The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
The Lower Missouri River
The Lower Missouri is its own water trail, which can be explored online including great photos and a very useful interactive map. Go to the Missouri River Trail Website: www.missouririverwatertrail.org
Many safety aspects of the Lower Missouri are relevant to the Mississippi, as shared here by Missouri River paddler Bryan Hopkins: “The Missouri River is one of the largest rivers in North America. This statement may seem kind of obvious, but from a safety standpoint this is an important consideration. Unlike a trip on a smaller river or stream, if you capsize in the middle of the Missouri River, you may find yourself quite some distance from shore. Wearing a life jacket is recommended for any kind of boating activity and doubly so for paddling on the Missouri River. The Missouri River is sometimes described as like paddling on a big moving lake. This analogy is valuable, as many of the typical safety issues associated with paddling on a lake are especially relevant for the Missouri River. Wind can be a major factor on the wide-open Missouri River, resulting in waves that can make paddling a challenge. Cold water is also a factor that should be considered on the Missouri River. If you capsize, you may not be able to get to shore easily. During a significant portion of winter and early spring the water is cold. A wet suit is a good idea when paddling on any open body of water in the state of Missouri during these times. More boaters are killed by cold water, than any other cause, often despite wearing a life jacket.
“Large barges travel the river corridor and these large vessels have no ability to steer around small craft such as a canoe or kayak. However, if you learn to recognize the location of the river channel that is indicated by the navigation marker system on the river, then you know exactly where a barge must travel. More information on reading the navigation markers can be found in the river tools section. When encountering a barge, a paddler should move to the side of the river and wait for the barge to pass and the waves to settle down. By pointing your boat towards the waves you should be able to let the barge and its waves pass with little trouble. It is worth repeating that barges have legal right-of-way and do not have the maneuverability to avoid your small craft. You must move aside and let them pass.
“Another consideration is the hazard posed by barges moored on the river. Stay well clear of these, as the river is rushing under the front of the vessel and could pull a small craft under. The lower Missouri River is a channelized river system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed rock-reinforced structures along the entire lower river, used to direct the current into a central channel. These “wing dams” or “L-dikes” can create turbulence and strong currents that are best avoided by small craft.
The current averages between 3-5 miles per hour with a flow that can range between 30,000 -100,000 cubic feet per second. This gives the Missouri River immense power. Paddlers should keep alert and avoid logs, wing dams and other structures in the river, including navigation buoys. Currents are often strong around these objects and can create an entrapment hazard. When the river is rising, a significant amount of debris can end up in the water, such as logs, trash and even entire trees. It is advised to consider waiting until the river level begins to drop again, as much of the debris will hang up on shore or wing dams, making travel much better. When camping on a sandbar, it is a good idea to know what you would do if the river rises. A good local rainfall can bring the river up several feet in a matter of hours.
“The Missouri River presents a special attraction for those who wish to get away from the crowds. However, the distances between access points can be 10 miles or more. It is important to plan your trip accordingly and understand that paddling down the Missouri River often involves an element of commitment. The surrounding bottomlands are largely agricultural or undeveloped and one can paddle miles without seeing signs of human habitation.”
By Bryan Hopkins, Water Resources Center, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. For more maps, photos and more description for the Missouri River Trail, please go visit: www.missouririverwatertrail.org.
195.6 RBD Ted Jones Confluence State Park
(LBD Mile 0.5 of the Missouri River)
Welcome to the confluence! Mile 0 Missouri River, Mile 195.6 Upper Miss. Ted Jones Confluence State Park heralds the confluence with interpretive panels and a walkway laid out over the mud and rip rap below. Best landing is generally on the Missouri River side, but this depends on wind. It can be a muddy landing in low water, but by all means stop and walk around the point, and read the interpretive panels which are thoughtfully done and full of all kinds of good information about the two rivers, their geography, and a little history. Accessible to foot traffic from a parking lot over the levee. Good place for a rest stop or picnic, and outhouses next to parking lot. But you wouldn’t want to camp here. You can follow a concrete walk up into some trees to view a signpost marking the 1993 record-breaking highwater level of 438.2 feet (49.5 on the St. Louis Gage). The signpost looks like a flagpole with a brass globe up top. Stand at the base and marvel at the great difference in height and the amount of water change that had to have occurred to create that kind of flood stage, the highest ever. Every town downstream on the Middle Miss will have their own highwater marks and stories, all relating to the game-changing 1993 flood.
The confluence point is one of the area’s best places for bird watching as millions of birds migrate along the Mississippi River corridor each spring and fall. The Mississippi River flyway is used by 60 percent of all North American bird species, including 40 percent of all waterfowl. Common birds seen in the area include great blue herons, bald eagles, geese, gulls, pelicans and many kinds of songbirds. In 1673, French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet passed by the confluence and composed a map that located an “Oumessourit,” or Missouri Indian village at the Great Bend of the Missouri River in what is now Saline County. The Missouri River played an important role in the lives of the Missouri Indians as they were able to control transportation on the river from their village overlooking the river bottoms. At its height, the village had a population of perhaps 5,000. In 1804, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark hoped the Missouri River was the Northwest Passage leading to the Pacific Ocean. They did not find the Northwest Passage, but at the confluence of the two rivers, they began their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean.
195 LBD Mouth of Wood River (Cahokia Diversion Canal)
The once sylvan glade and crystal clear waters of the River Dubois (Wood River) have been placed in a straight jacket and made to cough out the foul discharge of the nearby farms, refineries, feedlots and storm-water overflow, and would not be recognizable by those paddlers of yester-year like Lewis & Clark, who reported its shady glens to be full of fruit and nut-bearing trees, flocks of wild turkey, and endless herds of deer. Regardless of this sad fate, the mouth of the Wood River today forms a small harbor, and would make an easy exit place in case of impending front line winds or severe thunderstorms. You could eddy out and quickly make landing here. It would also be a good place to beach your vessel and take a walk over the levee for a visit to the Lewis & Clark Memorial Tower. (Be sure to drag your canoe up the bank and tie it up). There is a road along the south side of the Wood River. Follow it to the levee, walk north up levee to observation tower.
Just above the Wood River the dredgeboat America is sunk on the Illinois shore and listing into the river at a steep angle. This was last observed in 2015. Maybe someday it will be recovered.
195 LBD Camp River Dubois
Also accessible from the landing at the mouth of the Wood River is Camp River Dubois, with a 2-mile walk. Secure your vessel by pulling it out of the water and hiding it, or better yet, paddle a short ways up the Wood River until you find a protected location and disembark there. On May 14, 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis wrote, “The mouth of the River Dubois is to be considered the point of departure.” Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, just several miles south of the current mouth of the Wood River (River Dubois) is Camp River Dubois. This new facility, operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is designated as Site #1 on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and features the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, a replica of the 1803-04 winter encampment, and the Lewis and Clark Monument. The Interpretive Center officially opened in December of 2002 and is one of six major historical Lewis & Clark sites in southwestern Illinois. This 15,000 square foot brick and cedar building tells the story of how the Corps of Discovery assembled equipment, supplies and men at Camp River Dubois. Lewis & Clark Illinois State Historic Site, 1 Lewis and Clark Trail, (Route 3 at Poag Road), Hartford, Illinois. 618-251-5811.