The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
323 LBD Artonish Boat Ramp
Primitive Boat Ramp over the asphalt laid down in a former era of bank stabilization, a method no longer practiced. There are no services within miles of here down dusty back roads.
323 – 321 RBD Black Hawk Island
Short willow island with a single ridge along its length that starts out high at the top end and gradually descends to the bottom end. Good protected camping in dense willows in high water, sandbars extend around its edges in medium water and become miles long in low water. An alternate back channel was formed in the flood of 2011 offering paddlers behind Palmetto another back channel to continue downstream an extra mile before re-entering main channel
321 – 319 LBD Palmetto Bend
There are three sand dune alcoves along this stretch of river left bank around Palmetto, which would offer good protection in easterly or southeasterly winds or weather, but are frequented by 4-wheelers, and might be private (the last one especially, since it has a permanent primitive camp set up on top).
Alternate Route to the Gulf of Mexico: the Atchafalaya River
And now a little over three hundred miles from the Gulf, the Mississippi brings you to its first possible distributary channel to get there, which by the way cuts the distance in half. Paddlers headed for the Gulf of Mexico are here afforded a wonderful alternate route down the “River of Trees,” the Atchafalaya River. It’s the route the river wants to take. You could just as easily go with the flow and follow along.
Here’s the choice: 1) Mississippi River — 300 miles of industry or 2) The Atchafalaya River — 150 miles of wilderness. I know this is a difficult choice. Especially if you had your heart set on the traditional route. Yes, you’ll miss New Orleans on the Atchaf’. But it will be a lot safer and potentially a much more rewarding river experience. Keep in mind, you can always drive back to New Orleans and enjoy the music and food on your way home after reaching the Gulf following the Atchaf. On the other hand, you may not ever have an opportunity like this to paddle down through one of the most spectacular biotas in the world. I personally have paddled both. I and the Rivergator team of experts recommend taking the Atchafalaya. If you are on the fence about which route to follow, go with the Atchaf. Keep reading below for the reasons why.
Every thousand years or so the Mississippi River jumps its banks and seeks a new route to the ocean. Bayou Teche, Bayou La Fourche, and Bayou des Allemands are all old river channels for ancient exits of the river. The Mississippi is overdue for a new route, and it seems to favor the Atchafalaya. But New Orleans and Baton Rouge would be left dry. And so the Control Structures allow some to go the way the river wants to go, but not all of it. For paddlers, this is an excellent opportunity to go the way of the river, not the way of man’s greed and ambitions.
Gulf-bound paddlers can follow the Atchafalaya Exit through the biggest river swamp in America, also known as the “River of Trees” for a superlative experience in one of the most prolific wetlands in North America. Take your choice here: the wild Atchafalaya or the very industrious (and dangerous) Mississippi. If you have enjoyed the wild places on the Mississippi, and don’t care much for more busy places with more power plants, more grain elevators and more scrap steel mills, the Atchaf’ would be the most beautiful completion of your epic adventure down the biggest river in North America. The neat thing is, it’s still the same water! The Atchaf’ is the Mississippi! Going down the Atchaf’ does not mean leaving the Mississippi. It means following the route the Mississippi wants to go (more on that later). In fact, approximately 30% of the Mississippi is allowed to flow down the Atchaf’ through one of the canals you are about to pass.
Staying on the Mississippi you will soon encounter very dangerous river conditions through Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Venice (including poor campsites with toxic air and water conditions). You will have to paddle several hundred miles of choppy crowded water sharing the main channel with sea-going freighters, cargo boats, re-supply vessels, and endless fields of barges as they fleet up for the long distance journey back up the river. Commonly known as “Chemical Corridor,” but also described as “Cancer Alley,” paddlers might want to add an oxygen face mask to their equipment list here and maybe a haz mat suit. Seriously. Some paddlers have gotten sick within this stretch when they ended up downwind of the wrong smokestack. You will be camping next to refineries, chemical plants, plastics manufacturing, and lots of coal-fired power plants. More toxins are dumped in the river here than any other piece of river in America. No more remote camping, no more swimming, no more quiet sections of river teeming with wildlife. This is a section of the Mississippi you paddle just to get through it.
Paddlers should consider taking the Atchafalaya River through its paradise of three distinct biotas: 1) the variegated bottomland hardwood forests, 2) the cypress/tupelo gum swamps, and 3) the marshy coastal plains. It also coincides with the heart of cajun country. To be sure, it’s not completely wild. To be sure, there are some pipelines, and a few small refineries; there are a few oil storage and processing installations; there are a few small communities to paddle through and a few bridges to go under. But they are few and far in between. There is very little sign of mankind and a lot of forests, swamps, lakes, bayous and back channels. The sky is uncluttered by cranes and powerlines, and the stars are bright at night. Baton Rouge and New Orleans are a distant glow on the horizon after dark. There is very little commercial traffic, and no giant tows with big waves. Tows here are limited to 2×3 barges maximum. But there are a lot of hunters and fishermen. The Atchafalaya is populated with Cajun river rats and hunting camps, and so it is a lived-in kind of wilderness, kind of like the Barranca del Cobre region of the Northern Sierra Madres, or the Navajo country of the Four Corners, very similar to the Lower Mississippi in days gone by, which was also thinly populated along its banks by all types of pioneers and people living off the river and the land, but who had become part of the wildness by their harmonious lifestyle. Almost 1/3 of the Mississippi River is diverted here as a way of protecting the City and Port of New Orleans, creating the 4th largest and the shortest big river on the continent. Why not go with the flow, and take the Atchafalaya?
If you chose the Atchafalaya route, keep on downstream past all of the various intake canals and prepare for mile 303.7 RBD to enter the Old River Lock and Dam. After locking through you have a six-mile canal to paddle through, and then it’s all free flowing water down the lovely Atchafalaya. Your journey will be blessed. You will experience the route the creator seems to be striving for. It’s always a blessing to go with the will of the creator!
Warning: do not attempt to follow any of the intake canals! Very dangerous strong currents could suck you through the turbines or under the gates. There is no open passage of free-flowing water. Very turbulent water conditions are found around and within these intake canals, especially at high water. Do not attempt to portage either. You will likely be arrested by the USACE.