The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
174 RBD Bellerive Park
Bellerive Park sits on top of the short bluffs right bank descending and almost directly across the river from the mouth of Cahokia Chute. Although inaccessible to paddlers, Bellerive provides a rare land-side public view of the river in South St. Louis. Bellerive’s cliffs are the first examples of the Missouri Bluffs that will accompany you on-and-off right bank descending from here down to Commerce. Also known as the Mississippi River Hills, they start out short in St. Louis and grow taller south of the city. St. Louis itself sprawls over sloping 100-200 foot tall bluffs that attain their greatest heights along the Missouri River (above Bellefontaine) and gently undulate eastward as they drop in elevation towards the Mississippi River. Limestone and dolomite of the Mississippian Epoch underlie the area, and parts of the city are karst in nature. This is particularly true of the area south of downtown, which has numerous sinkholes and caves. Most of the caves in the city have been sealed, but many springs are visible along the riverfront, and you will see them at the base of the exposed cliffs here and elsewhere downstream, particularly in low water. Coal, brick clay and millerite ore were once mined in the city, and the predominant surface rock, the St. Louis limestone, is used as dimension stone and rubble for construction. (Adopted From Wikipedia)
171.8 RBD River des Peres
(Note: hard-to-locate entrance described below is sometimes hidden behind parked tows and barges). The River des Peres cuts a steep-banked slot canyon into the Missouri shoreline, which makes a handy secret exit point to paddle into and gain quick refuge if you are paddling downstream and the need for shelter arises. Say a large tow passes kicking up huge rolling waves that you don’t want to paddle through. Or maybe a summer thunderstorm is brewing over the Illinois bluffs and you can see straight-line winds gaining speed as they barrel upstream towards you… If you are anywhere in this vicinity of the Gauntlet you could use this slot canyon for an easy but very effective retreat. (Note: In stretches further downstream you will find other anomalies that provide similar shelter. The Rivergator will attempt to list the best, but in the ever-changing nature of the river, many of these prized holes change with water level. Study the map, and keep your eyes open for other similar harbors of refuge.)
In Low water a small sandbar emerges from the rip-rap bank which could be enough room for one or two tents in a pinch. Be forewarned: this is “land accessible,” so you might have company of the less desirable sort. The 9-mile long River des Peres drains most of the City of St. Louis and its suburbs. In case you had any doubt, do not make coffee from water collected here! Greenway Access: if you desperately need land access you could pull your canoe up through the tall grasses and over a short fence to get to the parking lot on the other side of the Mississippi River Greenway Bike Trail at the base of the River City Casino Boulevard Bridge. Access to South Broadway: If the Mississippi is medium high or higher, and the des Peres is not running too strong (after heavy rainfall), you could paddle up to the South Broadway and pull out there. The River des Peres translates to “River of the Fathers.” A mission of Jesuit Catholic priests settled here near the confluence of the des Peres and the Mississippi in 1700. They soon moved south in 1703 to Kaskaskia, probably as a result of conflict with American Indians, roughly 60 years prior to the founding of St. Louis.
The River des Peres is the backbone of sanitary and storm-water systems in the city of St. Louis and portions of St. Louis County. Its largest tributaries are Deer Creek and Gravois Creek. The River des Peres is channelized from its southernmost point – its confluence with the Mississippi – up to its “end pipes,” just south of Forest Park. The end pipes re-emerge north of Forest Park. It is generally perceived as a degraded stream or river (depending on the portion in question). The River des Peres currently functions as a major element in the combined sewer and storm water management system of its watershed, which includes large portions of St. Louis City and County. It is currently operated by the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) with that function as its highest priority, however, MSD is in the process of separating the sanitary and storm water systems, which will enable more recreational use of the river. The agencies that maintain most authority over its domain are MSD and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The functions of sanitary and storm water management are of highest concern to MSD, and general flood and safety concerns are those of the USACE. (Adopted From Wikipedia)
171 – 169 LBD Prairie Du Pont Low Water Sandbars
Opposite the River des Peres and downstream of mile 171 are a series of L-shaped wing dams and 2 straight line dams around which sandbars emerge during low water and create some beautiful low-water camping, while medium water camping can be found against the riverbank below these rock walls. This whole area goes underwater around flood stage 30 SLG. An interesting morphologic feature is carved out of the muddy farm fields at mile 169, a harbor at high water, and blue holes in low water. Rich place for wildlife viewing, especially amphibians and their waterfowl hunters. You can paddle into this harbor in high water for weather refuge.
170.4 RBD Limestone Bluff Shelfs
This is the 2nd prominent outcropping of the Missouri Bluffs, the so-called St. Louis limestone, which is the predominant surface rock of the area. At low and medium water levels the river rubs against this unusual shelf of St. Louis limestone which can be approached from water and a landing made for a spectacular picnic spot with one of the last views upstream of the Arch. If your line of travel is along the main channel right bank descending stop and stretch your legs here for a spectacular last view of the Great Arch rising above the Anheuser Bush Brewery and industrial South St. Louis.
The floodplain along the Mississippi on the Illinois side is known as the American Bottoms, and extends from Alton down to the Kaskaskia River. Once the dominion of the river, now leveed and settled by generations of settlers, the landscape is still riddled by wetlands, swamps, and oxbow lakes.
Deforestation of the river banks in the 19th century to fuel steamboats had dramatic environmental effects in this region, leading to the Mississippi River between St. Louis and the confluence with the Ohio River becoming more wide and shallow, as unstable banks collapsed into the water. It resulted in more severe flooding and lateral changes of the major channel, causing the flooding and destruction of several French colonial towns, such Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and St. Philippe.
The southern portion of the American Bottom is primarily agricultural, planted chiefly in corn, wheat, and soybean. The American Bottom is part of the Mississippi Flyway used by migrating birds and has the greatest concentration of bird species in Illinois. The flood plain is bounded on the east by a nearly continuous, 200–300 foot high, 80-mile long bluff of limestone and dolomite, above which begins the great tallgrass prairie that covers most of the state. The Mississippi River bounds the Bottom on its west; the river abuts the bluffline on the Missouri side. Its maximum width is about 9 miles in the north, and it is about 2–3 miles in width throughout most of its southern extent. (Adopted from Wikipedia)
168.6 Jefferson Barracks (JB) Bridge
Last bridge for paddlers to float under in the St. Louis area, and a fitting exit to the city with its two elegant steel arches rising gracefully in a gentle half moon curve 268 feet above the water (at medium height). The main channel swings towards the Missouri shore here. If there is no approaching tow traffic you can do the same and follow whatever line of travel suits your fancy. However, if tows are pushing upstream (or coming downstream) give them plenty of maneuvering space and stay far right or far left. Far right if you are continuing downstream. Far left if you are looking for landing on the Carroll Island below. Even though the tow pilots have 850 feet of width to work with between the main piers, all bridges present serious challenges to tow pilots. Whenever you can make it easier for them by giving them full berth. As with all bridges, be wary of the turbulence swirling around the piers Once you get under the JB Bridge, you can pat yourself on your back with your paddle and let go a sigh of relief, you’ve made it safely through “the Gauntlet,” the St. Louis Industrial Reach! The bridge marks the end of the harbor, but you’ve still got a few hazards coming downstream, namely Bussen Quarries RBD one mile downstream.
Consider the Atchafalaya
Now that you have paddled safely beyond the St. Louis harbor, you can take a deep breath and let go a long sigh of relief. Congratulation paddler! You did good if you are still in one piece and still have on board most of the gear you started with from the confluence. Everything will get easer downstream from here, with a few minor intrusions (and of course whatever whims of weather and wind you experience). Everything will be easier, that is, until you reach Baton Rouge. When you reach Baton Rouge you will have more of what you just experienced coming through St. Louis. But about 10 times more of it! Instead of just 20 miles of intense industry you will have to paddle about 235 miles of it from Baton Rouge through New Orleans to Venice. But take heart. There is a peaceful alternative awaiting your passage: the lovely Atchafalaya. Gulf-bound paddlers might consider the possibility of this wonderful alternate route 845 miles downstream. The Atchafalaya route will take you down through the 1.2 million acre largest river swamp in North America, the famed “River of Trees.” This is by far the most beautiful possible completion of your epic adventure down the biggest river in North America.
Instead of more industry and very dangerous river conditions through Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Venice on the big river (including poor campsites with toxic air and water conditions), consider taking the Atchafalaya River through its paradise of wild variegated bottomland hardwood forests, tupelo gum swamps, and marshy coastal plains. It also coincides with the heart of cajun country. To be completely honest, there are some pipelines, and a few small oil storage and processing installations, but they are few and far in between. Almost 1/3 of the Mississippi River is diverted here as a way of protecting the City and Port of New Orleans, creating the 4th largest and the shortest big river on the continent. Why not go with the flow, and take the Atchafalaya? You have almost a thousand miles to mull over this delightful opportunity. We wanted to alert you to the possibility now so that you have plenty of time to debate your choice.