How To Float The Mississippi River

Background Information

Floating down the Mississippi River offers a unique and memorable experience for those looking for an adventure. An adventurer might expect to experience the fullness of America’s most famous waterway, including a variety of wildlife, history, towns, ports, and landmarks. It is an activity full of exploration, culture, and physical challenge.
Float trips may take place in canoes or other vessels on shallow sections, or on rafts on the larger sections. It is generally possible to go as far as Saint Louis along the Mississippi’s serpentine path, with occasional waves hitting up to five feet in height. The river is also full of spectacular views, and is the home for a wide array of species of flora and fauna. Hogs, white tailed deer, mallards, wood ducks, bald eagles and sometimes even beavers may be spotted by a sharp eye on a leisurely river float.

Planning a Float Trip

When contemplating floating down the Mississippi River, the first step is to pick a float route and length. Take some time to evaluate the trip and your group’s experience level. Different sections of the river flow at different speeds, with more oxygenated water towards the source of the Mississippi and slow-moving, nutrient-rich waters towards the mouth. The further upstream you start, the shallower and warmer the water might be and the more wildlife that may be spotted.
The second step is to book a trip or charter, either with a company or independently. Canoe or kayaks are ideal vessels for an up-close and personal float trip. Commercial and other services are available to learn more about particular float trips and also to handle logistics.
The third step is to prepare for the trip. Packing can and should include sunblock, insect repellent, food and drinks, water shoes and adequate clothing. Ensure to bring a cell phone and a first-aid kit with any necessary medication. From a safety perspective, bring a whistle and a life jacket in case of any emergencies.

Safety on the River

Experts recommend always consulting with the United States Coast Guard for advice about safe boating practices for the Mississippi river. Navigation, notes about where side trips are possible and buoy markers are just some important pieces of information that could be obtained from the Coast Guard before embarkation.
In addition to the river itself being dangerous and unpredictable, there are several other personal risks to consider, including traffic by larger vessels, debris in the river and high or unexpected winds.

The Journey

The Missouri River, the longest tributary of the Mississippi and the longest river in North America, joins the Mississippi just north of Saint Louis. The further south the journey goes, the more industrial the environment becomes. However, despite the bustle of busy towns, there are still undeveloped areas. On such parts of the river, bald eagles and beavers can still be seen.
With safety in mind, the journey could include stops at the most important spots along the bank and small villages. One such spot is Grand Tower, where the north and south bluffs come closer than elsewhere in the river. Several camp sites, beverage stops and marina facilities dot the riverbank for those who wish for a pause or an overnight stay.

Fishing on the Mississippi

The Mississippi has been a source for fishing for over 200 years and is filled with various species of fish. Focusing on the upper and middle parts of the river from Illinois to Louisiana, expect to find a variety of warm- and cold-water fish, including smallmouth bass, gar, flathead catfish and classic blue catfish.
Fishermen should consider the following: fish are more active with the sun, so pick a time of day when the light of the sun is most potent and get to work; the Mississippi is a wide river so remember to cast far to have a chance at a good catch; and ensure to take breaks as the river can be hot especially in the heart of summer.

Unique Wildlife

In its long path across America, the Mississippi River is home to a wide variety of wildlife, both in and out of the water. From hummingbirds and hawks, to muskrats and beavers, to all kinds of fishes, the life on the Mississippi is vast and varied.
The amount of unique wildlife on the Mississippi depends on the location, the season and the type of water. Fish such as paddlefish, catfish and smallmouth bass are well-known food sources for the diverse species of water birds and shorebirds. Gulls and terns are also common across the river.
The riverbanks offer habitat for wolves, foxes, raccoons, woodchucks and various species of turtles. The northern parts of the Mississippi are especially conducive to the preservation of eagle habitats, which are essential for improving the environment.

River Cleanliness

Cleanliness is an important factor to consider when floating down the Mississippi. In 2012, the EPA announced the launch of the Mississippi River Collaborative, a program that works with 56 organizations and 13 state governments to keep the river clean.
Organizations such as the Mississippi River Network help inform people about the river and the importance of cleanliness and education. Cleaners for the Mississippi hold various events throughout the year to promote the effort and spread more knowledge about the problem.

River Festivals

Every year, river towns along the Mississippi have festivals devoted to the river. Held annually in Louisiana’s towns of Vidalia, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, this celebration honors the culture, heritage and flora and fauna of the area.
These festivals usually involve performances, parades, and music. There is also lots of food, drink and most importantly, fun to be had by all. Through them, locals and visitors alike can show their appreciation of this natural wonder and its inhabitants.

History Along the River

History buffs can appreciate the array of historic sites along the Mississippi. From Minnesota all the way down to Louisiana, visitors can find more than 200 sites and landmarks that bear witness to the country’s inception. Among them are Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette’s expedition through the Midwest and the creation of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The Journey of Lewis and Clark is but one of the famous and important trips that were made along the Mississippi River. There are historic markers in various towns, cathedrals and other notable places that commemorate their journey.

Economic Impact

The Mississippi River’s economic impact on America has been immense. It is estimated that up to 31 per cent of global agricultural exports go through the Mississippi over its course, as well as 25-40% of US waterborne commerce, making it a crucial component of the US economy.
The river also serves as the transportation route for 28 US states and two Canadian provinces, and contributes to the regions’ industrial growth, particularly in the transportation of petroleum and petroleum products.
In addition, the Mississippi river serves as critical infrastructure that runs through many states in the Midwest and provides water to millions of people and businesses.

Environmental Impact

The Mississippi River has also had a tremendous environmental impact due to its size and significance, both on the river itself and on its tributaries.
Global warming has caused the river to rise faster than ever and has caused more frequent flooding across the length of the river, leading to a severe impact on the health of the river and the surrounding environment. The rise in water-borne diseases and destruction of natural habitats due to rising water levels are only a few examples of how the health of the river is being compromised.
In addition, the destruction of the natural ecosystem of the Mississippi due to development, pollution, and invasive species have caused serious damage to the surrounding ecosystems, resulting in species loss and destruction of natural habitats.

National Parks

The Mississippi River is also surrounded by a number of national parks, including the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.
These parks serve as a preserve and refuge for the diverse species of plants and animals that inhabit the river. In addition, they provide a host of recreational activities, such as fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
Along the park’s banks, visitors may catch glimpses of bald eagles, beavers, muskrats and river otters. Visitors may also take part in educational offerings, such as workshops, discussions and interpretive programs.

Preserving the River

The Mississippi River is a crucial component of the nation’s economy and its integral part in sustaining the entire ecosystem and many species of flora and fauna.
A concerted effort between the private and public sectors, as well as the local communities, is needed to continue to protect the river from further destruction.
From individuals organizing local cleanups to conservation projects such as the Mississippi River Network, there’s plenty of ways anyone can support the preservation of the Mississippi.
By raising awareness and reducing pollution, Americans across the country can work together to make sure that future generations can enjoy the natural beauty, history and pride of the Mississippi River.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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