Planning Your Mississippi River Canoe Trip

Maps and Information

I have information on Mississippi River mile markers and how long it took me to paddle from point to point here;

Please see the many questions and answers about my Mississippi River trip on my blog. Please ask new questions below.

The Minnesota DNR has lots of information about the upper river, including maps and other information.

The Army Corps of Engineers has excellent navigational charts for the river from Minneapolis to Cairo and for the lower river below Cairo. Since those are government websites the links will probably be dead by the time you get there! You should be able to download and print maps if you like although you might have to search around to actually find them. I would plan on carrying a mapping GPS and might consider forgoing the Corp of Engineers maps completely.

A good source for information and other links is the Mississippi River Resource Page.

A very well-written book on canoeing the Mississippi is “Mississippi Solo.” The only disappointment is he skipped some sections of the river. Nevertheless, the book is well worth it for the writing itself and his keen observations of the people along the river.

Some facts collected on the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area page:

A raindrop falling in Lake Itasca would arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in about 90 days.

Average river speed at headwaters: 1.2 miles per hour.

River speed at New Orleans on 2/24/2003 was 3 miles an hour.

River length, about 2,350 miles.

Narrowest point: about 20 feet, just below Lake Itasca.

Widest point: about 4 miles at Lake Onalaska near LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

Shallowest point: just below Lake Itasca, less than 3′ deep. (I found the river to be less than 6″ deep in places in that area.)

Deepest point: about 200′ at New Orleans.

Elevation above sea level at Lake Itasca: 1,475 feet.

Elevation above sea level at the Gulf of Mexico: 0 feet. More than half of the total drop of the river occurs in Minnesota.

The Mississippi River drains 41% of the continental United States.

How long will it take?
It took me 67 days, by myself, under what is probably fairly typical water conditions. Some people might want to take four months or more. Really fast people might be able to do it in less than two months. If you don’t know how fast of a paddler you are, I’d allow at least 3 months. The river’s speed depends a lot on water levels. You may find the current much faster or slower than I did. Your trip will likely NOT be the Huck Finn experience many envision, where you simply sit and watch the world go by. I paddled most of the day from before sunrise until just before sunset. Most folks will want more time off and shorter paddling days. On my trip, the current was perhaps 1.5 miles an hour, average, above St. Louis, and 3.5 mph from there to Baton Rouge. Below there, it slowed down somewhat again.

When should I start?
Much will depend on your pacing.  On my rather fast trip I started in mid-August and that was a good choice for me. The ice in northern Minnesota can melt very slowly and on some years may last well into May, so make sure you don’t start too early in the year.  I’ve read at least two reports of people who started in September and they found it got too late in the year and too cold by the time they finished.

Can beginners do the Mississippi River?
Good judgment is a must for doing the river regardless of skill level. Some boating and camping experience is necessary to do the river safely. You shouldn’t be learning how to paddle your canoe on the river, especially if you’re starting at Lake Itasca. On the other hand, you don’t need to be a whitewater paddling expert. You should know how to pick safe camp spots (anticipate rising water,) how to keep yourself and your gear dry, etc. So I would say that beginners probably shouldn’t tackle the river unless they are with more experienced people. On the other hand a level headed person who is merely competent in boating and camping should do fine.

How much will it cost?
That is a very subjective question. It could cost you thousands, or only a few hundred. My biggest expenses were flying back home from New Orleans, two nights in a motel waiting for my flight, and shipping my canoe back home, which cost about $300 itself. I think I probably only spent about $10 a day while traveling down the river. I camped every night and ate regular grocery store food (no freeze dried foods.) It would be possible to spend much, much more, by eating meals in towns, spending lots of time in motels, eating out, and hanging out in bars. One reason I stayed out of towns except for grocery/water stops is that I didn’t want to leave my canoe for too long.

Where did you get food and water?
I didn’t have a guidebook or anything, so I just looked at my maps and watched for towns, and asked people along the way. I probably got food every four or five days. You could get food much more often, or much less often. At these stops, I’d hide my canoe and/or chain it up, and bring my most valuable items with me.

Will I have trouble with locals?
I think you pretty much make your own luck here. If you hit the bars and camp in sight of the boat landing, you may have trouble. I had no trouble at all. Choose your campspots wisely. “Out-of-sight, out-of-mind” is something to think about. If no one knows you’re there, you’re far less likely to have trouble. If you have to leave your boat, a boat that is both perfectly hidden AND locked up is far less likely to disappear.

Will the bears get me?
Don’t keep food in your tent, and bears are HIGHLY unlikely to hassle you. I saw only one, as it swam across the upper Mississippi, and it ran as soon as it hit shore.

How about food?
I found food, water, and other supplies relatively easy to get along the river in most stretches. Just plan ahead.

Will the big boats destroy me? They will if you don’t pay attention. Below Minneapolis/St. Paul, where the lock and dam system starts, the navigation channel is marked by red and green buoys. You should be especially aware whenever crossing the river through this main channel and when approaching bends in the river. It is usually safer to take the inside bend than the outside bend because you are more likely to stay out of the deep-water channel, and you’ll be less susceptible to the huge wakes thrown off by towboats rounding the bend. It is very difficult for the big ships and rafts of barges to maneuver, so you should always assume that they don’t see you and will run you down if you don’t watch out for yourself. I had no close calls with boats, and did not find it too stressful avoiding them.

It may come as no surprise that the biggest danger on the Mississippi is the river itself. Don’t mix alcohol and boating, and always wear your life jacket out on the water. When you load your canoe, secure your gear as if you expect to capsize during the day. Be especially careful if the water is cold.

Here’s some good words of advice from the Corp of Engineers…

Avoid dangerous currents found immediately above and below all navigation dams.
Stay clear of barges and towboats. The cannot stop or maneuver easily, and can create dangerous currents even when tied up.
Be cautious of wingdams and other submerged structures outside of the nine foot channel. Not all hazards show up on the chart.
Learn proper locking procedures.

To add to what the Corp said, one of the biggest dangers on the Mississippi River or any fast moving body of water are currents near fixed objects. Where the water is fast, steer clear of moored barges or boats, steep banks, wingdams, trees or anything else that can create dangerous currents. They are far more powerful than the strongest paddlers and can easily trap you and destroy your boat.

How will I get home?
If you plan on canoeing most of the river, you have several choices as to where to end your trip. Here they are, in order, from north to south:

Atchafalaya River is a “distributary” of the Mississippi River. Some people choose it because it’s a shorter and wilder route, missing New Orleans and Baton Rouge altogether.

New Orleans Many people stop at New Orleans. That’s the easiest place to end your trip, with readily available transportation, and many people consider it the end of the river for all practical purposes.

Venice, Louisiana is the last town along the road system. You might decide to have friends or family pick you up there. I actually found it fairly easy to hitch a ride for me and my canoe up to New Orleans from Venice, once people knew I had canoed the length of the river.

Mile Marker “0” (Head of Passes) is symbolically the end of the main Mississippi River because after that point the river branches out into several channels: Southwest Pass, South Pass, and Pass a Loutre. This point is several miles downriver from Venice. The mile marker was pretty obvious, at least when I was there. It would be hard work, but possible, to canoe from this point back to Venice, if you pick the slowest current and take advantage of eddies. It should also be pretty easy to “hitch” a ride back to Venice with a passing fishing boat.

The Gulf of Mexico at one of the outlets of the Mississippi. Southwest Pass is the main shipping channel. I chose South Pass. South Pass is the center channel at Mile Marker “0”. I didn’t have a map when I got there, so I remember hanging on the a big pile in the strong current so I could ask a passing boat to verify which one was South Pass. The boat traffic was fairly tame in South Pass, and mostly consisted of fishing boats. I was offered a place to stay on my last night, at South Pass Marina, (Port Eads.) The salt water is only about two miles below Port Eads, and it was an amazing sight. It would be hard work, but possible, to canoe from this point back to Venice, if you pick the slowest current and take advantage of eddies. What I did is canoe from the salt water back to Port Eads, then I got a boat ride from there to Venice. It should be easy to “hitch” a ride back to Venice on a fishing boat. For most folks, the cheapest and best option for getting home from Venice or New Orleans will be a ride from friends or relatives. It cost me $300 to ship the canoe. (It was borrowed.) I flew home and mailed my paddles. I simply taped them together, and put my address on a paddle blade then took them to the Post Office! It worked great. I know of people who have given away their canoes at the end of the trip.

Note, I do not know how hurricane damage has changed the river below New Orleans. If someone can tell me, I’ll post an update.

Below is an amazing NASA satellite image of the mouth of the Missississippi River. You can see the road to Venice running down the west side of the river and ending about mid-photo. You can also see the river branching out at Head of Passes at Mile Marker “0.” To see this breathtaking photo without my added notes, click here

On the Way
Please read through the photo captions for more tips on things to do, and NOT do!

What will I need to bring?
I had some trouble figuring out what type of canoe would work best. It seemed that most folks who’d canoed the river had just used whatever canoe was at hand. Now that I’ve made the trip, I’d suggest making stability your number one consideration. I never flipped the canoe once, and part of that was because of the design of the canoe I borrowed from my friend Gerry Molberg. It was a standard 17′ Alumacraft, weighing about 65 lbs. Kayaks might be an even better choice for many people.

I found that for packing purposes it was best to think of the river in two parts; before the Twin Cities (above which there are a dozen or so portages,) and after, where the only portaging you are likely to do is around busy locks. (At some locks, you may only have to portage as little as 30 feet!) After the Twin Cities, you may want to consider adding an ice cooler, and even a lawn chair.

  • Two good paddles: One I borrowed. The other I bought from canoeing experts who helped me select a good fit for me. I chose a canoe paddle with a “bent” shaft, which is supposed to increase efficiency, and I believe it did.
  • Dry Bags: Two of them to protect my most vital gear. You will get rained on a lot, and often your gear will be sitting in water sloshing around the bottom of your boat. Plan accordingly! I like the NRS Bill’s Bag
  • Life Vest: You’ll be living in your life vest. Buy a good one that fits you well, or it will chafe your neck off! Basically I think that a relatively narrow strap over your shoulders is the way to go.
  • Cooler: I’d suggest on holding off on the cooler until you’ve reached the Twin Cities. There are lots of portages before then!
  • Rope: About 20′ long, for securing your canoe every time you land. Tie good knots, and check them frequently.
  • Chain and lock: I only had to use this a couple of times. The trouble is, if you leave your canoe you also are leaving most of your other stuff.
  • Giant Sponge: For soaking up that water that will be sloshing around your canoe. Also works good for mopping up sand and silt.
  • Plastic Box: Once I got past the portages, I bought a large, clear plastic box with a tight-sealing cover. It worked great as a bombproof, waterproof container.
  • Tarp
  • Tent/Poles/Stakes: Get a good one and be very selective on where you set it up. Stay well above the water and out of poison ivy. Try to camp where people won’t see you.
  • Sleeping Bag: Synthetic insulation. Down has it’s place, and if you have a down bag it will probably work, but synthetics would be my first choice on the river. A 30 degree bag is probably a good choice if you will doing the whole river July through November.
  • Sheet: For those hot nights when your bag is too hot.
  • Sleeping Pad: Bring a thick, comfy one.
  • Pack: for toting your groceries and drinking water back to the river.
  • Stove/Fuel: bring a small, simple one. Often you can’t or shouldn’t, build a fire. If you don’t already own a stove, consider a Multi-fuel stove which will burn gasoline or white gas.
  • Water filter: for when you run out. Above Minneapolis I filtered water pretty often, but below that point I much prefer getting drinking water tap water I picked up along the way.
  • Water Containers: About 3 gallons worth of storage for each person Several smaller ones are better than one giant one. An expandable water carrier
    will be a good choice for many people.
  • Matches and lighter: Several sets, secured in dry spots
  • Food: You can pick up food every couple of days or so along the river. After the Appalachian Trail, I delighted in carrying lots of heavy and/or fresh foods.
  • Cooking pots: One big and one small
  • Knife, fork, spoon
  • Garbage bags: heavyweight, large, several
  • Ziplocks: Lots. Freezer style, 1 quart and one gallon zipper type
  • Mapping GPS: I recommend carrying a mapping GPS with maps for the country surrounding the river, too. Very helpful for resupply.
  • If I do the river again I’d bring a Smart phone. Useful as a phone, GPS, camera, internet and more. Waterproof case mandatory. If it’s a model with a good GPS and mapping program you can probably forgo a GPS.
  • Solar Charger: I kept my iPhone charged for months with a sCharger-5 Make sure it’s compatible with your phone.
  • Binoculars: Small ones, great for looking across to the opposite shore, spotting that next lock, birdwatching, etc.
  • Camera and batteries. I’d just use my iPhone.
  • Duct Tape: Bring 30 feet or so, perhaps wrapped around your water bottle.
  • Pocket Knife: The Swiss Army knife style with opener, scissors, tweezers, and knife is nice.
  • Multi-tool
  • Parachute cord: 100 feet
  • Radio and batteries: For news, tunes, weather
  • LED Headlamp and batteries. LED style is the way to go.
  • Compass
  • River Maps
  • Watch with alarm. Optional if you have a phone.
  • Phone Card. If you don’t have a phone.
  • Credit Card
  • Driver’s License
  • Cash
  • Weather radio. If you don’t have a smart phone.
  • Marine radio: Nowadays a smart phone with a list of Lock phone numbers probably makes more sense.
  • Mug
  • Pens
  • Notebook, diary: I carried a mini tape-recorder on this trip to serve as a journal.
  • Books: Try “Huckleberry Finn,” “Life on the Mississippi,” and “Tom Sawyer”
  • Address Book. Forego if you have a smart phone.
  • Good Rain jacket Make sure it has a hood. You will get rained on a lot. Probably.
  • Rain Pants When it’s chilly and wet and windy you’ll be glad you have them.
  • Fleece jacket I like down jackets but fleece is a better choice on the Mississippi.
  • Long underwear tops and bottoms. Inexpensive Polypropylene should work fine.
  • Balaclava
  • Shorts
  • Covertible pants
  • Running shoes
  • Teva-type shoes
  • Rubber boots: I didn’t have them and didn’t need them, but it was warm when I was on the river and many people want them, especially if it’s getting chilly on the river.
  • Socks: Actually, I rarely wore socks OR shoes out on the river
  • Underwear
  • T-shirts
  • Fleece gloves
  • Sun hat. I didn’t have one, but I’d recommend a wide brim with a chin cord for when it’s windy.
  • Bandana
  • Toilet Paper
  • Towel
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Bug Dope. DEET based.
  • Sunscreen
  • Shampoo
  • Razor
  • Prescriptions
  • Soap
  • Blistex
  • Ibuprofen
  • Floss
  • Needle: Use floss for thread
  • Towel
  • Fishing gear: I didn’t bring any, personally. If you plan to fish the whole way you’ll probably need a series of fishing licenses.
  • First aid kit
  • Other medications

“German Tourist” aka Christine has some good advice about kayaking the Mississippi on her blog.

“Buck30” has a page of lessons learned on his Mississippi trip.

Click here to start a photo tour of my Appalachian Trail Thru-hike.

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  1. Hi!

    Thanks for the tips! I’m gonna hit the Mississippi in the spring from source to sea :)


  2. Buck,

    My buddy and I are hitting the river on may 1st. How should I make sure that the ice is melted in the headwaters?


    • Winter often stays late in northern Minnesota. This year there will still be ice in some of the lakes the river runs through May 1, and beyond. It’s very wintery there right now in mid-April. I think Itasca State Park or Bemidji fishing guides would be good sources of information on when the river and lakes will be clear of ice.

  3. How long did it take you to get from the Twin Cities to Prairie Du Chien, Wi, where the Mississippi and the Wisconsin River meet?

  4. i am planning on taking 18ft 30hp motor from coon rapids mn to mobile al. my boat is 7ft wide so i desinged it i can pitch my tent on my boat. is it safe and legal to anchor near the edge to sleep appx 4 hrs? maybe take my dog to gaurd my boat while i resupply, is that a good idea? ty

    • Hi Richard,
      As far as I know you should be able to anchor and sleep as long as you are completely clear of the navigation channel, but I’d suggest contacting the Coast Guard on this issue. Please report back and let us know what you found out. Having a dog to guard your boat sounds like a good idea, especially with a “Beware of Dog” sign.
      Good luck!

  5. Kevin Hamilton

    May 4, 2013 at 5:55 am

    Hi Buck,

    Thanks for all the excellent advice! I’m familiar with canoeing on many local Minneapolis lakes but am new to going on the river. My plan is to launch just north of Nicollet island and end at watergate marina, across from fort Snelling. Is there any other tips that you can offer for a small trip like this?


  6. Hi Buck,

    We’re setting out to duplicate your trip mid July (Hot!), but have some questions that may need a phone call. Like, we’re bringing 2 dogs- advice on how rough the water got? How about bringing a collapsible sail? Your preference of a canoe vs kayak…. I could go on and on!

    We will be stopping to do presentations on life with PTSD and using a service dog to get your life back. Any advice/guidance would be appreciated!

    Cheers~ Mary

    • Hi Mary,

      Should be a good trip. Usually the water wasn’t too rough. If the water does become too rough, you could just call it a day if you have a lenient schedule. I’d consider a sail if I were to do the river again. It’s something I know very little about though, so you’d have to do your own research. I used a canoe because it was a spur of the moment trip and that’s what was available. If I were to do the trip again by myself I’d likely use a kayak.

      Make sure you secure your boat and gear when leaving it to go into town. I usually used the “out of sight, out of mind” strategy along with locking up my boat and carrying small valuables. A trusted boat watcher would also work. Overall, I think you’ll find the people along the river will treat you very well

      Have fun!


  7. Is it free with my own boat?and can i start in ohio river?

  8. Wanetta tipsword

    May 15, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    My child is ten and has a big dream to travel down the Mississippi River from the begine to end is there any thing you can send us help her in the research .

  9. Hi Buck,

    Thanks for all this great advice. I am hoping to make a trip in a little less than a year. I currently reside in WI and would like to replicate your trip. What can I do in the next year to best prepare for this trip? I am a beginner when it comes to canoeing so I would like to get out on some rivers this summer to start practicing. You also suggested that you would use a kayak next time you made this trip. It seems like there is much less space for cargo in a kayak so I’m curious as to where you would keep all of your gear? Do you think 11 months is enough time to learn how to feel comfortable on the water? Thanks for your time!


    • Hi Nic,

      Sounds to me that you’re on the right track in your thinking. You’re right that becoming proficient in canoeing is your first step. You should know how to quickly turn, back-paddle, etc. 11 months should be more than enough time to learn the skills you need and to become comfortable.

      There IS much less space in a kayak vs. a canoe but it’s an issue that many people on trips like this deal with successfully. There is enough space if you know how to choose your gear and pack properly.

      Good luck with your planning and I hope you have a great trip!


      • Hi Buck,

        Thanks for the response. Did you have any issues portaging your canoe alone? I’ve been seeing some other videos of people making the trip and they seem like they are climbing through rocks and down stairs. They seem to be struggling to do this with two people. Did you encounter this same issue? Are there not designated paths for you to carry or wheel your canoe? Thanks again!


        • Hi Nic,
          I didn’t have any issues portaging alone. Part of that was experience portaging, because like anything technique plays a big role. There are tricks to lifting and balancing a canoe. I was also in good shape. I would say most places did not have nice paths to portage on. It will be a relatively insignificant effort either way compared to paddling 2,000 miles!

  10. Hi Buck,
    Can you suggest any styles of Kayaks that you would recommend? Sit on top? Obviously comfort is important as well as a decent amount of room for your gear. I read that if you were to do it again that you would do it in a kayak so I’m taking that advice as I can assume it’s probably easier to maneuver and portage a kayak. I’m hoping to spend anywhere up to $800 so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time again.


    • Native Watercraft Ultimate 12 is what I decided on. It’s kind of a Kayak/Canoe hybrid and has great reviews of it being comfortable all day. It’s in the process of shipping right now and I’m planning for the middle of May 2014. I’m hoping for an early year of decent rain so I don’t have to deal with any low areas. Your website has been an incredible resource for information and I thank you for that.

      • Hi Nic
        Make sure you don’t start TOO early. In 2013 there was still lots of ice on lakes in northern Minnesota well into May. I’d be more concerned with extremely cold water and possible ice than low water, personally.
        Let us know how the kayak works out. Have a great, safe trip!

  11. Hi Buck, Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience. My husband and I are paddlers, we live in Northern BC (Canada). We are looking for a long canoe trip to do with. Or family, we have a four year old and a one year old, just wondering what your thoughts are about doing the Mississippi with young children. thanks, Chantry

    • Hi Chantry,
      I suspect that you would have a better feel for what’s doable with kids than I would. If you can safely take them on a canoeing trip in BC the Mississippi should be doable as well. Obviously, everyone should wear a life jacket whenever on the water. Don’t cross the middle of the big lakes and use good judgment.
      Have fun!

  12. Hi Buck,
    Thanks for the wonderful information on canoeing the Mississippi. I completed the AT this year and plan to kayak the Mississippi in 2014. I am an experienced kayaker and intend to take a small, stable kayak. I plan to pack lightly and leave around May 15th. I am not a GPS person. Any suggestions on maps or guides? Thanks again for all the help. Hedgehog

    • Hi Hedgehog,

      Congrats on the AT! I’ve got links here to the Corps of Engineer Maps which are the gold standard. If I were to do the Mississippi again I’d bring a mapping GPS. It’s really interesting to know how fast you’re traveling, if nothing else. I don’t think there is a “how-to” guide. Reading through all my Mississippi pages and the comments on each page as well as the comments on the Mississippi page of my linked blog (second paragraph at the top of this page) should answer most of your questions.

      Good luck!


  13. Hi,
    My wife and I are starting the trip this May, leaving from the Ohio River Near the OH/WV border in 17 ft touring kayaks. We have 100 days set aside, although more or less isn’t really an issue. How did you go about calculating actual paddled miles beforehand, or did you not worry about that too much?

    One of our biggest issues is camping, which I see that you just tried to stay out of sight…that is my plan as well. Did you ever have to stop and sleep near cities or get permission from a homeowner to set up on their land? We both have concealed carry permits just in case we end up in a place that turns out to be not so great, or just for all the crazies out there these days anyway. We know to just stay out of Illinois, but that’s another story…

    As far as the last stretch of the route, there is the Atchafalaya or the Mississippi…I’m leaning toward the Atchafalaya mostly because it is more wilderness. Which would you do if you did it again?

    Any other tips are also really appreciated, I’ve really enjoyed you site so far and still have a little to continue reading.


    • Hi Mike,
      Most days I would just paddle until near dark, and not plan for how many miles I would paddle that day. My actual miles completed I determined by “river mile.” For example, the miles shown on the Minnesota DNR maps or the Corps of Engineer maps. Daily conditions will make a huge difference on how many miles you can travel.

      I never had to ask permission from a homeowner. I did sleep in the outskirts of a couple of cities, but my standard tactic was to camp on islands in a place where I couldn’t be seen or even sighted landing my canoe. In general though, I would try to make a point to camp in rural areas. Good judgment is your number one piece of equipment.

      You should finish the river on the route you think you’ll enjoy the most. I liked the route I took. If I did the river AGAIN I’d probably choose the Atchafalaya for variety.

      Have fun!

  14. Hey Buck,

    really enjoying reading about all your adventures. I always dreamed of doing the AT, but since I don’t think my knees will cooperate anymore, the Mississippi sounds like another great adventure! Just a tip for the women out there – I once canoed for a few days around the Okefenokee Swamp, and there were not always places to pull a canoe up easily and exit for “potty breaks”. Luckily, I had brought along one of those little funnels which are made for women in those situations, enabling me to pee standing up (very carefully) in the canoe. I can imagine that such a thing might come in handy on the river, too.

    By the way, I HIGHLY recommend spending time in Okefenokee. You can only get permits for very short overnight stays (I think only two nights at a time), but you’ll be camping out on a platform in the middle of the swamp, and are unlikely to run into other people more than once or twice. The sense of distance from civilization was profound, and I’ve never seen such a variety of wildlife in such a short period in my life before. The noise of all that life at night while camping was unreal. I was there in March once with my boyfriend, which seemed to be perfect timing that year – just warm enough to be pleasant but still too early for the hordes of mosquitoes later on.

    All the best,

  15. Thank you for this wealth of information. I am planning to canoe or kayak or raft the Mississippi this summer, currently deciding which. I have a few questions:
    How did the canoe handle the wakes from barges tugs etc? Did water splash inside?
    Would you still prefer a kayak if not for the portaging? (I plan to start on upper Miss)
    How did you maintain a charge in your smart phone for navigating?
    Do you think it would it be possible to bring a road bike in the canoe and still handle the wakes?
    How many calories a day did you consume?
    Were you ever stopped by river patrol or coast guard?
    Was it ever dangerously crowded locking through in the canoe?
    Your advice is greatly appreciated.

    • Hi CJ,

      I never had a significant amount of water splash inside due to barge/boat waves, but it requires good judgment; for example, not crowding big boats and turning the canoe to hit the waves straight on, and being on the inside curve rather than the outside curve when meeting tugs.

      Canoes and kayaks have their advantages and disadvantages. It depends on the person and their gear.

      I think it would possible to bring a road bike in a canoe as long as all your gear weight is kept as low as possible in the canoe, especially heavy stuff like drinking water and food.

      I didn’t have a smart phone on that trip. I’d bring one now. Personally, I’d bring a mapping GPS and spare AA batteries as well. I’d recharge my smart phone in town and in between towns I’d use my Suntactics sCharger-5 I used one when I hiked the Desert Trail and when I paddled the Yellowstone River. It worked great. Just don’t get your phone wet!

      I probably ate about 4,500 calories a day. On a trip like this it’s easy to eat as much as you want using canned goods, fresh fruit, pasta, rice, whatever strikes your fancy.

      I got stopped by Coast Guard a couple of times near dams and other places where security might be a concern. It wasn’t a problem.

      I was never dangerously crowded in locks. But as always, look out for your own safety.

      Good luck!


  16. Thank you for your response before, I have now decided on going by canoe, and have purchased most of my gear. A few things remain that I have specific questions about.
    -What magnification of binoculars do you recommend? too high, and view finding will be unstable- too low, and maybe you wont be able to identify the type of vessel soon enough.
    – What type of fish were you mostly catching? as I understand it’s mostly catfish, basses, walleye and pike. I wont be able to carry much gear so I would like to specialize to the most common ones.
    – What type of cooler did you use and how often did you have to buy ice for it? Did you find anyways of getting ice for free? As I calculated, a 10lb bag of ice every three days is going to add up to around $400 over 6-9 months, might even cost more than the food, ha.
    – Why do you recommend fleece gloves in your packing list? For rowing? Wouldn’t they be slippery and not very water resistant?
    – Would you recommenced a fleece jacket over a windbreaker with layers underneath?

    I’m thinking of putting a sail (with outriggers) on the canoe, was it mostly headwinds as I’ve read? I would only be sailing on favorable days.

    Your advice is always greatly appreciated.

    • Hi CJ,

      I’d go with 7 power binos to minimize shake when on the water.

      I like fishing, but surprisingly, I didn’t fish at all on that trip. Undoubtedly it would be possible to have some pretty good fishing at times, though.

      I had an inexpensive cooler, but I used it primarily as storage, not as an ice cooler. I don’t recall ever using ice on the whole trip. Instead, I’d eat the perishable foods first and then eat non-perishables until my next town stop.

      For a trip in mild weather, like mine, the fleece gloves were for any chilly conditions. Yes, they’re not waterproof but still provide warmth even when wet. For colder conditions I’d probably use neoprene gloves.

      For rain or a chilly wind, my outer layer would be a roomy and breathable rain jacket. I’d layer a fleece jacket and other clothing underneath as needed to stay comfortable. I wouldn’t bring a windbreaker other than that breathable rain jacket.

      Wind came from all directions, not just headwinds. You would be able to use a sail on many days.

      Have fun!


  17. hey bruce I’m planning a trip and i just wanted to say thanks for still being active on this blog. everything is very helpful

  18. Hi, I stumbled on your site today and really enjoyed it. Paddling the Mississippi is mostly a pipe dream right now, but nevertheless I feel like I ought to thank you. It was a treat to read, and your advice is impressively concise and informative.
    Thanks for making this website, and a good day to you, Sir.

  19. Buck,

    I am from north Georgia and am familiar with paddling rivers all over the southern Appalachian mountains. The biggest concern for canoe trips in this area is the classification of rapids along your trip. I personally can handle most classes but someone with minimal experience on a river in a canoe or kayak probably couldn’t. I would like to paddle the Mississippi sometime in the next couple of years and have been doing research in my free time, yet I have read nothing about the difficulty of the rapids. What is your take on this? I realize that the river becomes to large in the middle and lower Mississippi rivers but the lack of info on rapids in the upper Mississippi concerns me.


    • Hi Ben,

      I don’t know the official classification. I didn’t encounter much for actual rapids. On the upper river there are sharp bends, a few sweepers, the big lakes to avoid being caught out on if the wind comes up, dams to portage around, etc.

      Under normal conditions the river is doable by a competent paddler using good judgment. I didn’t have to run any Class 3 or anything like that.

      Good luck!


  20. I read another blog saying that the head waters are full of cattail and wet lands. Is there a defined channel coming from the lake to the main channel or is it more navigate the swam till you get to bigger water

    • Apparently it really depends on the year. Some people have no problem following the main channel. The year I did it the channel was pretty easy to follow except for a couple of places where it took considerable searching. If you’re concerned, a mapping GPS should solve the problem.

      Either way if you are patient you’ll get back to the right channel. It’s all part of the adventure!


      • Ok cool. Id love to do this with the family we are very outdoor active. This will have to wait a few years though! The wife is 3 months pregnant 3 year old son and 6 year old daughter, but we regularly spend a week here there hike camp canoe. Even with my military training wife and kids can make navigation difficult. Im hungry I gotta pee, ahhh a snake ha ha ha

  21. Hi Buck
    I’m a 63 year old adventurous woman who plans to go down the Lower Mississippi in May. I was thinking about a zodiac type boat that I could paddle, drift, and run with a small motor. I want to find a tent enclosure so I can sleep on board when tied up. I’m hoping to do “1000 Miles on the Mississippi” to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Any advice? Love your website.

    • Hi Jane,

      Sounds like fun! That should be doable. You will want to figure out a way to lock up your boat and motor when you head into town to resupply. Sleeping on board is an interesting idea. I have lots of general advice on my Mississippi pages.

      I hope you have a great adventure and raise a ton of money!


  22. Buck,
    I have really enjoyed reading all the info from you. I grew up on the Mississippi in Helena, AR and lived 20 years in Memphis, TN. I want to take a short trip this March (Memphis to New Orleans or Helena to New Orleans). Do you have any idea about how much time each of these might take. This year I am limited to 10 days. I am a strong kayak paddler and would plan to spend at least 10 hours on the river daily.

  23. Hi Buck,

    I’ve been reading about your adventures and am truly in awe of your journeys. Someday I would love to do many of these, but first things first. I’m a high school senior and some friends and I are getting a small group together to paddle some of the middle and lower sections this May (MO to lower AR). I have a good amount of canoeing experience and am familiar with the Minnesota section near the headwaters but have not done this part before. I am mainly curious about pacing. We have about 15 days between the end of exams and graduation (which we’d prefer not to miss) and are trying to figure out what sort of distance we can expect to cover knowing we must be back by a certain day. I have seen your daily log and it is very helpful. Would you say that you may have been able to manage more distance per day had you not been pacing yourself for such a long trip? Are wind and weather conditions too unpredictable to allow for a truly accurate estimate? Do you have a sense for how much faster you may have been had you had another paddler in the canoe (I’m amazed you did the whole thing solo)?

    Thanks so much,

    • Hi Jeremy,

      I don’t think I would have gone much faster per day on a 15 day trip vs a 60+ day trip.

      I think you are right: wind and weather and water levels (current speed) will make it difficult to know your miles per day in advance.

      Undoubtedly I would have been able to paddle faster per hour with another person. Whether I would have gone more miles per day is another matter. I got up early and paddled late.

      Having observed group dynamics many times, I’d recommend making a conservative estimate on miles per day. It’s far easier and less stressful to slow down than speed up. It’s far easier to get people to sleep in than to get up early. It’s nice to be able to take a day off if it’s very windy or stormy. With a fast pace in a large group usually the slowest and fastest people have friction between them.

      Just my 2 cents. Have a great trip!


  24. I am thinking of linking my 2015 bike trip from Key West to Seattle with a canoe trip down the Mississippi. Thank you for the great advise, it turns out I will have most of these items from the bike trip. If I sell the bike and buy a canoe I will only need to add about $130 worth of items to make my kit river ready. Thanks!


  25. Buck! Thank you so much for your helpful advice. I have used your packing list as a guide for my trip. My trip from Itasca to the Gulf starts in 7 days. I have two questions: Approximately how long was a typical supply run (with hiding canoe and trekking into town)? And did you stop mid day or end of the day for supplies?

    • Hi Jon,
      One thing I found was that flexibility was important. I tended to visit towns when towns were handy, so I usually made my supply runs from 9 AM to 6PM, whatever worked out. Typically I probably resupplied about once a week, but again, that was largely dictated by circumstances.
      As you no doubt read, I’d bring my most valuable smaller items with me, and try to hide my canoe in such a way that no one would even know it was there.
      Have fun, always wear your life jacket, and take plenty of photos!

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