The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Hardin was the final cutoff in a ten-year river shortening campaign started in 1929 that resulted in 14 man-made cutoffs between Memphis and Red River Landing (above Baton Rouge).  In the course of a river history it forms increasingly rounded bends which curve back towards one another at their bases like a snake squirming through the sand, and eventually the narrow necks of land separating the two bends breaks through.  Man can speed up the process by digging across one of the necks.  Here a giant bend of the river known as OK Bend had eaten everything but a one-mile piece of dry land.  A canal was dug through the forest bottoms here during low water 1941-42.  When the final plug of land was blown out on March 18, 1942 the turbulent muddy river immediately poured through the opening and tore open the wooded landscape hundreds of acres at a time, not stopping to wipe her mouth or take a deep breath until her appetite was completely satisfied.  By May 27th it was open and stable for towboat navigation, the river having been shortened by ten miles and Tunica Lake now preserved in time by rocks, rip-rap and revetment over the banks to the east.   In the matter of two months hunting camps near the little river town of Austin, Mississippi, went from enjoying a commanding view of the lively main channel and all its traffic to becoming a remote backwater hamlets surrounded by forest on one side and a huge still-water lake on the other.  Austin itself was separated from the Mississippi years ago by shifting islands, one of which was the scene of the Pennsylvania tragedy of 1858. 


If you need to get on downstream and make some miles stay with the fast water main channel and enjoy the engaging view in the constantly changing juxtaposition of islands, forested points, back channels, openings, and the high ridge beyond.  But if you have a little time and want to do some exploring in a spectacular location that is always thriving with some kind of life form stay bank left and look for an intriguing opening into the deep woods two miles below the bottom of Walnut Bend.  This is the legendary Tunica Runout.


Tunica Lake:

Deep in the woods opposite Hardin Cut-Off is the old channel of “OK Bend” where Mark Twain’s brother, Henry Clemens, met his demise after the explosion & sinking of the steamboat The Pennsylvania (1858).  Mark Twain would have been on the same boat but was saved by a simple twist of fate that grounded him in New Orleans before departure.  The only route for paddlers to gain access to this bend of the river (which is now a giant isolated oxbow lake known as Tunica Lake) is through the Tunica Runout.  Keep reading below.


LBD 677.4 (Pass into Tunica Lake)

 The Tunica Runout slices a two hundred yard wide meandering canyon three-and-a-half miles through the thick trees and mud to reach Tunica Lake.  (Note: In general, most river bends cut off from the River are described as a “cutoff” with the ditch or passage that connects them to the River known as a “runout” or a “pass”).   At high water stay hard left because you might scoot right past it.  At low water you can be a little more casual.  The left bank cottonwood forest descends slightly and gives way to willows, and then opens up to reveal the narrow channel disappearing into the mature bottomland hardwood forests beyond.  The forests are deep here, the floodplain is almost fifteen miles wide, ten miles to the east to get to the levee behind Tunica Lake, and five miles to the west to reach the base of the Crowley’s Ridge.  At high flood stage this entire fifteen-mile wide basin will be full of flowing water, something most recently demonstrated in May, 2011.

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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