The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

LBD Mile 736 Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor


One of the most memorable experiences along the Lower Mississippi is entering and leaving the city of Memphis, which straddles the 4th Chickasaw Bluff and shimmers like a mirage on the floodplain with its striking landmarks the pyramid, the steel truss Memphis & Arkansas Bridges, and the graceful M-Bridge. The South Bluff is topped by the National Ornamental Metal Museum.  This is the ridge and the bridge that Chuck Berry made famous in his song Memphis, Tennessee: “Her home is on the South-side, High upon a ridge, Just a half-a-mile from the Mississippi Bridge…”


For the downstream paddler, the route out of Memphis is fairly straightforward.  There is no choice but main channel until you reach Dismal Point ten miles downstream.  After leaving the Mud Island Harbor stay bank left with the fast water under the bridge and follow it on and around Engineer’s Bar/Presidents Island.  This line of travel will put you closer to bankside docks and industry, but well out of the way of uncertain routes and resupply positions used by the big tows passing through this area.


There are three openings the three spans of the bridge.  As always watch for tows above and below the bridges.  Upstream tows typically go middle span while downstreamers use the left span below the South Memphis Bluff.  During high water upstreamers might use the far right span closer to the Arkansas shore for the slower waters. The river can sometimes be thick with commercial activity.  Resupply and crew boats often tend to the big tows in this vicinity.  You might notice a big tow maintaining position mid channel, or maybe slowly moving along.  Resupply vessels roar in and out alongside.  In addition small tows and work boats frequent several ports including the Exxon Dock, Drexel Chemicals, Scrap Metals, and other industrial sites left bank.  Work boats tend to kick up a big wake.  Watch for crashing 2-3 foot waves which will be compounded by winds or other passing tows.    You might also encounter the Memphis Queen (little wake).  Even with the all of the docks and activity the best line of passage is found along left bank descending, staying with the faster deeper waters and out of the myriad unpredictable lines followed by the big tows in the middle of the channel.


Buoys and Docks

The second most dangerous hazard to any big river paddler is a stationary object in a strong current (first most being towboats and barges). In smaller rivers stationary hazards include rocks, boulders, trees, snags, bridges, fences, etc. On the big river the main stationary hazards are fleeted barges, but also includes docks, piers, and buoys. You will paddle past many docking facilities found within the three mile busy section below the lower Memphis bridges. Maintain at least a 100 yard safety distance away from these docks, and more if there appears to be any tow activity. Keep in mind that the wind can blow you sideways into bankside hazards. The river currents can also push you laterally across the face of the river. Watch shoreline landmarks and adjust your angle of travel accordingly. If necessary ferry out and head for the middle of the river, or the far side RBD. There are no buoys bank left through this section of river, because the water is deep all the way to the bank. But if your line of travel takes you into the middle of the river you will find a long line of green buoys (tow pilots call them the cans for their cylindrical-shaped tops) marking the far edge of the navigation channel there. Oftentimes they are placed at the ends of wing dams or dikes. And that is indeed normally the case in this bend of the river, the US Coast Guard tries to maintain these buoys in a position of deep water at the ends of what is marked on the map as the Engineer Bar Dikes. How deep is the water at the buoy?  Towboats & fully-loaded barges draw nine feet maximum, but to add a little buffer the USCG likes to place them at the twenty foot depth. This helps accommodate changes of water level in the ever fluctuating Mississippi River.


  1. Anonymous December 3, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    internet says that maybe the golden strike casino was the tallest building in mississippi when it was built, but then another casino (the beau rivage) was built which is a bit higher…

  2. Anonymous September 5, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Beware violent eddies and boils at Cow Island Bend right before 715 RBD at low water. Encountered them at 7 feet on the Memphis Gauge. Looking at the 2015 USACE Navigation Charts there are a series of dikes here that are not visible from the water. You here them for a while but only see them when you are right on top of them!

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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
Memphis to Tunica
736 LBD Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor
Buoys and Docks  
Floating Underneath a Bridge  
734.7 Lower Bridges/Engineer’s Bar
734.7 The Frisco Bridge
734.7 The Harahan Bridge
734.7 The Ghost Bunker
734.7 The Old Bridge (Memphis & Arkansas Bridge)
733 President’s Island
Fleeted Barges  
732 LBD Hole in the Wall ##2
727.3 TVA Transmission Lines
727.3 RBD The Wreck of the Raft
Tennessee Valley Authority  
725.5 LBD Entrance to McKellar Lake
7 Miles Up harbor Riverside Park Marina On McKellar Lake  
724 T.E. Maxon Wastewater Treatement Facility
Paddler’s Routes Below Memphis  
727 – 712 Dismal Point/Ensley Bar/Cow Island Bend Area
726 – 717 Armstrong/Dismal Point/Ensley Bar
720 Josie Harry Bar
718 – 713 Cow Island Bend
Goodbye Tennessee, Hullo Mississippi  
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and the Blues  
711 – 705 Cat Island No.50
710.8 LBD Starr Landing
712 – 695 Paddler’s Routes Around Cat Island and the Casinos
Pickett Dikes Back Channel  
639.8 RBD Tunica Riverpark Museum Boat Ramp
Tunica Riverpark Museum  
Basket Bar Dikes/Porter lake Dikes  
693.8 RBD Lost Lake Pass
703 Buck Island (No. 53)
701 Gold Strike Casino
700 Fitzgerald’s Casino
Tunica to Helena
700 Basket Bar
Paddler’s Routes Through Commerce and Mhoon Bends  
695 – 690 Commerce Bend
692.5 RBD Peter’s Boat Ramp
690 Rabbit Island
Switching to thhe Helena Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
687.5 Mhoon Landing
689 – 685 Mhoon Bar
690 – 683 Mhoon Bend
682 – 679 Whiskey Chute/Walnut Bend
680 Whitehall Crevasse
Paddler’s Routes Below Walnut Bend  
Stumpy Island, Shoo Fly Bar and Tunica Lake  
Main Channel  
677.4 LBD Tunica Runout
Behind Shoo Fly Bar  
Stumpy Island  
Walnut Bend Boat Ramp  
Tunica Lake Boat Ramp  
679 RBD Walnut Bend Boat Ramp
679 – 677 Hardin Cut-Off
677.4 LBD Pass Into Tunica Lake
677 – 676 Shoo Fly Bar
677 – 674 Stumpy Island
674.5 Harbert Point
672 RBD Mouth of the St. Francis River
Primitive Landing at the Mouth of the St. Francis Rive – Conditions  
RBD 3 Miles up St. Francis River Three Mile Ramp
Daytrip: St. Francis to Helena  
St. Francis to Helena: Paddler’s Descriptions  
For Intermedite Paddlers: Right Bank Route  
For Expert Paddlers: Left Bank Route  
St. Francis River  
671 – 673 LBD St. Francis Bar
669 LBD Flower Lake Dikes
668 RBD (A View of) Crowley’s Ridge D
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
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  
Helena’s “Low Road” Into St. Francis National Forest  
King Biscuit Blues Festival (2nd Week of October)  
Helena to Friars
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
663 RBD Leaving Helena Harbor
Fleeted Barges  
Small Towns in Harbors  
Buoys and Other Stationary Objects  
Highlights of Civilization  
Pollution Within the Helena Industrial Reach  
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 LBD  
How to Get Into the Old Entrance of the Yazoo Pass  
LBD: Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass  
Yazoo Pass Milage  
Rivers & Robert Johnson  
656 LBD East Montezuma Bar
657 – 654 RBD Montezuma Towhead
654.7 LBD Montezuma Landing
Shuttle Route Montezuma to Clarksdale  
652 LBD Friars Point
652.2 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
What’s to Come Further Downstream  
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
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