The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
13 LBD Cache River Diversion Canal
The Cache River used to enter the Ohio River in between Mounds City and Urbandale, both upstream of Cairo, but now it enters the Mississippi 13 miles above Cairo, and about 20 miles from its old mouth. Go figure. Such is the nature of nervous flood fearing landowners and the never-ending work of busy engineers. Like beavers, waterways are there for them to push and pull as they see fit. Unlike beavers they usually are intent on draining the landscape, and not increasing water coverage.
10.2 – 7.7 LBD Boston Bar
Boston Bar hugs the left bank descending and creates a moody scene, partly due to the massive piles of driftwood that get mashed deep into its woods. Good low and medium campsites are found at the top end of Boston Bar on either side of the Boston Chute, and also at the bottom end of the island. But all dry land with good camping disappears in high water and paddlers will have to seek dry landings elsewhere. You could make an emergency stop in the tangled top end, but the mosquitoes and poison ivy will be in your face. You might want to avoid the bottom end if you are sensitive to noise: the I-57 bridge is close by and you will hear rumbling trucks and whining vehicles all night long. Angelo Towhead would be a good alternative.
10.2 – 7.7 LBD Boston Chute
You can enjoy a three mile passage through the bottomland forests lining Boston Chute, but be wary of a cross channel dike at bottom end which causes 3 foot whitewater waves in medium water levels.
7.5 Interstate 57 Bridge
Vertical Clearance: 107.3 feet minus Cairo Gage. As with all bridges, avoid getting too close to pylons supporting the bridge structure. Water pushes strongly against pylons on top end, and turbulent waters swirl below.
5 – 1.8 LBD Angelo Towhead
Angelo Towhead is the last island on the Middle Miss, and makes for excellent picnicking or camping, and at certain water levels its back channel is a whitewater roller coaster. Angelo is a god all-season, all level camp island, but sometimes it’s difficult to access the top end because of a wrap-around rock dike. Cairo, Illinois, is not far over the Angelo Chute, in fact the edge of town is just about a mile away. But you could be in Outer Mongolia so remote and wild this island feels! Typical to muddy river towheads and islands, best camping is usually found top end and around the outside belly, low and medium water, and top end only in high water. The dikes have been notched, and there is a private sandbar below the 2nd dike at low and medium water levels that would make for an idyllic last camp on the Middle Miss, away from the tows and other traffic.
5 – 1.8 LBD Angelo Chute
WARNNG: 3-foot drop over rock dike at 24CGG. Very fast and very turbulent opening LBD along mainland bank. As you leave the main channel you will be confronted with a wall of rock the size of the Great Wall of China (t seems like) that completely occludes Anglo Chute, except for a narrow notch found tight against the Illinois shore, LBD at mile 5.3. This route is open at 20CGG through dangerous clefts in rock wall. Best done 28CGG or higher. In medium water the currents can be ferocious diving through this notch and into the narrow channel below, with high muddy banks to your left. Enjoy the ride and look for good landings bank right to stop and stretch your legs or set up camp. A smaller tertiary channel is found in between Anglo proper and a sliver of island above as the water concentrates into the Chute behind. A middle down the Chute you will encounter a second dike, side to side, but also notched. Look for the tongue of water going through the notch (found towards the right back descending, against Angelo Towhead).
1.3 Cairo Highway Bridge
Last bridge on the Middle Mississippi River! Looking under this bridge you can see the confluence and the end of the Ohio River beyond. The excitement is building: the last mile of the Middle Mississippi River, and the thrill of the biggest river confluence in North America. Enjoy the feeling as you float under the bridge and paddle towards the river’s meeting point, Fort Defiance. Vertical Clearance: 114.2 feet minus Cairo Gage. The Cairo Bridge is anchored in the sand that was carried down by the melting ice cap. No rock here on downstream, unless you call the Loess formation “rock.”
Cairo, Illinois, is the logical place for paddlers to start or complete their journeys on the big river, but it’s not a particularly beautiful of friendly place to stop, and camping is not easy. Poor Cairo once bustled with the vibrant life of a thriving river town and a very productive economy. You can see it in the amazing architecture of the downtown buildings. The US Custom House for example. But history was not graceful to the metropolis, and much of it is now abandoned, and has the feel of a ghost town. Fortunately you can resupply groceries at the Wonder Market, and find mouth watering BBQ at Shemwell’s Bar-B-Que (both located along Washington Avenue, Hwy 51). The Cairo Public Library is one of the architectural gems of the town, and is located at 1609 Washington Avenue, (618) 734-1840).
Your choices for landing The Fort Defiance boat ramp up the Ohio several hundred yards is usable in high water, but at low or medium water it clogs up with mud. Or you could continue up the Ohio and paddle upstream another mile or so to the downtown Cairo ramp, located behind its seawall. But you would have to negotiate fleeted barges, towboats coming and going, barge maneuvering, and worker tows plowing in and out leaving crashing wakes.