The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
62.8 – 54.6 LBD Devil’s Island/Swift Sure Towhead
Small sandbar up top good for low/medium camping, but goes under in high water. Devil’s Island Wildlife Management Area comprises 2741 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, and agricultural fields. Accessible by land in extreme low water. Picayune Chute flows along the eastern boundary of the Island, and the main channel Mississippi on the other. This area is on the unprotected side of the Mississippi River Levee and is subject to significant seasonal flooding.
56 – 53.7 LBD Minton Point Bar
Giant luxuriant Sandbar at low water, best camping above the Cape if the weather is good. You will find big a sandbar still at medium water, and even at (30SLG) you will find acres of good sand around Picayune Chute. At flood stage a thin sliver of sand will be found up against the forest at the mouth of Picayune Chute.
55.3 RBD Flora Creek
Flora Creek and Scism Creek enter the Mississippi side by side right bank descending at mile 55.3, opposte th bottom of Devil’s Island, and could offer quick off-channel protection in med or high water levels. Watch for upstream tows who tend to hug the Missouri bank for the sluggish currents.
54.5 RBD Juden Creek
Juden Creek is one of the last Ozark streams that you will see on the Middle Mississippi. This is a bittersweet goodbye to the end of the Missouri Hills and the beginnings of the Missouri Bootheel. The bitterness comes from having to bid farewell to these elegant forested bluffs and the crystal clear spring feed gravel bottomed streams that drain them. But it the simultaneously the sweet beginnings of the wildly fertile and profoundly prolific Missouri Bootheel, which is itself is a harbinger of the even bigger bottomlands beyond, the gargantuan floodplain of the Lower Mississippi River. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. If you are ready for a refreshing break, make landing (low/med water) or paddle up Juden Creek into the last of the Mississippi Hills and enjoy your goodbye. Approx 1,000 feet upstream is Twin Tree Park, and not far beyond the Juden Creek Conservation Area.
54.1 RBD Cape Rock
The Mississippi River route gets very interesting paddling into Cape Girardeau, as it gets squeezed between Cape Rock and the cross channel underwater dikes at Minton Point. These dikes were placed deep under the river to slow down river flow and make it easier for upstream tows, and make downstream navigation easier. For paddlers the current erupts into giant fields of inexplicable boils and whirlpools. THis is especially true at low water when all of the downstream current seems to disappear as the turbulence increases, which can be frightening in the presence of oncoming tows.
Cape Rock falls into the river in a series of layered limestone cliffs and ledges, which have been sliced by a few drainages. An old water intake tower is built on top of the first of these cliffs. Make a landing here for great views and perspective of the river, but watch for violent waves that can hit the shore after the passage of tows. Dewberry bushes found along the cliffs for fresh fruit in May, tall sycamores, cottonwoods and oaks in the forest above.
Middle Mississippi — Cape Girardeau Gage (CGG)
Low Water: 0-17
Med Water: 17-25
High Water: 25-32
Flood Stage: 32
1993 Flood: 48.94
Water Levels and paddling below Cape Girardeau (to Cairo)
Low Water 0-17CGG
At low water 0-17 on the Cape Girardeau Gage (0-17CGG) 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 Marquette 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 2-3 mph, with faster water encountered around some bends. At 5 CGG most back channels are still inaccessible by water. At 12 CGG 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: 17-25CGG
River speed in the main channel averages 5mph. You can still find big sandbars on big island like Rockwood, Marquette, Boston Bar. At 17 CG most back channels are open but flowing slow. At 25 feet CGG all back channel are open and flowing strong.
High Water: 25-32CGG
At 25 feet CGG 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 32 CG river speed in the main channel can reach 9mph around the bends and through narrows like the Cape Rock, Cape Bridge, Thebes Bridge and around the bottom end of some of the islands. Sandbars are mostly covered, but you can still find generous sandy parklands at the top end of big islands like Marquette, Burnham Bar, Bumgard Island, Boston Bar and Brown’s Bar.
Flood Stage: 32CGG
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.
1993 Flood: 48.94CGG