The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Approaching Choctaw Island 

As you come out of Cypress Bend stay with the fastest waters along the outside of the bend right bank and whisk past Chicot Landing and the bottom of Catfish Point Bar.   Several miles downstream the top end of Choctaw Island will be coming into view.  The main channel of the river opens up into a wide morass of flowing water almost as wide as the entire downstream horizon.  As you float along a giant sandbar begins to take form along the curve of the earth.  This is the top end of Choctaw Island, so enormous it makes the Mississippi River split both ways!  If you’re planning on ending your journey at Arkansas City, you’ll want to enter the back channel with the wedge of water flowing south behind the island.  If you’re continuing on to Greenville or the Highway 82 Bridge near Lake Village, you can paddle either side of the island.  Main channel might be faster, but of course its not as scenic.  Back channel stays open until the lowest of lows.   Keep the paddler’s mantra in mind, if its flowing in, its flowing out.  Even if there is no noticeable flow you still might want to explore the wildlife rich back channel.  Watch for shoaling and be ready to drag your vessel if necessary.


Choctaw Island Geomorphology 

The river rolls around Cypress Bend and dives into the depths below the base of Catfish Point Bar; from there it picks up speed and momentum as the river bottom shallows above Choctaw Bar Island.  During higher water levels anything pliable (such as sand or gravel) or plastic (such as mud) gets uprooted from the bottom of the river and is plastered over the increasing shallows above Choctaw and then pushed south in giant sugary piles over the entire 4 mile perimeter of the top of the island.  You can see the effect from Google Earth.  It looks the island has been hit by a snowball of sand, long trails of yellow/white sand lead out of the desert top end and wander south into the muddy middle beyond, where the elevation drops just enough that all of the sand is left behind and only muddy waters enter, and then become stationary and deposit their silty load.  Grasslands have grown around the perimeter of this open belly wetlands, and above the grassy ridges is where the land rises enough to support more permanent species of hardwoods, the trees that don’t like their feet in the water but a month or two out of the year, if at all.  Continuing south down the length of the island various narrow finger channels collect the floodwaters out of the muddy belly of the island and funnel them roundly south and then southeast parallel to the main channel to empty out near the bottom end of the island.  After the river drops you can walk down the lower island over these alternating ridges and gullies, tall trees on top and murky plankton-rich green stillwater in between.  Frogs abound in these pools of captured water.  During spring mating season (March-May) the night air resounds with the emphatic calls of this amphibious chorus, at times so loud you can hear them from miles away.  If you set your tent nearby you will awake the next morning your head buzzing from the effects of the all-night party!


564-558 Choctaw Bar Island

[CLICK HERE: Map of Choctaw Island]


Choctaw Island, the superlative Mississippi River Island for voyageurs, consists of every floodplain landscape possible: giant beaches, large meadows, extensive woods, wetlands, and muddy banks.  The shoreline is as close to the Caribbean as you’ll find in the middle of America.  The interior sand dunes and sandy plains are reminiscent of the Sahara, especially on a scorching hot summer’s day.  The grasslands will remind you of the Serengeti.   But the forests are similar to any Mississippi Valley floodplain forests: a mixture of various hardwoods along the higher ridges, hackberries, oaks, sweetgums, sycamores & cottonwoods, falling away to willows lower, and thick privets bunched and overhanging in the wooded wetlands.   The animals love it, the birds love it, the paddlers love it.  Seen from the air Choctaw Island is shaped like a fat seal leaping out of the water.   The 6 mile shoreline main channel and 4 mile back channel envelope 8,000 acres of paradise.  An intrepid paddler might make the complete 10 mile circumnavigation for a challenging but rewarding daytrip.


The best camping on Choctaw Island is either top end backside, where the sandy beaches meet various clumps and ridges of trees thriving on top of their relative heights, or bottom end main channel 559-561 where the muddy cut-bank gives way to a broad sandy beach and dunes of sand rolling through the willow forest.  Of course water level effects everything and you can camp anywhere you can make a decent landing.   Paddlers ending their water trail adventures at Arkansas City could make one last camp on the top end of Choctaw and then take-out the next day at the back channel boat ramp, which is about halfway down the channel, dropping down from a parking and camping are that sits on a tall wooded bluff several hundred yards below the last wing dam.


Locals maintain Choctaw is one of the steamboat islands — that it was created by the sediment accumulating downstream of an old wreck, in this case the steamboat the Indiana which sank in 1875.  Thanks to this re-generative location (and subsequent support from the army engineers) Choctaw has maintained itself against the raging river.  Compared to other river islands it retains its essential shape and size regardless of water level from low to medium, and only loses its massive size at levels above flood stage.  The big dike sealing off the back channel top end was intentionally cut open with a wide gaping notch and runs strong until the water drops to 4AG.  There is a water connection that can be paddled through all the way down to -3AG and maybe even lower following the scouring of the Great Flood of 2011.   At medium water there is a strong current through the back channel and the top end sandbars begin to disappear.   At high water an isolated sandy island gets separated from the main island and is formed in the top end back channel, but on the main island there are still hundreds of acres of wonderful camping anywhere around the top end and miles of beaches.  It is the tallest island in the area.  When most other islands between Memphis and Vicksburg are completely under water at flood stage Choctaw still has plenty of sand and thousands of acres of dry ground can be found in its meadows, woods and on the beaches.

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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