The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
850 RBD Caruthersville Harbor Boat Ramp (1/2 mile up harbor)
Wide Concrete Boat Launch located within the protected waters of the Caruthersville Harbor. Excellent start place for any expedition. Best landing in area. Also 2nd (older) ramp nearby. Don’t leave vehicles overnight; arrange shuttle. Ramp usable at all water levels. Note: Possible 4 mile quick trip from here down to the downtown Caruthersville Boat Launch, or even better 10 mile day trip down to Booth’s Landing Tennessee (see below for day trip description). (Note: long-distance paddlers who want to resupply here would be best served by making landing at the downtown ramp RBD Mile 846.5.)
The Caruthersville Harbor sometimes teems with small tows servicing the Pemsicot County Port Authority Wharf and nearby grain and petroleum docking. Paddle half mile to the mouth of the river along east bank of harbor (LBD) to avoid possible confrontations. Watch out for large tows along riverbank adding on or removing barges. Monitor VHF Channel 13 if you have a marine radio for possible traffic before entering main channel.
849 RBD Mouth of the Caruthersville Harbor
There is a primitive landing RBD over rip-rap at mouth of harbor that is often frequented by local fishermen (and women!). This landing is open at all water levels, but best used during higher water levels when the river covers the rip-rap. At low water this area bottoms out in muddy rocky morass (around 5 on the Caruthersville Gage). Warning: as with almost all Mississippi River landings, this area often degenerates into a weekend party place. Not a good place to camp. Don’t leave vehicles overnight. Okay for day trip, but take precautions by locking your vehicle and hiding all valuables out of sight.
848 RBD Trinity Barge Fabrication Plant
After leaving the Caruthersville Harbor the downstream canoeist, kayaker or surfer (stand-up-paddlebpard) will soon paddle by a noteworthy river-related industry right bank descending. Trinity Barge Fabrication Plant specializes in large ocean-going barges. Like many ship-builders they launch their finished product by the “slide method.” The slide method involves sliding the new barge over the riverbank down a ramp leading to the water. During launches you will want to give this area wide berth. Newly completed barges dancing with fresh coats of industrial paint in bright colors make their splash-down and are transferred by small tows directly across the main channel where they are anchored alongside others for future use or transport. Note: if you are hugging Tennessee left bank descending as you come around the bend be alert of these fleeted tows, and keep your distance. Fleeted tows have consumed more than one canoe and many motorboats, and always present a potentially hazardous situation for any paddler.
847 LBD Blaker Towhead
Long distance paddlers needing a resupply stay bank right for optimal access for the landing in downtown Caruthersville (see below for description). Those continuing on without stopping here might want to enjoy the backwater pleasures of Blaker Towhead.
The back channel of Blaker Towhead opens up in medium water (approximately 15 CuG) around a beautiful big-grain sandbar with slow current. As the river rises the entrance steadily enlarges to become a yawning mile-wide opening with generous flow pouring behind island in high water (above 25 CuG). This 3-mile long island is edged by possible medium water campsites both top end and bottom end, but all sand disappears at flood stage.
WARNING: Whitewater cascade sometimes encountered at base of first dike below Blaker Towhead! Avoid entering back channel if you’re not prepared for the challenges of a 3-4 foot whitewater drop and accompanying whirlpools, violent eddies and ravenous boils.
Back channel re-enters main channel and then tumbles over a couple of short dikes LBD 842 that sometimes create a lively whitewater feature with a foaming 3-4 foot drop and standing waves. The biggest drop is found at the first dike below island. You can avoid these turbulent cascades by cutting quickly back into the main channel as soon as you see it. On the other hand if you want the wild ride, stay LBD and look for the commotion with lifejacket on and all gear firmly strapped down!
846.5 RBD Caruthersville
Originally settled in 1794 as the town of La Petite Prairie by French fur trapper Joseph Le Sieur, Caruthersville survived the 1811/12 New Madrid Earthquake, the floods of 1927 and 1937, the depression, and the Civil Rights era. Even though it was threatened by its highest waters ever during the great flood of 2011, its sturdy sea-wall held. To this day it remains a sho-nuff river town. By the result hard work and a lot of luck the charming city is still located directly on the main channel of the big river, a distinction not shared by other unlucky river towns where the river stayed for a while and then left town dry (or worse, was eaten by flood and destroyed completely).
Canoeists, Kayakers and surfers (stand-up-paddleboarders) should make a stop. Caruthersville might be the most paddler-friendly resupply and the best rest stop in between Cape Girardeau and Memphis. Not far downstream the river leaves the Missouri Bootheel and your right bank becomes Arkansas.
Look for the tall grey Bunge Grain elevator which towers above the center of the city. The S.P. Reynolds Park and boat launch is directly below downstream of Bunge. You can easily pull your canoe or kayak up to a small delightful river park and enjoy the grassy field punctuated with park benches and large cottonwoods, elms, mulberries and other shady trees. Thanks to a stubby sea-wall built in 1917 downtown restaurants and businesses are a short walk away. Main street (Ward Avenue) ends at the wall opening. As you walk through the gates you will see a painted plaque. The highest river stages are recorded from 1913 to 1997, including what used to be the record high 46.0 in 1937. 2011 shattered that record when the great river rose seven-tenths of a foot higher, to 46.7, on April 16th. At Rivergator publication date this record has not been added to the sea-wall.
Secure your vessel or portage it into town with you. Several blocks down Ward Ave you’ll find a pizza place, a BBQ joint, a sporting goods store (Grizzly Jig Co), a drug store, banks, the post office and office supplies. The library is a mile further (limited hours) and grocery stores even further. Refill water bottles at the closest business you encounter to avoid lugging around town. Caruthersville is a classic good-feeling river town full of friendly residents and interesting architecture. Those needing groceries might try catching a ride with someone, or be prepared for a several mile walk round trip. If you want to read more about the history of the town locate a copy of Caruthersville, Missouri: 150 Years (2007, Teresa Tidwell) which can be found at the library, or purchased from the writer’s son, who operates the Office Supply across from the historic Post Office building. (A lively read. Much of the information about the town presented here was gleaned from this book.)
If staying overnight you might want to make the half-mile walk to the Round Restaurant at 820 W 3rd Street, a popular eatery in a perfectly round building which one google reviewer rated 5 stars “Best fried chicken tenders EVER. Food was “home-cooked”, served hot and fresh, wonderful staff, would definitely go there again…”
846 RBD Isle of Capri Lady Luck Casino (Casino Inn & Suites)
The adventurer in need of hotel room and a hot shower can find easy access to the Casino Inn & Suites which is located inland of the Isle of Capri/Lady Luck, and maybe two or three hundred yards from the Caruthersville Boat Launch. There are places to make landing closer to the hotel, such as a hole-in-the-wall fishing spot in an eddy just above the casino. But scout first by foot and find the best place. Then float in for final landing. Remember the paddler’s mantra: when in doubt, stop and scout! Intrepid kayaker and Memphis “River-Angel” Dale Sanders once portaged his kayak to the Casino Inn and requested a ground floor room with 2 beds; the unsuspecting attendant had no idea that Dale wanted one bed for himself and the other one for his kayak!