The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

LBD: Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass 

For the long distance paddler weary of the monotony of the main channel, and ready for an adventure into the heart of darkness, a parallel journey down the legendary Yazoo-Mississippi Delta could be made — to rejoin the river 338 miles downstream at Vicksburg.  It’s not a shortcut, in fact it’s a long-cut, over one hundred miles longer.  It’s an oftentimes moody, gloomy journey through blues drenched landscapes of the cotton-kingdom.  It will involve at least one long portage through poison ivy, thorny, caney, snake-infested, mosquito-ravaged thickets.  Once you reach the Coldwater River it’s good water all the way, although most likely much slower than the Mississippi.  Why do it?  For the history, for the culture, for a backdoor view into the heart of the Mississippi Delta, but primarily for — the adventure!  [CLICK HERE: What do we mean when we say Adventure?]


While several miles of the pass have been cut off by the levee and later Mississippi Highway 1, you can today paddle across Moon Lake (oxbow lake, old Mississippi River channel) and find the pass on its northern shoreline, behind Uncle Henry’s B&B and fine dining (old Moon Lake Casino).  Your best and definitely easiest route however would be to arrange a shuttle from Helena to Moon Lake, and put in at the BMW store Boat Ramp.  [CLICK HERE: for shuttling services]


In wet seasons there will be water all the way through the 14 mile long Yazoo Pass from Moon Lake to the Coldwater River, but in times of drought short portages might be necessary at several shallows.  As its name implies, Yazoo Pass is an active pass.  When Moon Lake is getting the rainfall the water flows east towards the Coldwater.  However when the Coldwater is rising the pass might be flowing west into Moon Lake.  With some determination (also a machete and shrub saw are helpful) you can reach the Coldwater River, and follow the old trade routes down the Coldwater to the Tallahatchie, 117.5 miles down to the city of Greenwood where the Union soldiers were repulsed by a tiny rebel faction at Fort Pemberton (today nothing but a historic site where the Tallahatchie approaches Hwy 82).  Along the way the Coldwater/Tallahtchie system receives waters from all Mississippi Hill Country tributaries like the Yocona.  This is the same hill country that produced the Hill Country Blues tradition, indeed all of these waterways drain the former homes of legendary musicians like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.   Along the way the Tallahatchie flows along past by important landmarks like the famed Tallahatchie River Bridge where Billy Joe McAllister met his sad fate (Bobby Gentry), the infamous Money Bridge where Emmet Till was murdered and ignited the Civil Rights era and lastly the Little Zion Church, one of Robert Johnson’s 3 disputed gravesites (all are located on or near the Tallahatchie/Yazoo — see below for more info).  As the Tallahatchie rounds Greenwood the most wild & beautiful of all Hill Country tributaries the Yalobusha river comes rolling in from the East, the two rivers join to form the Yazoo, the famed River of Death.  The Yazoo rebounds westward following an ancient channel of the Ohio River flowing along past Cotton Row/Downtown Greenwood (good public landing) and then downstream past Three Forks (where Robert Johnson was reportedly murdered), Mt. Zion (another location where he is reportedly buried!), and from thence through Panther Burn, Yazoo City, Satartia, Redwood, and finally Vicksburg.


Just above Vicksburg the Yazoo the River of Death receives all the waters of the Mississippi Delta with the entrance of the Sunflower River through the Steele Bayou Control Structure.  If a raindrop falls in the Mississippi Delta (and a lot of them fall — in fact an annual average of 55 inches of rain) it doesn’t enter the Mississippi directly, but follows it in many parallel side streams  creeks & bayous like the Big Sunflower River, the Hushpuckena, the Quiver River, Deer Creek and Steele Bayou, all of which enter the Sunflower somewhere along its 250 mile long route and then are all delivered to the Yazoo at this junction, ten miles above Vicksburg and the confluence of the Yazoo with the mother Mississippi.   The largest freshwater pumps in the world were going to be constructed at the Steele Bayou Control Structure, a project known as the Yazoo Pumps; it was killed in 2010 by the EPA.


Yazoo Pass Mileage: 

Helena to Levee via Yazoo Pass: 9 miles

Levee to Moon Lake NW shore: 2 miles

Moon Lake NW shore to Yazoo Pass: 2 miles

Alternate Start: BMW ramp to Yazoo Pass: 1 mile

Yazoo Pass Moon Lake to Coldwater River: 14 miles

Colwater River to Tallahatchie River: 49 miles

Tallahatchie River to Yalobusha River: 68.5 miles

Yazoo River: Yalobusha to Vicksburg: 188 miles


Total: Helena to Vicksburg via Yazoo Pass = 332.5 miles

(Compare: Helena to Vicksburg on Mississippi River = 226 miles)


Rivers & Robert Johnson: 

The Mississippi Delta where the Delta Blues was born and thrived is not the Delta of the Mississippi River.  That’s right, this delta is actually an independent floodplain formed by the big river and its smaller tributary the Yazoo.  The Delta Blues that was born & fostered under the phenomenal careers of genius musicians like Muddy Waters, Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson refers geographically to the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, which is a  musselshell-shaped alluvial floodplain bounded by the Mississippi and the Yazoo-Tallahatchie-Coldwater River systems running approximately two hundred miles between Memphis and Vicksburg, and sixty miles at its widest between Greenville and Greenwood.


Robert Johnson’s life is tied into Yazoo River, the River of Death, by the many places that highlight his life and death.  All of these places can be visited by canoe, kayak or SUP. However the landings are not marked and paddlers will have to use maps, GPS and their orientation skills to locate the best places to land and then walk to the below:


Mileage from Downtown Greenwood Public Boat Launch:

Little Zion Church: along the Tallahatchie River 15 river miles north of Greenwood

Three Forks Store: Yazoo River, 25 miles south of Greenwood

Payne Chapel: Yazoo River, 15 miles south of Greenwood (+ 2 mile hike)

Mount Zion MB Church: Yazoo River, 35 miles south of Greenwood


[Citation] Blues Traveling by Steve Cheseborough

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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