Paddling the Lower Mississippi River from Natchez

I intend to paddle the Big Muddy about 50 miles over a long weekend in a couple of weeks with a group of friends. We’ve done it several times before, but the low water levels this year leave me wondering what’s in store. Our ideal water level is 30’ at Natchez and it’s been as high as 48’. However this year is looking more like 12-14’. The sandbars will stretch for miles and driftwood for campfires may be 1/4 mile from the shore. I’m looking forward to it, as it’s always an adventure. The river changes every year.

Has anyone else paddled it with the river so low like it is now?

I am currently reading Rinker Buck’s book about “Floating the Mississippi River.”
Canoes are highly maneuverable. You can float in shallow water. You can portage or drag your boat if you need to. 12-14 feet is still a lot of water.

Check out these links: and

John Ruskey is involved in both organizations. And, he is on the Lower Miss River weekly and has guided paddles of the entire Lower Mississippi for over 20 years.

It would seem to me that lower water levels would be an advantage. Aside from the opportunity for bigger and better camping areas, lower levels will keep the large boat and barge traffic in the deeper portions of the waterway and likely away from you. Beware though the sandy beaches may hold pockets of quicksand where the river has recently dropped. I have encountered this on the Red River and it’s no fun at all.

The run you are suggesting has the most boat traffic of any on the Miss R. Large barge strings pushed by tugs have visibility problems going around bends. Best to have a radio. Be ready to “jump the bars” in order to stay out of the way. Low water just concentrates the boats into a narrower channel. It is dangerous boating.

It was a fun, 3 day/2 night trip. The river was very low; it was even closed to commercial traffic the week preceding our trip. However, it was still a big river. At times, there were a few hours when there was at least one tugboat with barges within sight. We did have a vhf radio in our party and communicated when necessary to coordinate crossings, etc… What surprised me were the number of rapids, which were far greater in number and length than in years past, albeit slightly less tall. I guess the closer river bottom was at play there. The only things I didn’t like about the trip this year were the low flow combined with a stout, 15-25 knot headwind most of our way. It was never a float trip this time around.

John Ruskey’s Rivergator site has provided us more than a few tips.