The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Baton Rouge to New Orleans to Venice
The last 225 miles of the Lower Mississippi River is also the most dangerous and most demanding. Warning: for expert paddlers only. The fecund wilderness of the sprawling Mississippi River floodplain disappears above Baton Rouge and is replaced by a chaotic global shipping lane. 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. You will be camping next to refineries and chemical plants, 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. Some highlights include a possible pull-out for fresh chickory coffee and powder-sugar dusted beignets at the Moonwalk in Jackson Square (mile 95). While you’re at it, resupply with Po-Boys and fresh fruit & veggies in the French Market. And then head on downstream towards Venice, the Head of Passes, where the Mighty Mississippi splits into a maze of channels through the birdsfoot Mississippi Delta. Paddle down one of the channels to the Gulf and camp with a view towards South America. The next day turn around and paddle back upstream to Venice, or hire a fishing boat for a shuttle.
The Mississippi connects the two big river cities of Louisiana in a lyrical curving passage of heavy industry, commercial traffic, ancient trade routes and colorful history. Put in below the State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge and embark on this epic journey downstream through proud parishes and storied places like Bayou Manchac, Bayou Lafourche, Saint James, La Place, Audubon Park, and Algiers, passing by old channels that the Mississippi used to follow to the Gulf of Mexico, camping on the very last mid-channel islands on the main stem Mississippi River (Plaquemine & Bayou Goula Towheads), alongside the busiest concentration of graineries & refineries in North America, lots of scrap steel operations and stinky plastics production plants, more strange repulsive smells than you’ll ever paddle through anywhere else in the world, except maybe the German Ruhr, or the Chinese Yangtze. The industrial wasteland is fortunately broken up with views of old catholic church steeples rising razor sharp over the levee, and by architectural wonders in bridges like the Huey P. Long, and the Greater New Orleans Bridge (last Bridge on the Mississippi River). You will paddle along the ancient routes of the great tribes of North America, whose rumored riches were later pursued by Cabeza de Vaca & Hernando DeSoto, little did they know that the wealth was contained in the land itself and the omnipotent river meandering through. The Cajuns journeyed by big canoe along these waters after being expelled from Acadia and found their new homeland in the bayous & prairies of South Louisiana and made a cultural paradise and music almost equal to the excitement & tragic beauty of the river. Nothing will match the romance of a river arrival into New Orleans. Imagine making a landing directly into the French Quarter on the levee at the Moonwalk, with the St. Louis Chapel projecting heavenward from Jackson Square, Jax Brewery on one side and the French Market on the other. The campsites can be creative & challenging, sometimes in the proximity of power plants, sometimes on the levee, sometimes on muddy riverbanks.
Contrary to all expectations, the river seems to get younger as it approaches its final destination, getting deeper, more mysterious, more mystical, and more playful, allowing industry and commercial transportation only on its surface all the while remaining aloof and keeping its power and beauty hidden down deep just beyond the complete ambitions of humanity. Oftentimes paddlers are challenged by abrupt right-angle bends and a fast moving freighter nearby, paddlers beware at Forty-Eight Point, Bringier Point, Point Houmas, Helvetia Point, Brilliant Point, College Point, Magnolia Point, and Forty-Eight Mile Point. The river is deep at these bends, over 200 feet in places. The natural deepest hole in the entire Mississippi Drainage is off Algier’s Point (opposite Jackson Square), where it dives to 250 feet deep.
Most Rivergator sections are at least 90% wilderness and no more than 10% industry. In this section of river, the converse is true, with at least 90% heavy industry and maybe 10% woods and wetlands. Any journey down the Mississippi is a journey filled with superlatives, the biggest, the widest, the greatest, and etc — this section of river is no different, except instead of just being the biggest and best of nature, it is the biggest and the most gargantuan of post-industrial America. While not for everyone, this section of river, if approached with a good measure of precaution and careful planning, can be the education of a lifetime and an exciting adventure that truly can’t be equaled anywhere on earth.
Warning: for expert paddlers only. Note: if you have successfully paddled from the headwaters, you are now expert by light of the fact you got this far. Still, all paddlers should exercise extreme caution and patience. Paddle wisely. Use sailor’s sixth sense. Avoid during hurricane season. Go to shore and stay there in any bad weather or troubling situations.