The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
79 – 77.5 RBD Cottonwood Bar
This small island makes a great campsite at all but the highest of water levels. A giant gravel bar forms top end in low water, presumably flushed out of the Ozarkan bluffs which cross the river close by above at Fountain Bluff and Grand Tower. These are the best rock/gravel beds on the Middle Mississippi River, when the river is below 20 SLG, and giant below 10 SLG.
Big river guide Braxton Barden shared a story from Cottonwood Bar during a late fall canoe trip that was slammed by an early polar vortex. Paddlers continually have to make decisions about the wind and the the weather, and their route for the day. It’s always best to err on the side of caution.
“After a pleasant stop in Grand Tower, we hopped back in our canoe. A thin layer of fog had developed during our stop for supplies that shrouded Tower Rock. Passing Tower Rock, we could hear the water rushing around the base of the formation. This sound, the fog, and the stories I’ve read and heard about Tower Rock made the decision to steer clear an easy one. As we continued the fog started to limit visibility. Luckily we reached the top of Cottonwood Bar which is a barren gravel covered sandbar at low water. The navigation channel is narrow and the space between the cans and the shore was like a country road. Mark kept an eye on the cans and I watched the shoreline. The deteriorating weather situation necessitated locating a campsite quickly. To further complicate our situation was the next day’s weather forecast, wind gusts up to 45 mph from the west. We stopped to scout for a suitable campsite and spotted a bald eagle perched above the perfect spot. It was a half circle cut in the mud bank with a sandy floor with three fallen logs. We gathered wood in the rain and built a fire. Once our fire was roaring we broke out the tarp and fashioned a shelter using the fallen logs as rafters. It was a wonderful respite to be out of the rain by a warm fire. The rain let up around 8 PM so we decided to pitch our tents. The wind during the night was blowing from the south so we constructed a windbreak by tying the canoe to the willows. At the break of day, we checked the forecast again and there was a small craft wind advisory in effect until 4 PM. We could have paddled up to ten miles that day with some protection from the bluffs, however, we decided it would be best to stay put. A decision neither of us liked very well. That is the problem with making decisions based on the unknown or advice from others. Just like Shorty’s ghost story, the weather forecast is a warning of sorts. It is possible to swim the river, however, not everyone can make it across without drowning. The days that the decision is made to go against the severe weather advisory and success is had despite the warning only sets you up for potentially catastrophic failure in the future. I usually don’t let bad weather keep me on land, but this time I didn’t have a good feeling about getting on the water. We spent our day off from paddling by eating as much as we could and some relaxing. I walked around the perimeter of the island and walked through the center of the woods. It was nice to have a slow day. My best pictures from the whole trip were taken during our day off. If we had decided to paddle that day, it could have ruined the rest of our trip which turned out to be successful.” (Braxton Barden)
New Heron Rookery: (March 28, 2017) there is a new heron rookery on a prominent tree south of the top of Cottonwood Island! MMRM 78! Right bank! The cool thing was threefold- there were about 15 egrets in the tree, kinda down lower, and then there were herons up above. AND, right as we slowed to take some pictures (hook up with Magique for those), a big flock of double breasted cormorants flapped up from there as well! Yahoo for the bird people! (More description to come. As witnessed by Mark River and Lena Von Machui and others on the Spring 2017 Rivergator Celebratory Expedition)
76.6 – 75.7 LBD Big Muddy Island
Big Muddy Island sits between Tower Island Chute and the Big Muddy River, and like its name suggests, there is a lot of mud here! Better camping elsewhere, but fantastic birding and wildlife viewing here.
75.7 LBD Big Muddy River
There is a primitive boat launch approx one mile up the Big Muddy from the Mississippi River. This launch is accessible from the levee at the bottom end of Tower Island Chute. The Big Muddy is the cypress dividing line. North of the Big Muddy there are few cypress trees anywhere to be found. But south of the Big Muddy you start finding cypress lined lakes (like Horeshoe Lake) and bayous (such as Cache River), and thick stands of cypress in isolated wetlands.
75.3 RBD Apple Creek
Paddlers will notice a line of red cliffs that line the river right bank descending along the Missouri shore for several miles between Cottonwood Island and Apple Creek. Apple Creek Conservation area and access is 2 miles off the river up Apple Creek at 75.3 RBD. Good access out of the wind, waves and other irrationalities of the big river. Remote access from Cape Girardeau via I-55, US 61, Mo C, and Mo CC. The Apple River carves its bends into cliffs made of layered limestone. If the water’s above 10 feet on the Chester Gage you can easily paddle out of the floodplain and into the rolling foothills of the Ozarks.
74.5 RBD Hines Boat Ramp (Dysfunctional)
Old Boat Ramp now dissected from river by railroad tracks. Possible emergency access from limestone shelf, across tracks to Mo Hwy 535.
74 – 63 LBD Hanging Dog Island
11 mile long Hanging Dog Island has migrated and joined the LBD Illinois shore, but returns to island status at flood stage. You can locate isolated campsites along the length of Hanging Dog Island. Spectacular views of the tall bluffs around Trail of Tears State Park. If it’s that time of day, and you’re ready to find camp, stay left bank and keep your eyes pealed downstream for upcoming sandy spots. There are plenty of choices in low and medium water levels, typically situated below the numerous dikes along this stretch, but very limited in high water. On windy days most locations will have protected camping in willow-woods behind, sometimes you’ll find beautiful sandy bluffs surrounding by open park-like forests. Good also for cold winter days, but thick mosquitoes in summer.
73.9 – 71.6 LBD Crawford Towhead
Good camping at top of island at all water levels up to bankfull. The back channel opens around 15SLG, with slow inflow at 17SLG, but strong flow at 25SLG.
71.6 RBD Hanging Dog Bluff
Best med/low campsites are found opposite Trail of Tears State Park, the upper end has some nice choices, between LBD 68 and 67.