The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Appendix

Gear Selection

Most elements of boat selection and gear are up to the experience of the individual paddler. Paddle-camping is very similar to backpacking, with limited space and a premium on function in adverse conditions (a stove that still works, after becoming covered in wet sand for example).  A review of the substantial guides on backpacking is an excellent resource for river camping with a canoe or kayak. Bringing a change of clothes in a dry-bag is highly recommended. Dry clothes can make you feel 100% better after a long day on the river and could save your life in the event of an emergency. Note: Cell phone coverage on the river can be surprisingly good and so a waterproof case for your phone can be a good investment.

 

A touring kayak is an ideal vessel for paddling the Missouri River.  These boats are fairly fast and maneuverable and offer a lower profile to the wind than typical of a canoe.  However, kayaks shorter than 10 feet can be difficult to steer, as they tend to track to one side with every paddle stroke. Canoes can be a good choice due to increased storage space and the ability to access gear while on the river.  In comparison, many kayaks have closed storage compartments that require you to open them from shore.  Paddle boards are also proving more popular each year for day trips on the river

There is no one magical boat for the Missouri River; however it is a very good idea to check that your boat has floatation. This is often provided in the form of foam blocks in the bow and stern of a canoe, or a closed storage area with bulkhead on a kayak.  The current on the river is very strong and could easily take full control of a capsized boat that did not have some type of floatation. 

 

High-end composite and wooden boats are fine for the Missouri River, as the risk of hitting rocks can be minimized by staying clear of the wing dams or shore revetments.  Plastic boats offer the advantage of being both cheaper and resilient to abuse. Any good outdoor shop should be able to help you make a good boat selection.  Keep in mind that the canoe you may already have in the back yard will probably work just fine.  Finally, going down the Missouri River in an inner tube or small inflatable raft is truly a bad idea.  These vessels have severely limited directional control required to safely avoid barges, recreational boats or other hazards in the river. 

 

Navigation

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining shore-based beacons (signposts) along with in-river buoys marking the channel for the entire lower Missouri River.  Learning to read this system will allow a paddler to tell where the channel of the river is located.  A brief summary of the United States Coast Guard  Aids to Navigation system used on the Missouri River is provided by the following link. Navigation Aids Sheet (link is external).

 

Of special interest to paddlers is the fact that the shore beacons also have the river mileage posted on them.  These are given as miles traveled upriver from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (near the city of St. Louis). Such mileage indicators can be typically found every 3-4 miles on the river.  By observing them, you always know in general where you are.  This combined with the knowledge of the river mile of your take-out point and you can determine how well your trip is going and estimate how long it will take to get to your destination.

 

Understanding the navigation system also lets you know exactly where a barge will have to travel if you encounter one. The barge will have to stay in the river channel.  Knowing where the main channel is, a paddler can easily move to the appropriate side to wait for the barge and its waves to pass by. This can be analogous to routine task of walking on a sidewalk next to a road. Simply by knowing where the main channel is, you also know where the barge must travel. It is important to remember that they cannot steer around you, therefore you must move out of the way of any barge traveling the river. 

 

The Unites States Coast Guard has also produced a booklet full of good information on boating navigation in general. The rules that guide safe interactions with power boats, navigation light requirements for night travel, conventions for how bridges are marked for safe passage and much more are provided in this document.  An especially useful section is the one that outlines in detail the Western Rivers Navigation System

(link is external), which is the convention adopted for the Missouri River.

 

Navigating the River Safely

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining shore-based beacons (signposts) along with in-river buoys marking the channel for the entire lower Missouri River.  Learning to read this system will allow a paddler to tell where the channel of the river is located.  A brief summary of the United States Coast Guard  Aids to Navigation system used on the Missouri River is provided by the following link. Navigation Aids Sheet (link is external).

 

Of special interest to paddlers is the fact that the shore beacons also have the river mileage posted on them.  These are given as miles traveled upriver from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (near the city of St. Louis). Such mileage indicators can be typically found every 3-4 miles on the river.  By observing them, you always know in general where you are.  This combined with the knowledge of the river mile of your take-out point and you can determine how well your trip is going and estimate how long it will take to get to your destination.

 

Understanding the navigation system also lets you know exactly where a barge will have to travel if you encounter one. The barge will have to stay in the river channel.  Knowing where the main channel is, a paddler can easily move to the appropriate side to wait for the barge and its waves to pass by. This can be analogous to routine task of walking on a sidewalk next to a road. Simply by knowing where the main channel is, you also know where the barge must travel. It is important to remember that they cannot steer around you, therefore you must move out of the way of any barge traveling the river. 

 

The Unites States Coast Guard has also produced a booklet full of good information on boating navigation in general. The rules that guide safe interactions with power boats, navigation light requirements for night travel, conventions for how bridges are marked for safe passage and much more are provided in this document.  An especially useful section is the one that outlines in detail the Western Rivers Navigation System (link is external), which is the convention adopted for the Missouri River.

 


General Safety Guidelines

The lower Missouri River is really not an appropriate place to learn to canoe or kayak for the first time. Learning basic paddling skills is best done on sheltered waters and under the guidance of an experienced paddler.  The Missouri River is a very large and powerful river, with significant changes in both river level and paddling conditions. As a result the River can present some special challenges for any paddler. Some observations on the unique aspects of the River are provided in this section.

 

A boating safety on the Lower Missouri River brochure was produced during the Lewis and Clark bicentennial by the Missouri Lewis and Clark Public Safety Planning Committee. Reviewing this document prior to planning a trip is a good start to a successful and enjoyable Missouri River experience.  The American Canoe Association (ACA) also provides a list of safety tips that is well worth reading: http://www.americancanoe.org/?page=top_10

 

The best way to get on the Missouri River for the first time is to accompany a paddler who is familiar with the river or with an organized group or guide service. You are always responsible for your own safety when boating. It is important that you familiarize yourself with the challenges presented by the Missouri River.

 

Jumping Asian Carp

Invasive Asian carp have regrettably populated much of the lower Missouri River over the last decade.  These fish were brought to North America for use in fish farms and soon escaped from the aquaculture facilities.  The carp have since found America’s big rivers to be ideal habitat. These large bodied fish compete for food with native species and have created concern surrounding the long term impact to large river ecosystems.

 

One variant of these invasive fish (the silver carp) have garnered significant media attention for their bad habit of leaping vigorously into the air when disturbed.  This is most often observed when a power boat travels at slower speeds in backwater

tributaries of the river.  Specifically, the rumbling of an outboard engine seems to agitate the fish greatly. Such situations can create dramatic scenes with multiple fish leaping into the air in panic at the vibrations from a passing boat.  While there is no doubt that this has the potential to be a hazard to a kayaker, as these fish can be 1-2 feet long and weigh 10-20 lbs., this behavior is most often confined to slower water behind the wing dike structures or in the creeks feeding into the Missouri River where the carp congregate to feed. 

 

Conversely, it is rare to see carp leaping in the faster flows of the main channel.  Prudence may dictate that kayakers show some caution when paddling in the slower waters behind wing dams or when being passed by a power boat.  Keep in mind that actual physical contact with paddlers by leaping fish is very uncommon and most days a paddler will not witness any jumping carp while on the river.  For more information the problem of invasive fish species you may want the review documents provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation on this subject.

 

Chain of Rocks Hazard

If you desire to finish a trip on the Missouri River by traveling down the Mississippi River to the St. Louis Arch, please know there is a significant hazard along your path. You cannot simply head down the main flow of the Mississippi River towards St. Louis. Below the confluence of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River you will encounter the remains of a natural geologic formation and an old river control structure. This creates a river-wide set of whitewater rapids, containing submerged concrete hazards and old construction rebar. Passage though these turbulent waters would be very dangerous. One option is to use the lock and dam. While passage through a lock and dam is possible in a small craft, it takes some time and is usually very intimidating. The other option is to keep to the east bank (river left, facing downstream) and make sure you take out on the Illinois side of the river just above the rapids. After a 200-yard portage from this location, it is possible to re-enter the river below the rapids. Keep in mind that the river front near St. Louis is typically very busy, with barges plying the river and moored along the banks. A paddle trip down to the Arch presents some complex hazards to paddlers and should not be taken lightly.

 

By Bryan Hopkins, Water Resources Center, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. For more maps, photos and more description for the Missouri River Trail, please go visit: www.missouririverwatertrail.org.