The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Putting in: Clay Street Landing/Yazoo River
Clay Street Landing (Vicksburg Boat Ramp on the US Army Corps Maps). Most expeditions leaving Vicksburg begin not on the Mississippi but on the tributary river the Yazoo, which flows through the heart of downtown and confluences with the Mighty Miss one mile downstream. There is a landing at the foot of Clay Street which is the best landing in the area. This is a wide landing with plenty of room for paddlers to load up and prepare departure amongst the fishermen and commercial vessels. Unless it is a strong north wind or west wind, you will find this to be a protected landing. Depending on rainfall and the Mississippi River levels, the Yazoo is normally flowing slowly here. But sometimes it is at a standstill when the big river is high. After heavy rain fall and a low Mississippi River it might be flowing swift and turbulent with chalky waters.
If driving to the landing, follow Clay Street through downtown Vicksburg, down the steep hill, 2 blocks West of Washington Street (Old Highway 61). The landing opens up just beyond the tall concrete seawall in front of you at the bottom of the hill. You can leave your vehicle overnight, and it should be safe. Hide all valuables. Don’t leave vehicle for extended periods of time (more than one night). For one thing, the river sometimes rises up against the seawall drowning everything on the landing. The other thing is that you will eventually be broken into. Your best option is to arrange shuttle, or find a safe place in downtown Vicksburg to park.
Paddlers on canoes, kayaks or stand up paddleboards follow the Yazoo River downstream along the Loess Bluffs of Vicksburg. Known as the “River of Death” the Yazoo River was once populated by Quapaws, Choctaws, and others Amerindians, and still is a vital route for commerce and transportation. Towboats use the Yazoo as far upstream as Greenwood. Today the Yazoo inhabits the Civil War channel of the Mississippi through downtown Vicksburg, and yields the best possible view of the battlefields. The Yazoo drains the Mississippi Delta and the Mississippi Hill Country. More blues musicians were born and raised along its banks (and tributaries) than probably any other river in the world!
Down the Yazoo to the Mississippi
Leaving the Clay Street Landing paddlers can enjoy the last mile of the Yazoo as it flushes out of the Mississippi Delta and enters the mother river. This section of the Yazoo is locally known as the “Yazoo Canal,” an unromantic naming of a legendary river which refers to the big scale earthwork done to reopen the Vicksburg riverfront after the Mississippi left it high and dry in the 1870s. The Yazoo normally runs a creamy yellow sweet with the succulent soils of the Mississippi Delta. Be vigilant for commercial traffic. There might be small tows pushing 1-4 barges back and forth between the big river and the Vicksburg Harbor (several miles upstream the Yazoo). Usually they run slow past the landing. All types of river traffic are found in the Yazoo Canal. Besides fishermen and workboats you might see the log barges, rock barges, petroleum barges, hot asphalt barges, big tows, small tows, the American Queen, the Viking Queen, and Queen of the Mississippi, the US Coast Guard, US Army Corps vessels, and etc, etc. There is a growing paddling community in Vicksburg, so hopefully you’ll see other canoeists, kayakers, and maybe a long distance raft. Unfortunately, the Sweet Olive went out of business and is no longer plying the muddy waters around Vicksburg. She was last seen pulled to the shore and listing dangerously on a falling river,
As soon as you push out into the gentle flow of the Yazoo you will see the mouth of the big river below and the trusses of the Vicksburg Bridge, the power plant downstream beyond. If you are carrying a VHF Marine radio this would be a good time to turn it on and adjust the squelch and listen in on channel 13 for any traffic in the area. This is a notoriously difficult bend of the river for towboats to get through and make final adjustments for safe passage between the towers of the bridge. You will want to be aware of all traffic and stay out of their way. Especially downstreamers.
Watch for gators as you paddle down the Yazoo. They are frequently seen sunning themselves along the West shore. While gators are rarely seen in the main channel of the Mississippi, they are common to tributaries like the Yazoo, and will become thicker and thicker along tributaries the further south you go. Like all cold blooded creatures they like sunning themselves along the banks of the river, which is your best chance for viewing. Are they dangerous? Canoeists and kayakers are fairly safe. In the law of the jungle you appear to be a much larger creature than they are, and they will always run away at your approach. On the other hand, from Vicksburg downstream you should be cautious along shorelines, especially in back channels, and even more so if you have children or dogs with you.
Mile 437: Entering the Mississippi
Paddlers starting their journey in Vicksburg will begin their Mississippi River adventure here with a bang: this is one of the most dangerous places on the entire Mississippi! Buckle on your lifejacket, batten down the hatches (put away valuables and strap down any essential gear), and turn on your VHF Marine radio to channel 13. If possible study your maps beforehand and listen to the weather forecast with an ear towards the wind. If the wind is calm, you can choose your route based on tow traffic. If there’s a strong wind out of the south (10-20mph) beware of the big waves that pile up below and downstream of the bridge, especially violent left bank and under the Eastern span. If the wind is 25mph or higher out of the south you should wait safely on shore until the winds calm.
Upon entering the Mighty Mississippi all paddlers should stay left bank descending following the boil line and enjoy the swift current whisking you downstream along the base of the Vicksburg Bluff. Not only is this the fastest water, but you will remain well out of the way of any downstream tows, who as mentioned above, become extremely nervous at this bend. Many tows and even more barges have met their demise at the Vicksburg Bridge. Here are a few of the considerations: STAY LEFT: 1) If a tow is coming downstream towards you out of Brown’s Point you’ll definitely want to stay left bank. 2) If the wind is calm and no towboats are steaming up under the bridge, your best route is left bank. GO RIGHT: 3) If there is a strong south wind and no downstream towboats are approaching from above, you might want to paddle hard for the right bank span of the bridge where the waves are less choppy and there is considerably less turbulence. 4) If there is a big towboat powering upstream and approaching under the bridge you might want to paddle hard to get to the calmer waters right bank descending around Delta Point. 5) If you are hoping to reach the sandbar at Delta Point (see below for more about Delta Point).
Follow the flow of the Yazoo and use it to help you enter the Main channel of the big river. The milky Yazoo meets the sometimes browner (higher water levels) sometimes greener Mississippi (lower water levels) in a series of boils. Paddle over these boils and enjoy the mixing of the colors. The Yazoo will hug left bank for several hundred yards downstream towards the bridge before finally succumbing completely to the mother river. As with all turbulence exercise appropriate caution with strong boils which can result in the formation of whirlpools.
437 RBD Delta Point
Opposite the mouth of the Yazoo River and downstream a half mile is an elegant sandbar with a spectacular view of the entire Vicksburg Bluff. You will enjoy the very best panoramic view available from this lovely picnic spot. In one sitting you can see all of Vicksburg from the pointed spire of the Illinois Monument (in the National Battlefield) through downtown and all the way down to the bridge and the ragged line of collapsing bluffs below. You could possibly camp here, but be ready for visitors which frequent this location both from land (ATV trail) and water (popular fishing spot). Spacious sandbar below 30VG. Possible sliver of sand up to 35VG. Most sand will be gone at 40VG. Forested areas are the last remaining dry ground at flood stage. At low water the sandbar extends well downstream towards the bridge and below, but as noted above you might have company in the form of ATV traffic, and of course the closer you get to the bridge the more you’ll hear the roaring of the road.