The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Natchez to St. Francisville

306 LBD Angola Ferry

Private ferry for employees of Angola State Penitentiary.  Watch for cross-channel crossings at shift changes.  If you camp on Shreve’s Bar their lights burn brightly upstream.  Note: the Angola Ferry is no longer located at 300.5 (above Hog Point Towhead).

 

304.5 - 303 LBD Shreve’s Bar

Leaving the Tunica Hills at Clark Creek behind and entering Louisiana the river expands to its maximum mile-and-a-half wide as if breathing in deep and opening up its broad chest, and enters a long straight stretch that can be a white water commotion in a strong west wind, but is usually a sublime passage in a gently murmuring flow.  There is something particularly heavenly about the river in these places where it opens up and flows towards a mid-channel island, such as here as it approaches Shreve’s Bar.   Maybe it has to do with the big open reach, or maybe it’s the rippling water responding to the shallowing bottom, or maybe it’s the walls of trees on either side where you whoop and listen for the clear echo sure to follow on a quiet day.  Or maybe it’s the presence of the mysterious island gradually gathering shape and presence as you approach, or maybe it’s all of these factors.  Whatever it is, the colors of the murmuring river is a kind of nirvana, and once found is just as easily lost.

 

Best camping is usually found on the top end of Shreve’s Bar, at all water levels, although at lower water you could continue down either side for other options.  The island comes to a knife edge bottom with a narrow willow tree point that offers a low/medium water option for picnicking and camping.

 

Shreve’s Bar is named after Capt. Henry Miller Shreve -  American inventor and steamboat captain who opened the Mississippi, Ohio and Red rivers to steamboat navigation.  Shreveport, Louisiana, is named in his honor.

 

303.7 Old River Lock and Dam: Entrance to the Atchafalaya River

Go main channel around Shreve’s Bar for access to the Atchafalaya River, your best route to the Gulf of Mexico.  Also: direct access upstream to the Red River, Ouachita River, Bayou Bartholomew, and all other tributaries upstream.  Access to the Three Rivers WMA, Red River WMA, and Lake Ophelia NWR.

 

Fork in the Road.  Gulf-Bound Paddlers: here is where you must make your final decision about industry or wilderness.  Go right through the Old River Lock & Dam to get to the wild Atchafalaya River.  Or stay on main channel Mississippi for the industry.  You will be fine either route.  If you have gotten this far, you have obviously learned how to paddle the river in all conditions.    Still, one way might be torturous, and the other a peaceful culmination of all of the beauty you have experienced so far.  The road not taken.  The choice is yours.  Make it, and don’t look back.

The Atchafalaya River: Best Route to the Gulf

The 150 mile long Atchafalaya River makes for an enticing alternative for paddlers who want to avoid the heavy industry awaiting them below Baton Rouge.  Imagine paddling down the richest and largest river swamp in North America as opposed to paddling down the busiest and largest inland port in the world!   Unless you are dead-set committed to the traditional Mississippi route, most paddlers would do best to take the Atchafalaya route.  Paddlers can enter the Atchafalaya Canal right bank descending above Shreve’s Bar at mile 304 through the Old River Lock and Dam.  The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi and Red Rivers.  One third of the average daily flow of the Mississippi passes down the Atchafalaya, which makes it the shortest big river in America.  At nearly one-million acres, the Atchafalaya Basin is North America’s largest riverine swamp. It contains monstrous ecosystems of marshland, bottomland forests, lakes, bayous, and estuaries. The Atchafalaya (Native American for Long River) offers a baseline for big river health and ecosystem vitality.  The Atchafalaya Basin is a key estuary for nesting, breeding, and migration of 250 bird species, 60 species of reptiles & amphibians, and it is also the life-support system for close to 100 species of fish. One of the most profound aspects of the Atchafalaya River is its ability to improve water quality as the river runs its course to the Gulf.  (Its muddy deltas are examples of how the Mississippi River should be working below New Orleans, but isn’t because the Mississippi River water is not allowed to filter through the brackish wetlands, having been cut off by levees and canals) The disappearing coast of Louisiana is being saved along one of the Atchafalaya distributaries, called Wax Lake.  The Wax Lake channel is creating a totally new delta as the sediments of a nation fall out of the muddy flow and congeal to form fresh land.

 

306 - 302 Back Channel of Shreve’s Bar

The Back Channel of Shreve’s Bar is always flowing strong, and is the route of preference for paddlers, even at low water.  And as much for aesthetics as for practicality.  Aesthetically it is always more pleasing to paddle the back channel -- where the natural banks, big trees and extensive wetlands are found.  But usually the back channel is slower (less flow) and a longer route.  Not here.  Behind Shreve’s just as much river, and maybe more, seems to flow down the back channel. 

 

306 - 302 RBD Main Channel of Shreve’s Bar

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Shreve’s Island, the main channel is constricted, often crowded with towboats, and doesn’t seem to flow any faster.  If you do take the main channel, watch carefully for tows unexpectedly appearing out of the Lock Channel.  Downstream pilots get very cranky, also, when they are negotiating the very tight turn into the Lock, by having to swing their tail end 270 degrees out and into the main channel.  Lastly the main channel has to jig-jog through a weird broken bankside, where the current seems to stop in giant fields of huge blooming boils and confusing eddies.  This contrary situation is probably maintained for towboat entrance into the Old River Lock and Dam.