The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

St Louis to Cairo

Water Levels and paddling below Chester (to Cape Girardeau)

Extreme Low Water: -4 to 3ChG

At extreme low water below 4 on the Chester Gage (4ChG) you will find giant sandbars, gravel bars and mud bars. You won’t have difficulty finding dry ground to camp on, but it will be tricky finding protection from the wind because of the long distance to the forest. The woods on Rockwood Island, Liberty Bar and Cottonwood Bar will be a half-mile from the river’s edge except in some places. Dike walls can make good substitutes for wind breaks in certain situations. Most boat launches will be muddy messes or won’t reach the water. All back channels will be closed. The river will be sluggish, averaging 1-2 mph, maybe a little faster around some bends.


Low Water: 4 - 12ChG

At four foot ChG the flow averages 2 to 3 miles per hour, and most back channels are still inaccessible by water. At twelve feet the flow is a steady 3mph and most back channels are becoming accessible but with slow flow that might require some maneuvering through sandbars and rock walls of the dikes, chevrons and wing dams. You might need to drag your vessel over some rock barriers, and other sand or gravel shoalings. Short portages might be necessary.


Medium Water: 12 - 20ChG

At 12 ChG all back channels are open but flowing slow. At 18 feet ChG all back channels are open and flowing good. River speed in the main channel averages 5mph. You can still find big sandbars on big island like Rockwood and Marquette.


High Water: 20 - 26ChG

At 20 feet ChG the river is bank full and the main channel averages 7mph.   All back channels are full of water and flowing strong. Some caution is needed to avoid snags and strainers and the like.   At 24 ChG river speed in the main channel can reach 9mph around the bends and through narrows like the Chester Bridge, Grand Tower/Tower Rock and Cape Girardeau. Sandbars are mostly covered, but you can still find generous sandy parklands at the top end of big islands lke Rockwood, Marquette, Boston Bar and Brown’s Bar. There is no dry sand and the only camping is forest camping.


Flood Stage: 27ChG

Paddlers advised to stay off the Mississippi River at flood stage or higher. Fast turbulent waters full of whirlpools and violent boils in the main channel, and snags and strainers in the back channels. There is no dry sand and the only camping is forest camping.


Extreme High Water: 28 to 50


1993 Flood: 49.74


Chester Gage Water levels and how they affect the town of Chester and nearby surroundings:

51 The Health Care Unit of the Menard Correctional Center begins flooding near this height.

50 Ste. Genevieve, Ft. Chartess, Ivy Landing, and Kaskaskia Island levees overtopped.

49.4 Stringtown and Prairie DuRocher levees overtopped.

49 Degognia and Fountain Bluff Levee overtopped.

47.5 Mill on IL Route 3 floods.

45 Highway 51 bridge closes as the highway floods on the Missouri side and the waterworks pumphouse floods.

44 Balwin Water Treatment Plant is flooded.

42 Four cottage units at the Menard Correctional Center begin flooding near this height.

40.79 Main Street in Evansville inundated.

40 ***MAJOR FLOOD LEVEL*** A hunting lodge near the mouth of the Kaskaskia River begins flooding.

39 Railroad tracks in St. Mary, Missouri begin flooding.

38.7 Illinois State Highway 155 at Prairie du Rocher begins flooding near this height.

38.5 Illinois Route 3 at Rockwood and Missouri Highway J just west of Highway 61 between Ste. Genevieve and St. Marys begin flooding near this height.

38.4 At this level IL Route 3 at levee east of Cora inundated.

38.1 Near this level, Illinois Route 3 near the Mary's River bridge is closed.

37.5 The southbound lane on Kaskaskia Street and the south parking lot at Menard Correctional Center begins flooding.

37 Union Pacific property along Water Street begins to flood.

36.5 Chester water intake house is flooded... damage begins to occur to 4 homes and administration buildings at Menard State Prison. Prairie DuRocher pump station damaged and road to Kaskaskia Lock inundated.

36 Chester water works pumphouse is threatened by flood waters. Highway 61 is closed at the bend at St. Marys and a detour is set up through town.

35.5 In Perry County, Highway C is closed between County Roads 352 and 354 (the Levee Road).

35 U.S. Highway 61 in Ste. Genevieve County begins to flood. Also, Ste. Genevieve flood gates are closed at this level.

34.79 Kaskaskia Street near the Menard Prison begins flooding near this height.

34.7 The north parking lot at Menard Correctional Center begins flooding.

33.5 Water Street in Chester begins flooding.

32.5 The Road at Fort Gage Farm begins flooding at Menard Correctional Center.

32 In Perry County, Highway E is closed between County Road 322 and Levee Road (County Road 354). Also, Highway A is closed between County Roads 448 and 460 in southern Perry County.

28 Unleveed islands near Chester and the prison farm floods.

27 Flood Stage. Unprotected farmland on right bank begins to flood.

25 Degognia Fountain Bluff Levee gates are closed.

From the National Weather Service:


Historic Crests

(1) 49.74 ft on 08/07/1993

(2) 44.00 ft on 05/23/1995

(3) 43.32 ft on 04/30/1973

(4) 42.41 ft on 06/05/2013

(5) 41.02 ft on 05/05/1983

(6) 40.58 ft on 05/17/2002

(7) 39.83 ft on 06/30/1844

(8) 39.79 ft on 04/16/1979

(9) 39.74 ft on 05/02/2011

(10) 39.71 ft on 12/09/1982

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(P): Preliminary values subject to further review.


Recent Crests

(1) 31.80 ft on 07/12/2014

(2) 42.41 ft on 06/05/2013

(3) 38.35 ft on 04/25/2013

(4) 39.74 ft on 05/02/2011

(5) 30.06 ft on 03/03/2011 (P)

(6) 28.36 ft on 09/27/2010 (P)

(7) 36.34 ft on 06/30/2010

(8) 36.35 ft on 05/21/2010 (P)

(9) 31.55 ft on 04/30/2010 (P)

(10) 34.73 ft on 03/31/2010 (P)

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(P): Preliminary values subject to further review.


Low Water Records

(1) -4.30 ft on 01/02/1964

(2) -4.20 ft on 12/20/1963

(3) -4.00 ft on 01/03/1900

(4) -3.71 ft on 12/27/1989

(5) -2.60 ft on 01/04/1940

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