Memphis to Helena
MM 736 - 663
© 2013 John Ruskey
For the Rivergator: Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
The www.rivergator.org is a free public use website
presented by the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.
Re-printing of text and photos by permission only with proper credits.
Intro: Memphis to Helena:
Welcome to the 2013 update to the Rivergator: Paddlers Guide to the Lower Mississippi River!
This section covers the 73 miles of the big river from the pyramid city of Memphis to the paddler’s oasis Helena Arkansas. After leaving downtown Memphis you’ll swish under the last three bridges and some industry along the south bluff, and then you’ll quickly return to the wilds of the Lower Mississippi with nothing but forested islands, big river and big open skies as your scenery. Of course there’ll be towboats and fishermen and a few casinos along the way, but it’s amazing how quickly the city disappears into the wilderness. You’ll camp on beaches the size and feel of Caribbean beaches, and paddle through narrow chutes with lush overhanging willows and cottonwoods. You?ll be hemmed in by revetment and dikes in one place, and then released into long sections of the main channel where the floodplain forest and riverbank wetlands are still connected directly to the river, creating an incredibly vibrant ecosystem of bayous, sluices, chutes, pools, and back channels overflowing with wildlife, notably at Tunica Runout and the mouth of the St. Francis River.
After exiting the Missouri Boot-Heel and bouncing along the Chickasaw Bluffs past Memphis, the Mighty Mississippi flows southwesterly in giant meandering loops into the verdant and fantastically fertile Mississippi Delta. This is the land that gave birth to the Delta Blues, and was once the cotton kingdom of the world. Its forest was America’s Amazon, millions of acres of deep woods now removed for farmland. Leaving Tennessee and entering Mississippi the paddler is welcomed by a long line of casinos that rivals Atlantic City, but which you’ll see little evidence of as you paddle behind long chains of islands in the same area, although you should stop for a visit to the Tunica Riverpark Museum. The river carves elegant S-curves through deep woods as it meanders through Commerce Bend, Mhoon Bend and Walnut Bend, and then wanders down through a floodplain fifteen miles wide to the mouth of the St. Francis River. The St. Francis is the biggest west bank tributary downstream of St. Louis. The big river engulfs mind-boggling swaths of muddy landscapes as it is forced southerly by the strange geophysical anomaly Crowley’s Ridge, which parallels the Mississippi out of Missouri. Buck Island invites exploration, picnicking or camping, and Helena, Arkansas commands the base of Crowley’s Ridge. As result of the high ground Helena is the only population in between Memphis and Vicksburg (300 miles) that sits right on the main channel. Visit the Delta Cultural Center, or coordinate your adventure with one of the world’s greatest celebrations of music, the King Biscuit Blues Festival (October). Canoeists, SUPs and kayakers will find provisions, maps, gear, and paddling tips at Quapaw Canoe Company in Helena, as well as water and Wi-Fi.