by Ernest Herndon
It’s funny, but Mississippi is not known as a canoeing-kayaking state. I say funny because unless you require whitewater thrills when you float a river, the state’s waters are a fantastic place to dip a paddle. And we do have some whitewater, by the way.
The thing is, many people associate Mississippi with cotton fields, mud, mosquitoes, that sort of thing – rather like we associate Texas with cowboys and rattlesnakes when it’s so much more than that. I got a vivid experience of that when I took a couple of Michigan friends down Red Creek in southeast Mississippi. They were flabbergasted to find a stream the color of oolong tea slipping past porcelain sandbars beneath fragrant, towering pines, and hardly any mosquitoes! We spent four days delighting in nature – and that’s what Mississippi paddling is all about: nature – woods, water and wildlife.
There are a few popular paddling streams – Bogue Chitto River, Okatoma Creek and Black Creek – where you will likely encounter crowds between Memorial Day and Labor Day, especially on weekends. But there are dozens of other streams that are rarely floated.
I started canoeing Mississippi rivers as a young newspaper reporter at the McComb Enterprise-Journal in 1979. I couldn’t believe the wild beauty I found on nearby streams like Bogue Chitto, Topisaw and Homochitto. Over the years I expanded my territory to take in the whole state – including some of those “stereotypical” muddy rivers in the Delta. And I found even they have much to appreciate. When I finally wrote the book Canoeing Mississippi, I profiled more than 30 rivers, plus lots of lakes. I broke the state into five sections, roughly in a clockwise direction starting in western Mississippi:
• The Mississippi River and its tributaries, which takes in all of the Delta as well as parts of southwest Mississippi.
• Northeast Mississippi, whose waters range from pretty little Bear Creek to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
• The sprawling Pascagoula River system in southeast Mississippi, which has 11 canoeable tributaries with 750 miles of paddling.
• Coastal waters, which include bayous, creeks, estuaries and barrier islands.
• The Pearl River Basin, which stretches across more than half the state.
In a separate chapter I cited dozens of lakes that offer fine paddling as well.
The variety found in all these waters is staggering, from tree-canopied brooks to the mighty Mississippi, from languid bayous to – yes – whitewater rivers. Okatoma Creek, upper Leaf River and parts of Strong and Bowie rivers provide thrilling rapids. So if you have to have your whitewater fix, have at it. Then slow down and sit back for a world of fine paddling, right in our collective backyard.
Explore Mississippi’s Waterways by Canoe or Kayak
Want to know more about Mississippi’s waterways that are great for canoeing and kayaking? A great place to start is the website of Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism Division. The site highlights some excellent rivers and streams for paddling trips around the state. It provides exact locations, details about rentals and outfitters, and contact information. www.visitmississippi.org/canoeing – kayaking.aspx. Another great source is Canoeing Mississippi, by Ernest Herndon, reviewed in this issue’s BookShelf. Also, check out the website of Buffalo Peak Outfitters at www.BuffaloPeak.net for more information about paddle trips with public and private access.
Check out some of Mississippi’s best waterways for paddling.
• Bear Creek (voted in the top 100 float streams in the nation by Reserve America, designated a Mississippi Scenic Stream) Iuka, MS
• Big Black Pickens, MS
• Bogue Chitto River McComb, MS
• Chunky River (designated a Mississippi Scenic Stream) Chunky, MS
• The DeSoto County Greenway Trails Hernando, MS
• Gulf Islands National Seashore Park Ocean Springs, MS
• Institute for Marine Mammal Studies Gulfport, MS
• Leaf River Brooklyn, MS
• Little Sunflower River Rolling Fork, MS
• Magee’s Creek Tylertown, MS
• Okatoma Creek Seminary, MS
• Pascagoula River (a designated Mississippi Scenic Stream) Merrill, MS to Pascagoula, MS
• Pearl River (Upper and Lower) Lena, MS
• Pelahatchie Creek Jackson, MS
• Red Creek Brooklyn, MS
• Strong River Puckett, MS
• Wolf River (designated a Mississippi Scenic Stream) Long Beach, MS
• Mississippi River (See Quapaw Canoe Company, Clarksdale, MS)
Source: MS Development Authority/Tourism