The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Cairo

43.8 Thebes Boat Ramp

The double wide boat ramp at Thebes is smartly situated at a point on the river’s edge with easy access into the hamlet of Thebes. Good to low water levels with a gravel parking lot above and nearby campground.  Next to the campground an eye-catching digital river gage flashes water levels at Thebes on a continuous reel from a small tower on the edge of the river.


43.7 Thebes Railroad Bridge

The graceful arches of the Thebes Railroad bridge are reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct viewed from the distance, but the river crossing is a typical steel truss construction.  This bridge stretches nearly 4,000 feet from bluff to bluff and has been in continuous use since 1905.  Unlike the bridges further downstream, which could not anchor into bedrock (because there is none!) the Thebes Bridge was constructed using the dolomite formation of the Pawnee Hills for its base. Paddlers should watch for turbulent water around bridge piers, especially in higher water levels. Unfortunately there has been a rush in building dream mega-homes on the once pristine pastoral hills north of the Thebes bridge.

42 - 39 LBD Orchard Springs Islands 

Archipelago of Islands strung along the Illinois shoreline with possible camping throughout, the best being found on the last and biggest (see below for more about Betsy’s Bar).


42.0 RBD Uncle Joe Light

There is a tall bluff of sand thrown against RBD below the Uncle Joe Light. This narrow perch stays dry up to high water levels.


40.3 - 39.3 LBD Betsy’s Bar

One-mile long island named by modern day voyageurs in honor of the river angel Betsy Tribble of St. Louis (who was introduced to canoeing the river by Big Muddy Mike Clark). Sandy camping top end in low and medium water levels, up to 25CGG, and forests only in high water. Topped with milkweed, silver maple and honeysuckle. Back channel opens up in medium water and flows directly into the Santa Fe Chute after being split into two by a smaller splinter island below the bottom-most dike. Sluggsh flow wth shallow passage at 24CGG. Bottom end marks the opening into Santa Fe Chute (back channel of Burnham Island). Paddlers could jump into Back Channel Betsy’s Bar and stay off the main channel for five miles, all the way to Goose Island Towhead. Lots of wildlife and wild muddy scenery. WARNNG: turbulent 4-foot drop through devilish rocky teeth of cross-channel dike at top of Burnham Island 39.5 LBD around 25CGG


Commerce Rock

Commerce Rock is the only petroglyph in the Eastern United States depicting geography. Not surprisingly it is a serpentine shape, which archeologists have surmised to be a representation of the Mississippi River, a series of prehistoric Mississippian places and perhaps social or political identities (ca. A.D. 1200-1400).  Only visble in extreme low water. If you go searching for Commerce rock and are lucky enough to find it, please keep its exact location under wraps, for conservation purposes. No one wants to see this ancient artifact vandalized or looted. Please delete any metadata from your photographs before posting and do not include any identifying surroundings in your pictures. It would be great if this rock were in a museum where everyone could see it, but until then it will be up to the river to watch over it, as it has for the last thousand years.


39.7 RBD Commerce, Mo

Commerce is located at the base of Thebe’s Gap, which is where the Mississippi River burst through the Pawnee Hills into the Missouri Bootheel after the melting of the last ice age, some 10 to 15 thousand years ago. This charming floodplain town is your welcoming committee to the flatlands below. No services, but access vie small concrete ramp at the top end of town (below the Commerce Gage). Say goodbye to the Missouri bluffs. No more hills, no more limestone or dolomite cliffs. Say hullo to the alluvial floodplain which stretches out to the Gulf of Mexico below here.


Entering the Bootheel:

As you continue into the Missouri Bootheel below Commerce the towns recede further and further back, and the river takes on a decidedly more wild aspect, very similar the the feeling you get in the big meandering channels of the Lower Mississippi, which you are quickly approaching downstream. From 2009 Mr. & Mrs. ‘Sippi Expedition: “We floated on buffeted southeasterly by an all-afternoon progression of gentle straight line winds with bellowing & billowing storm clouds undulating & evolving & mysteriously emerging from a massive slow-moving system straddling the hills of southern Illinois & the Missouri Ozarks, gentle rain showers sweeping through & slow winds until about 6:30pm when the trees north bank began thrashing & bending side to side and low scuddy clouds were skirting fastly overhead as if something big was coming in, we hugged the north bank for protection and curled into the first possible camp, which turned out to be a beauty, the river blessed us again! A beautiful protected camp at the head of Brown’s Bar, a calm inlet to beach the raft with a steep bank and deep waters, completely isolated from the main channel, no tugboat waves beating our baby tonight! Dinky & Popeye made a delicious pasta supper under Mike’s direction. I awoke in the middle of the night listening to a far-off train over the forests somewhere deep in the Missouri Bootheel, on the Illinois side a truck rumbling up Hwy 3, and in between: the roaring of the river as it rolled over the shoaling at the top of Dogtooth island.”


39 - 35 LBD Burnham Island

Four mile tall island Burnham Island is a conglomerate of three older islands, being joined by Little Island and Goose Island at its southern end. These two islands combined with the bigger Burnham Island to create one long skinny paradise for paddlers, birders and anyone seeking the wildness. Burnham Island is surrounded by great sandy campsites, good up to high water topsides and at many locations along its main channel flank, and a few sandbars around the backside. You’ll find a high sandy top end surrounded by big trees, with nice high camps along man channel, and big cottonwoods in between in a deep dark forest. Best camping is top end opposite the town of Commerce where the back channel splits into a small archipelago of sandbar islands (at low water). After dark you might be distracted by a few street lights from across the river at Commerce, but there is no industry here, and it will be mostly quiet overnight. The stars will be bright overhead, and only a vague glowing in the northwest will indicate civilization (from Cape Girardeau). An old channel known as the Jacket Pattern Chute is contained within the greenery at the bottom end of the island and is a wonderland of wildlife, but only accessible (by boat) at flood stage.