths away from it (~100 yards), and never try to enter the eddying waters below.  Passing towboats will make any already agitated places like the waters surrounding a bridge pylon to react even more violently.  Do not underestimate the power of water against piers or pylons!  My first journey down the Mississippi River ended in disaster at the foot of some huge concrete pylons similar to those found below the Helena Bridge.  After a 5 month journey from Minnesota’s North Woods in 1982/83 my best friend and I wrecked our 12 x 24 foot raft on a pylon supporting a TVA Powerline crossing below Memphis.  The snarling water wrapped our invincible raft around the base of the tower and snapped it like a potato chip.  It was February and we weren’t in wetsuits.  I shouldn’t even be alive now to tell this story.


This is the only bridge in between Memphis and Greenville, over 200 miles of river.  And  such is the nature of the Lower Mississippi, and what makes this water trail such an attractive adventure for wilderness paddlers.  The wildness of the Lower Mississippi River is reflected by the fact that there are so few crossings.


657 LBD Yazoo Pass

You will travel near the historic opening of Yazoo Pass as you paddle around Montezuma Bend starting near mile 657.  The Yazoo Pass used to connect the Mississippi River via Moon Lake to the Tallahatchie River system, and was one of the many routes that Grant used trying to sneak behind the rebel stronghold of Vicksburg.  2300 men on steamboats churned their way through this pass in 1863, but were repulsed 123 miles downstream at Fort Pemberton by a small Confederate force shielded by a sunken steamboat fortified with cotton bales.


For more description of the phenomena of the River Pass: [CLICK HERE: River Passes]


How to get into the old entrance of the Yazoo Pass

As you paddle down into Montezuma Bend Mile 657-Mile 652 (Friars Point) and the water is above twenty on the Helena Gage (20 HG) you can sneak in behind a series of islands LBD that have grown up along the Montezuma Dikes.  There are a series of three long dikes starting with #1 opposite & a little below Fitzhugh Landing at 657.6, #2 at 657 and #3 at 656.5 all Left Bank Descending.  To get into the Yazoo Pass you will need to dive into the young willow islands formed behind #1 or #2.  By the time you get to #3 it will be too late.  Look for the buoys that indicate the ends of the dikes and pick the best-looking opening and charge in!  (Note: buoys are sometimes knocked out of place by high water or renegade tows running too close to the edge of the channel) You really can’t go wrong, but beware water rushing in through the trees (snags) and accumulations of driftwood piled against stands of willows (strainers).  Pick your best opening and jump in for a backwoods view of a this interesting series of young willow-choked islands.  Oftentimes lesser & greater egrets roost on these willows alongside the great blue heron and other waders, in the fall & winter double breasted cormorants enjoy these wetlands and white pelicans sometimes make rest stops as they soaring through on their transcontinental migration.


There is a channel entering hard left all the way against the old revetment Mississippi Bank LBD below the last long dike at Mile 656.5.  The trained eye will see the opening by the subtle changes of trees lines, young willows closer, the older forest rising on top of the higher forest bottoms behind with a slightly different canopy of giant oaks, sweetgums, sycamores, cottonwoods, and others, the classic trees of the bottomland hardwood forest.  In higher water levels you will have to hug the willow treeline LBD to find the opening so strong does the water flow through, and once you go over the dike line it’ll be too late to paddle back up into the Pass.


Warning: at medium waters this dike line (#3 at 656.5) will be an explosion of agitated water, fast swirling octopus arms of water motivated by blooming boils with following whirlpools, roughest between HG 20-25, it becomes smoothed over above HG 26.


Once you round the peninsula of willows, you will enter a strikingly beautiful narrow channel running north parallel to the tall woods along the Mississippi shore. The water calms out (except at high water when there is a gentle current) and you can paddle several hundred yards at med water.  The quiet & peacefulness of the setting is a welcome contrast to the boisterous main channel.   If the water’s high and you want to do some exploring through the deep woods, you can paddle several miles following the remnants of the old channel, above flood stage you can paddle right up to the levee which now cuts the Pass off from its former route to Moon Lake.  Now imagine 2300 soldiers on fortified steamboats entering this same channel (which was about the same width at its mouth back then)!  At med river level the waters of the Pass will be a delightful clearish-greenish hue, much clearer than the muddy waters of the main channel.  If you are a strong swimmer and know how to self-rescue, it’s a beautiful place to jump out of your canoe and take a refreshing swim.  [CLICK HERE: for Safe Swimming in the Mississippi].  At higher water levels, the muddy main channel submerges the islands and invades all the willow forests and spills into the Pass.

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Middle Mississippi & Bluegrass Hills / Bootheel 195-0, 954-850 ST. LOUIS TO CARUTHERSVILLE
Chickasaw Bluffs 850 – 737 CARUTHERSVILLE TO MEMPHIS
Upper Delta 737 – 663 MEMPHIS TO HELENA
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
St. Francis to Helena
652.5 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
652 – 650 LBD Friars Point Island
671 – 673 LBD St. Francis Bar
670 LBD St. Francis Dikes
669 LBD Flower Lake Dikes
668 RBD (A View Of) Crowley’s Ridge
668 – 663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
665.5 LBD Trotter’s Pass
663 RBD Helena Harbor
Helena Boat Ramps  
663 RBD Helena-West Helena
Quapaw Canoe Company – Helena Outpost  
661 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 Yazoo Pass
Helena to Island 63
663 LBD Leaving Helena Harbor
Fleeted Barges  
Small Towns in Harbors  
Buoys and Other Stationary Objects  
Highlights of Civilizations  
Wild Miles  
Pollution Within the Helena Industrial Reach  
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 LBD Yazoo Pass
How to Get Into the Old Entrance of the Yazoo Pass  
LBD Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass
Yazoo Pass Mileage  
Rivers & Robert Johnson  
656 LBD East Motezuma Bar
657 – 654 RBD Montezuma Towhead
654.7 LBD Montezuma Landing
Shuttle Route Montezuma to Clarksdale  
652 LBD Friars Point
652.5 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
652 – 650 LBD Friars Point Island
Beavers on the Lower Mississippi River  
652.2 RBD Kangaroo Point
648 LBD Horseshoe
646 – 649 RBD Dewberry Island 61
646 – 642 Old Town Bend
641 – 635 LBD Island 62
640.5 – 637 LBD Island 63
640.5 LBD Entrance to Top End of Island 63 Chute
637.5 LBD Entrance Into Bottom End of Island 63 Chute
637 LBD Back Channel Island 63
Quapaw Landing  
Island 63 to Hurricane
Muddy Waters Wilderness  
637 LBD Back Channel Island 63
Quapaw Landing  
Old Levee at Quapaw  
Levee Break Below Quapaw Landing  
Great Flood of 2011  
637.5 LBD Island 63 Chute
636 LBD Burke’s Point
The Flanking Maneuver  
634 RBD Modoc Old River Lake
632 LBD Robson Towhead
632.5 RBD Fair Landing
Jackson Cutoff  
Sunflower Cutoff  
625.6 RBD Mouth of the Mellwood Lake
624 – 627 LBD Sunflower Dikes
Diving Duck  
624.5 LBD Mouth of De Soto Lake
621 – 624 LBD Jug Harris Towhead
620.8 RBD Mouth of the Chute of Island 68
619 – 621 LBD Island 68
619 – 621 LBD Island 67
619.6 BD Wood Cottage
620 – 617 RBD Old Levee at Knowlton
616 LBD Knowlton Crevasse
619 – 609 RBD Island 69
615.5 RBD Island 69 Old Back Channel
616 – 614 LBD Cession’s Towhead
610 LBD Hurricane Pint (Dennis Landing)
Hurricane to Rosedale
605 – 610 LBD Island 70
The River Mirage Effect  
604 – 601 LBD Henrico Sandbar
603 – 597 Scrubgrass Bend
601.5 – 598 LBD Smith Point Sandbar
600.5 LBD Entrance
598 LBD Exit
Secret Channel Behind Smith Point Sandbar  
599 RBD Mouth of the White River
The White River  
Montgomery Point Lock & Dam  
At the Mouth of the White River  
How Does a Lock Work?  
Arkansas River: Little Rock, Fort Smith, Tulsa  
White River National Wildlife Refuge  
597.5 – 580 RBD Big Island
596 – 594 Victoria Bend
592.1 LBD Terrence Landing
597.5 RBD Entrance
591 LBD Exit
RBD Near Mile 3 of the Old Channel of the White  
Wreck of the Victor?  
Old Channel of the White  
Arkansas City Gage (AG)  
591 – 587 LBD Great River Road State Park
587 – 584.5 LBD Malone Field (Barge Fleeting Area)
594.5 LBD Mouth of the Rosedale Harbor
Rosedale Harbor  
Rosedale, Mississippi  
Rosedale to Arkansas City
Arkansas City Gage  
585 – 580 RBD Arkansas Bar
580 RBD Arkansas River
Paddling Past the Mouth of the Arkansas  
A Detour Up & Down the Arkansas  
Island Hopping  
The Floating Sensation  
Circumnavigation of the Big Island (52 Miles; 5-7 Days)  
Below the Arkansas Confluence  
581 – 576 LBD Prentiss Sandbar
578.4 RBD Napoleon Light
574.5 LBD Mouth of Lake Whittington
575.8 RBD Caulk Eddy
575 – 572.5 RBD Caulk Neck Bar
576 – 572 Caulk Neck Cutoff
572 – 567 Cypress Bend
Cypress Bend – Pallid Sturgeon  
571 – 567 Catfish Point Bar
568 RBD Chicot Landing
Reading Google Maps  
Approaching Choctaw Island  
Choctaw Island Geomorphology  
564 – 558 Chocktaw Bar Island
Note on Low-Water Camping  
Arkansas City Boat Ramp  
561.7 LBD Easton Landing – Mounds Boat Ramp
560.5 LBD Mounds Landing
Addendum: Take-Out in Greenville or Lake Village  
Best Campsites Along the Lower Mississippi Water Trail  
End of Trail  
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