Beginner planning Mississippi Trip

I am planning a canoe trip down the Mississippi River starting in Lake Itasca, MN. I honestly don’t have a whole lot of experience canoeing. Am I crazy for planning this?

I am looking around for a nice solo canoe. I’m looking at both the Old Town Guide 119 and also the Old Town Pack. Obviously the Guide is more on the cheaper end, is a bit heavier, and probably much slower. Any suggestions for this trip?

How are the waters on the Mississippi starting from Lake Itasca? From what I know, the current is slower in that part of the river. Is it generally easier up at the starting point than, say, down between Iowa and Illinois?

Any recommendations or advice is greatly appreciated!

the headwaters of the Miss is slower & narrower than Minneapolis & south. Still ice on lake Itasca, but rivers are open. Don’t know how far you’re planning to paddle, but here’s a link to the MN DNR site where you can view maps of various sections, with water campsites, put ins, take outs etc… Have fun !

OT Pack down the Mississippi ?
I only have 4 years in a Canoe myself and I do have an

OT Pack that I use for fishing. Wenonah Argosy in Royalex for river paddling around the Midwest.

There’s NO F’in Way I’d try to go on the Mississippi

with a loaded OT pack below MN. The Mississippi is

a BIG river down there with lots of barge traffic now

that there’s water in the river again after last summer.

I think you’ll need a tandem canoe rigged as a solo

for load carrying capacity but you may get away with

a longer Trip Solo type. You won’t be able to just pull over anywhere and get a Motel Room. Also restocking along the way will require planning.

But a 12 ft. long tub like a Pack ?

Other than that it sounds like an Adventure (with Capital A).

Just my considered opinion.

Larry S

Fort Wayne, I

yup, a little crazy
I hate to squelch people’s enthusiasm for adventure but I think you’re being a little unrealistic. I suggest you wait until your local outfitters start renting canoes (probably after Memorial Day) and then plan a couple of 3 or 4 day paddles on the nearest large river to see what it feels like to cover some distance on a sizable waterway with all your camping gear and supplies. Remember you will have to carry water, food, cook stove, shelter, bedding, extra clothes and safety equipment. Also, have you considered what you would do for emergency communication? You will likely not have cell phone service in many areas and have you considered how you would keep one charged anyway?

River flow is variable and if there were heavy storms any section of it could get nasty quickly and be beyond your capabilities. You also need to know all the regulations for traveling on a river that has major commercial barge and ship traffic.

Neither of the canoes you are looking at would have enough capacity or performance for such a journey. It would be kinda like taking a golf cart coast to coast on the Interstate.

I’m not saying you should abandon the idea, just work up to it. There are less daunting rivers that you could do shorter and more reasonable trips on that would allow you to progress to the level of experience and gear shakedown for a Mississippi voyage. YOu need to take at least a weeklong paddle somewhere to assess whether such a huge commitment is something that you would really WANT to do.

You will enjoy canoeing more if you
spend a few years paddling local lakes and rivers, building skills, camping on weekends, and developing your own tastes for river activity.

Nearly all rivers have boring, stupid, or dangerous sections. Why not paddle the BEST sections of 100 rivers rather than the entirely of the Mississippi?

I’ve paddled rivers in over 40 of the lower 48 states, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that I have never paddled on the Mississippi, and have never paddled the entire length of any large river.

Neither of your choices
are suitable for your intended trip. Canoeing–especially where you intend to go–is not a “no skill required” sport. In my opinion you need some serious experience and skill to attempt the trip. Do some research on others who have done the trip to fully understand the conditions/dangers/necessary equipment.

Not saying don’t go, just make certain you have the requisite prep for the reaity of all you will encounter. That is a serious undertaking.

Likely outcomes
In order of probability, most likely to least likely.

You canoe will swamp, you will lose it an and all your gear. Swim to shore and be forced to make your way home with nothing but the wet clothes on your back.

You will die.

You will complete the trip.

This to think about.
What I’ve seen time and time again is someone gets an "idea’ in their minds and then they plan very little and wonder why they only for a couple weeks and are done with the trip.

First off, the two canoe you mentioned are SHORT, you are better with something LONGER especially with little experience. It will save you a lot of fighting the winds and current. You may want to get a deked canoe or something like an EddyLine Shasta…I know three solo paddlers using this boat and each did a 6-month 2800 mile trip.

A gal is currently paddling Source-TO-Sea of the Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico in one too. is her blog.

Contact the two FaceBook Groups that pertain to Miss Paddlers…they have a dozen people on there that have done the entire river!!! And are a wealth of info.

ITS NOT the canoeing that is going to wear you out its going to be the mental game…long hot days, huge winds, big sea,s bugs, sunburned, camping on the ground day after day, eating a poor diet etc etc…Are you ready for that first? Go and see if you can even camp in a tent for a week before heading on such a big trip. Most people get all gun-ho!!! And plan a couple months and end up floundering and making a fool of themselves. They dont prepare mentailly.

May want to use a sea kayak 18-footer at least. More cramped but may be more stable for you in the long run. I know of plenty who have gone all the way to the gulf of mexico too in open canoes…it can be done but there is more to it than that.

Google Phatwater
Give it a try this year. Get a taste of what you’re talking about.

Similar advice as others

– Last Updated: May-10-13 11:30 PM EST –

It's clear that you need to become more familiar with canoeing before choosing a boat or embarking on such a trip. All I have to say has been touched on, but I'll provide a slightly different take.

1. Both of those boats are WAY too small. You'll find there's just not enough room for your gear, and if you find a way to pile it in there, you'll be too overloaded (consider the fact that your outstretched legs will take up one-quarter of the length of either of those boats, and that's within the prime gear-storage area too). Paddling from a kneeling position will open up room for another large pack, but are you experienced enough to paddle comfortably all day while kneeling? In any case, both of those boats will be s-l-o-w.

2. As far as paddling such a distance, and paddling in a variety of conditions, you need to see what you are getting into before assuming you can just do it. Canoes are not "easy" to paddle solo, and though most people who can zig-zag down a small river while bumping into rocks and tree stumps along the way think they are doing just fine and know all that they need to know, the fact is, such people quickly find out that they truly are completely out of control in strong wind or when maneuvering in current if the situation is such that the consequences of mistakes actually matter (either that, or they just blindly assume that when things go wrong, it was bad luck and no one else could have done any better - just look at the carnage on any swift river where there are a lot of rental boaters and you'll see that level of ignorance over and over (Like they say, you can't know what you don't know!)). You WILL encounter strong wind and tricky current on this trip, and the consequences of not truly being in control WILL matter. Even in nice conditions, most beginners will be sick of paddling a solo canoe after just a few miles (tandem paddling is much more forgiving of poor technique, so don't use that experience as your reference), and carrying a load of gear only makes it worse. You really do need to develop some skill in order to make all-day cruising into a reality. THEN, once you can do that, you can start to worry about paddletothesea's advice about dealing with the mental fatigue.

3. It would really help to have enough interest in canoeing that getting experience ahead of time doesn't seem like extra work that you'd rather skip. Certainly there have been others who've paddled the whole length of the Mississippi without having the mindset or skills of a paddling enthusiast, but clearly you need more exposure to this than you've gotten so far if you are going to be reasonably prepared. Get some practice, and ideally, do it for the fun of it rather than because you have to.

Here is Water Trail info for our area

That said I do agree with the others about.

Considering a longer boat, camp out of it in lots of conditions, and do a few high mileage days in a row.

This kind of trip inspires many is attempted by the brave and completed by a few who luck and planning came together for. I have pulled out 5 days/85 miles into a 6d/ 100 mi trip. Due to poor nutrition sapping my strength (many don’t consider this) and poor choice of sleeping bag, size vs/warmth.

Look at this link, Bob is a great guy with a very positive outlook on life. He had built a lot of skills, including hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. So kayaking just added one more dimension to his next epic trip.

It may upset the purists but have you considered a kayak? This trip has been done by both types of boats, and each has it’s advantages.

Always tie your boat to a tree far above the water. Last month five of us paddled 5 days, 133 miles on the MS from St Louis to Cape Girardeau, MO. The river came up 13’ while we were on it nearly reaching some of the boats one night.

Contact me if you need help with logistics in MO.



No way, but it’s been done in rec kayak
I concur that such a trip is very infeasible for a novice in such a short and clunky canoe. I don’t think you would die, but simply give up after incurring many difficulties.

I know an experienced paddler who did the length of the Mississipi in a cheap rec kayak. In fact, he continued on out into the Gulf to a finish somewhere along the Mississipi or Alabama coast. He also paddled that rec kayak from Florida to the Bahamas.

Can’t remember his name, but he used to own the Canoe Outpost on the Ocklawaha River in Florida. He never wanted to put my outrigger canoe on his trailer for fear of damaging it (the canoe). He also once cut a stuck padlock off my cartopping cable lock system with a big bolt cutter he had. Another time he was almost drowned when he was pinned under a giant sweeper tree while trying to clear the obstructed river with his chainsaw. He broke his leg and lost that $1000 chain saw in the process.

Do it!

– Last Updated: May-11-13 3:25 PM EST –

by the time you get to Mpls, your canoe skills will be up for anything farther downriver, and the river isn't very big for most of that first part. But, you can do a lot better than the two canoes that you mention. Buy a good quality used canoe, solo if you can find one or something like a royalex 16 ft. penobscot.
I once met an old lady while portaging my canoe through town who stopped and told me how she had canoed from Itasca to Minneapolis as a teenager.
A lot of people try it and don't complete it, but a lot more people think about it and never try it.


– Last Updated: May-11-13 5:00 PM EST –

"Nearly all rivers have boring, stupid, or dangerous sections. Why not paddle the BEST sections of 100 rivers rather than the entirely of the Mississippi?"

This really cracked me up, I came to the same conclusion paddling through poop in the Hudson in Yonkers after a rainy day, definitely words to live by....

WInd Waves Weather
If I were you I’d learn to read the water first. I met a paddler last year who did it in a Wenonah WIlderness. It did a wonderful job for him. It’s a true solo canoe. I paddle a Clipper Sea 1 on the Mississippi. Best boat I’ve ever owned for big water wind and waves. I’ve also paddled the mississippi for a week in a Wenonah Prism. Very nice unless you get a big quartering tailwind. Then it’s a lot of work to keep it from weathercocking. In any case you need to learn how to read the water in order to stay alive. One mistake on the Mississippi and you’ll never get a second chance. Learn to read the water!!!

Watch these to get idea
Neat series of 20+ episodes of these guy’s trip down river. Give someone a very good idea of what is in store when doing the Mississippi river.

Miss R
Listen to Willowleaf and the others. This is becoming a familiar scenario- newbie wants to paddle all summer, solo, with no experience.

Canoes capsize more than all other water craft put together. Big rivers with barge traffic, large power boat wakes, storms, water diversion structures, sweepers, etc require big boats and big skill. Maybe in a couple of years. Start on lakes, move to easy rivers and build your skills. I like a tandem boat for paddling solo on big water.

you can increase your odds of success
with lots of preparation. Follow your dreams but realize if you do your homework first you’ll stand a better chance at success. Each year many folks start out from Springer Mt. in the early Spring with the hope of completing the Appalachain Trail. The folks that finish their journey in Maine are the ones who are fortunate enough to stay healthy, and committed to seeing it through even if they had little prior hiking experience before doing “the trail”. They are not necessarily the most prepared, but it helps. I think the goal of paddling the entire Mississipi is much the same as a long distance hike but a bit more dangerous if things go wrong. Follow your dreams but do your homework first. Posting here was a great first step toward following that dream. You want the reality to be even better than the dream itself!

Mississippi river…

– Last Updated: May-17-13 9:36 AM EST –

Did a couple of hundred milers "back in the day".
Never capsized, but that was what I feared the most.
In some stretches, the Mississippi is a very swift, and a very wide river.
The chances of you towing your canoe to a river bank if you capsize in one of those swift, wide sections of the river is slim to none. Just getting yourself to shore could be a life lesson.
I know one thing; you'll be a long way downstream if/when you do get out, and your canoe will end up way down stream.......somewhere, maybe above water, maybe not.

We encountered 2 huge whirlpools strong enough to spin the canoe 360 degrees in a matter of seconds, and we had to paddle hard to get out of them.

We encountered a few large diameter, long lengths of trees, that just popped up to a height of 2 to 4 feet above the water with absolutely no warning.

Barge wakes; barges will not stop, swerve, or slow down for you! Don't play ride the surf on barge wakes; big mistake!
Rip rap diversion dams; some under water.
Half sunk channel markers that pop up unexpectedly.
Watch out for fishing lures in low hanging trees.
Huge debri field floating in, or on top of the water in eddies. Tires, refrigerators, car parts, freezers, washers & dryers,a bathtub, couches, barrels, lumber, parts of buildings, dead cows, dogs, cats,raccoon, beaver, fish, clothes, wood boxes, metal shipping containers, etc. Use your imagination to come up with other items we saw. Some very nasty stuff!

Met some great people, and some real super asses. Had kids throw sticks, and rocks at us & shoot bb guns at us.

If you leave your canoe & gear on a beach to walk to a town for water/food/etc; your canoe & gear may be there when you get back. Then again, they may be gone.........or at best you'll be missing some gear.

Have stepped out of canoe in slightly over ankle deep water at sand bars, and immediately sunk to above my knees in mud. Not as easy to get out as you might think.

I survived without much training, but I would not suggest it to any novice.I'd never go back out there again; unless I had a minimum of 2 trustyworthy & experienced paddlers with me.

Carry a comprehensive first aid kit, plenty of sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, more than one flashlight, spare batteries, and lots of water.

The Mississippi river is heavily polluted.


thanks for sharing that link
I enjoyed WATCHING. When it comes to the Mississippi I prefer to be a spectator but for others it is a dream trip. The pizza and barbecue did looked tasty though.