Since the epic 1,700 mile Mississippi River decent in 2014, the Barrel Raft Boys have compiled an advice page with any knowledge we accumulated. For reference, the upper Mississippi River we discuss in anything north of St. Louis, Missouri.
Best advice is to ask locals for help.
- Obtain the Army Corps of Engineers maps.
- These maps are insanely accurate down to buoy placement and mile markers.
- Have a marine radio to contact Lock and Dam operations and for emergencies.
- Take turns on the inside to avoid barges and other traffic.
- Taking a turn on the outside will tend to be faster, unpredictable and be more powerful.
- Always assume their will be someone approaching you.
- Maximize each opportunity on the river to fill-up on supplies, towns will become more and more difficult to access.
Safe Landing & Camping
- Camp overnight in sloughs on the upper Mississippi.
- These are alternative river flows that connect back to main route.
- Usually have slower water flow, less traveled by boats.
- Barges will never deviate from main path, these areas shield you from waves.
- On the lower Mississippi sand bars will often provide relief on backsides.
- Head down a sand bar until it comes to a point.
- The backside around the sand point will be like a personal parking space.
- Use river claw anchors to secure vessel, these are shaped like a “T”
- These anchors grab the roots under water.
- They also embed into sandy shores well.
Fishing and Wildlife
- A fishing license is required, the area you fish must be one of the States you are between.
- Catfish is plentiful, best to catch at night with very stinky bait.
- Older catfish have more PCB’s, therefore can make you not feel good.
- Younger, smaller catfish eat best because they consumed less PCB.
- Bald eagle, turtles, swans, geese, deer, mosquitoes and anything else will be joining you on your journey.
- The upper Mississippi River is packed full of wildlife, the best time for viewing is early morning.
- The lower Mississippi River is mostly fish, we didn’t encounter alligators until Louisiana.
- Mosquitoes will show up exactly once the sun sets, close everything up beforehand.
- Biting flies are worse than mosquitoes, they relentlessly attack your ankles.
- Two fly swatters, a bunch of fly strips and keeping things dry are you best defense.
River Towns and Supplies
- Many towns have yacht clubs and marina, they charge $1-$5 per vessel length for one night.
- Great spot for recovery from elements.
- Offer showers, laundry, boat enthusiasts, bars.
- #1 location for Fuel and Water (make sure your drinking water is pulled from fresh water though)
- Supplies exist in town, sometimes right on the river, but most are a mile or two away.
- Ask locals about supply locations before journey, most times they’ll offer to drive you.
- Gasoline in 5 gallon tanks will weigh close to 50 pounds.
- I personally recommend hitting Taco Bells when you can to replenish for cheap.
- Bring a bicycle to experience more.
- The farther south you descend on the river, the farther towns become.
The following is specific advice from contacts who’ve help us along the way by email or meeting us on the river.
My name is Gary G. I was in the guide boat that stopped to talk to you south of catfish bar. The guide was Turk from croixsippi guide service. I was the guy in the back with the red sweatshirt. I wanted to warn you guys – your raft seemed a little bit low in the water so. Watch out for wakes from barges and 40 foot boats that could send 2 – 3 foot waves your way. Might be a good idea to prepare for some water coming over the deck – keep things dry. I went down the Mississippi to Winona about 4 years ago on a small pontoon and we had to be careful of the waves from big boats. Be safe.
Thank you very much Gary for the advice, we are keeping an eye on the wake situation. We’ve found that so far taking a wake to the rear and speeding up is best to reduce the wash-out keep us steady. I truly appreciate your help.
Stay safe by traveling only during the day and calm river conditions; anything abnormal due to weather, river traffic or water levels increasingly worsen your chance of safe navigation.