The Mississippi River

    First of all, the USACE (Army Corp of Engineers) for navigational purposes, has divided the
    Mississippi River into two halves, the Upper Mississippi and the Lower Mississippi.
    The Mississippi River's mouth or "Head of Passes" is at: Latitude 29° 08’ 53” N - Longitude 89° 15’ 05”
    some 95 miles south of New Orleans.  This GPS location is considered to be the mouth of the
    Mississippi at the Gulf of Mexico. From this point, distances on the Lower Mississippi River are
    measured in statute miles “above Head of Passes”.  On your navigational charts, you will see this
    abbreviated as "AHP".  The Head of Passes is the point from which mileages on the Lower Mississippi
    River are measured.
    Cairo, Illinois, is at mile maker 954 AHP -  and Cairo, IL is considered the end of the Lower Mississippi
    River. Therefore Cairo is 954 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi at the Gulf of Mexico.

    The Mississippi River above Cairo, IL is considered the Upper Mississippi River, therefore Cairo is
    also the location of the Upper Mississippi Mile marker '0' (zero).  Therefore, all Mississippi River miles
    and mile markers above Cairo give you the distance from Cairo.
    Hannibal, MO (for example) is Mile marker 309 on the Upper Mississippi River.  Which means, it is 309
    miles above Cairo, IL
    Since Cairo is also mile marker 954 on the Lower Mississippi, Hannibal at the Upper Mississippi mile
    marker 309  is (309 + 954) 1,263 statute miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
    And, (by the way) all Mississippi River and US Inland River, Gulf and Atlantic ICW miles are posted and
    mapped as statute miles not nautical miles.

    Grafton, IL (where the Illinois River joins the Mississippi), is located at Illinois River mile maker 0, but
    Grafton is also the location of the Upper Mississippi River mile marker 219. Therefore, Grafton is (219
    miles from Cairo, and Cairo is 954 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. So Grafton is 1,173 miles from the
Following in the wake of
Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer
is a dream many of us
have shared.

On this page
you will learn what
cruising down the
Mississippi River
is really like.
None of these adventurers were doing the Loop.    
We met these three different groups of frugal
voyagers on three separate trips down the
Mississippi River.  All of course, were living the

Proof positive (again), that it doesn't require either a
big boat or a big bank account, and that the size of
your boat does not have to limit the size of your

For sure, the adventure will be cherished and talked
about for the rest of their lives.   

So, from the distances listed above, if you entered
the Mississippi river coming from Chicago on the
Ilinois river at Grafton (which all Great Loopers have
to do), and you wanted to head up the Mississippi
to visit Hannibal, MO, you would need to travel the
distance from Grafton to Hannibal which is 92 miles
up river.  
Popular Mississippi River Distances
from the
Gulf of Mexico
When it comes to someone planning a Great Loop voyage, the three most frequently questions we are
asked are:
    1. What is the best boat to do the Great Loop with?
    2. About how much will it really cost?  
    3. Which route is best? The Mississippi? (or) The Tennessee-Tombigbee?

Fact is, for most "couples", the Tennessee-Tombigbee is (by far) the best route to take. We of course, have done it both
ways, and for nostalgic and romantic purposes, I wish this wasn't true, but it is.  As sad as it may seem, cruising the full
length of the Lower Mississippi in your own vessel, is probably not the experience you wish, or dreamed it to be, but that
all depends on you, your boat, and your expectations.

The major problem with cruising the Lower Mississippi River is NOT the current, nor the tugs, the bugs,
or the barges. . . As those without actual experience have heard, believe, and will tell you it is.

While there are lots of bugs and tugs, the real problem is lack of fuel and the absence of Marinas. Therefore, you have
troublesome and worrisome long distances between fuel stops, and a serious lack of convenient and safe places to
dock at night.  Furthermore, all the safe gunkholes to anchor out in over-night are in the boon-docks, which leaves you
with no restaurants, or nearby convenient stores to get provisions.

The Lower Mississippi River is very nautical, but it is nautical in a commercial boating type of way. Lots
& lots of commercial boats, but, they are simply is not
recreational boating friendly.

So, why are there so many boats, but no fuel?

Tugboats & Towboats generally have 18,000 gallons (or more) fuel capacity. Many can run up the Mississippi to their
destination and back without refueling. In addition, the fuel stops for a commercial Tugboat requires a special
interlocking fuel receptacle and will pump hundreds of gallons a minute. They can in fact fuel a Tugboat with 18,000
gallons of fuel about as fast as I can put 400 gallons in my recreational vessel.
A Tugboat can burn 85 gallons of fuel per hour, but still, with a 18,000 gallon (or more) fuel capacity, that's 211 hours
(three weeks of daylight hours) running on the river.           

So, the situation on the Lower Mississippi River is this: You are seriously confined to your vessel. There is simply not
many places you can stop at, and get to anything you might want to see and do conveniently.

With only two Marinas on the Mississippi between Hoppie's Marina at the Upper Mississippi River Mile maker 158 and
the Gulf ICW. You have to be prepared to cruise 377 miles, and 440 miles between fuel stops. If your vessel does not
have this range, you will be stuck with hiking out and carrying fuel back to your boat using a portable gas tank on a dolly.
Many of the smaller boats with smaller engines (as the ones above) can do this, as they can go as far on 20 gallons as
some of trawlers can go on 200 gallons.

Now, of course, diesel fuel delivery by truck to a designated docking area can be arranged in Cape Girardeau,
Vicksburg, in Natchez, Baton Rouge, and even New Orleans.  In all cases, a fuel truck will come and deliver fuel to their
designated preset location (you have to get there, they don't come to you).  This fuel also comes with a 100 gallon
minimum and a per gallon premium.  Who wants to pay that when fuel today is already at a premium?  Furthermore, if
your vessel does not hold 100 gallons, you will pay for a 100 gallons anyway.

convenient anchorage is hard to find, (especially at and below the Baton Rouge area). When you do find it, it is too
far from anywhere. So that leaves you with no courtesy cars, no Internet, and no sites to see, or interesting places to visit
- without taking long hikes - and leaving your vessel unattended in places you don't really want it to be in the first place.

On the other hand, the Tennessee-Tombigbee route, provides a maze of Marina choices, with so many on-site or
nearby restaurants it is often difficult to decide which one you want. Most all Marinas offer free WIFI throughout the
Marina, and courtesy cars, not to mention safe & secure docks. In addition it is easy to find safe anchorages and
gunkholes with nearby interesting places to visit.

So, as you can see, the choice to go down the Lower Mississippi vs take the Tenn-Tom route should be clear -
especially if you or travelling with a spouse or first mate that is the least bit unsure about all this "living on the boat and
cruising thing".  If you want to keep your spouse, and/or keep her happy, excited, and enthusiastic about long-term, long-
distance cruising  - I suggest you take the Tennessee-Tombigbee route.

Now having said all that:

There is undoubtedly something special about cruising the full length of the Mississippi. If your desire for adventure
exceeds all else, and you have a good used boat or sturdy raft, a like minded spouse or no spouse at all, and/or a willing
friend or two or five (as in the case pictured above), and everyone likes the idea of "true adventure" living on the boat. . .
Hey!  Scratch that itch and head on down the full length of the Mississippi. It undoubtedly offers the best of great scenery,
plenty of adventure, long moments of thoughtful solitude, and it will fill the rest of your life with something exciting to talk

If you view your cruise more like camping out, and prefer to cook all your own meals, and don't care two hoots about
visiting historic places, walking through museums and seeing all the interesting sights up close and personal, don't mind
jumping in the river or walking on muddy banks to tie up your boat - then cruising the Mississippi may just be one of the
greatest adventures of your life.

For one, the Mississippi can be done in the simplest of vessels. A well constructed and well designed raft with a small
motor running at almost idle speed for keeping a bow forward direction, you can idle down the Mississippi easily
covering 50 miles a day.  You will need some form of shelter with a hard top and a frame that will hold mosquito net in
place. You will want comfortable room for sleeping, and cooking capabilities, a porta-potty, a shower head with a solar
hot water bag, and refrigeration. Hot days on the river will have you hiking long distances for ice faster then fuel. But, you
can do this.

In addition to the people above, we have seen people doing it in pontoon boats. We've met boaters cruising down the
Mississippi in small cuddy cabins. We even met a man that did it in a 24' runabouts with a bimini top cleverly
constructed out of plywood for protection from the elements, and from which he draped mosquito nets. This guy also had
solar panels providing enough power to keep his 12 volt refrigerator running as well as his AM/FM and VHF.   But. . .
There is almost no middle ground here.

You can either do it with this "camp-out" attitude and environment and a two wheel dolly and a couple of portable large
fuel tanks, and be prepared a hike some distance to the nearest gas station. Or with a vessel that will able to take on a
100 gallons minimum fuel delivery, or in a vessel that can cruise 440 miles without refueling. Those are the choices for a
successful cruise down the full length of the Mississippi River.  

It is certainly not our intent here to discourage anyone from cruising down the Lower Mississippi, it's just that we don't
want anyone to have a terribly bad experience doing it. I believe, "Great Expectations" can only end up great when they
are expected.

My son and I have tremendously enjoyed cruising down the Lower Mississippi together, but the first time we did it, we
expected the very-very worst and therefore we were pleasantly surprised when it turned out not to be anywhere as bad
as what we expected.

However, we had a boat that could make 500 miles between fuel stops, and we had plenty of fresh water storage for hot
showers, and a great galley for preparing meals with ample refrigeration, storage and provisions.  We make this trip
expecting to remain in, on, or with our boat for the entire duration from Hoppies Marina in Kimmswick, MO, to Seabrook
Marine on the Gulf ICW.
There are several route options when it comes to cruising America's Great Loop. These options include: the
Gulf crossing where you can go across or around, the Dismal Swamp, the C&D Canal, the Erie Canal, US
only or Canada.  Most likely however, whether or not to cruise the full length of the Lower Mississippi or take
the Tenn-Tom is one that merits your most serious considerations.

Most Great Loopers entering the Mississippi at Grafton, exit the Mississippi at Cairo to take the Tennessee -
Tombigbee Waterway to the Gulf. These Loopers are only on the Mississippi River for a total of 218 miles. In
fact, they do not cruise a single mile of the 954 mile long
Lower Mississippi River.

While there are always the issues of safety regardless of which route you take, the issue of whether or not to
take the Lower Mississippi to the Gulf, is not really an issue of safety.  Additionally, it is not an issue of  strong
current, tugs, bugs, or barges. . .  It really is an issue of your comfort, and the convenience of fuel, services,
and amenities. They are simply very few, and very far between.

If you enjoy camping out, hiking, jumping into muddy rivers and walking on muddy beaches to tie up your boat,
the Lower Mississippi River adventure may suit you just fine.  If (on the other hand) you own a boat so you
don't have to get wet. . . The
Lower Mississippi may not be your "cup of Tea".

There are
only two Marinas between Hoppies Marina on the Upper Mississippi River at mile marker 158, and
Seabrook Marina on the Gulf ICW.  That means
you have 1,112 miles with only two fuel stops, and only two
convenient locations to get provisions.    
    Grafton, IL - 1,172 miles
    Missouri River  - 1,149 miles
    St. Louis, MO - 1,134 miles
    Cairo, Illinois - 954 miles
    Helena, AR - 663 miles
    Greenville, MS - 537 miles
    Vicksburg, MS - 437 miles
    Natchez, MS - 363 miles
    Red River - 304 miles
    Baton Rouge, LA - 229 miles
    Harvey Canal (lock) 98 miles
    New Orleans - 95 miles

    So, your cruise down the Mississippi to
    the Gulf, from Grafton, IL is 1,172 miles.
Great Loopers
the Lower Mississippi River
Here's the SCOOP on the LOOP

in regards to cruising the full length of the
Lower Mississippi River
(with fuel)
on the Lower Mississippi River
Hoppies Marine
Note: Hoppies Marina is a MUST fuel stop.

If you are going the Lower Mississippi route, it is 378
miles from here to your next fuel stop at Mud Island
Marina in Memphis, TN.

Kidd River Fuel
Kidd River Fuel is an option for those that require
They no longer deliver gasoline.  Their diesel
is delivered by truck to a dock located at the Upper
Mississippi Mile marker 51.9. To arrange this, you
must call at least 24 hours in advance of arrival, and
they have a 100 gallon minimum. There is about a 35
cent premium on their fuel. Plus, if you can't take 100
gallons of fuel, you are going to pay for 100 gallons of
fuel anyway.

Other than that, the next Marina with fuel on the
Mississippi is at Memphis, TN  which is 378 miles

Mud Island Marina
Memphis TN Mississippi River Mile Marker 735.8
Latitude: 35º 08. 997 N
Longitude: 90º 03. 403 W
Mud Island is located on the Wolf River Harbor just off
the Mississippi River and just below the "M shaped" I-
40 bridge and above the I-55 bridge.
Your next fuel stop is 198 miles away.

Greenville Harbor
Mile marker 537
At Mile marker 537 you will exit the Mississippi into
Greenville Harbor. This is part of Lake Ferguson –
once a part of the Mississippi.  It is very easy to miss
this entrance. The marinas in Greenville Harbor are
about 4 miles up Lake Ferguson from the Lower
Your next fuel stop is 440 miles away.

SeaBrook Marine - is located just 1/2 mile off of
the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Lake
Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
There are several Marinas in this area, and it is the
nearest location to get fuel from Greenville.
Latitude: 30° 1.4' N
Longitude: 90° 2.04' W
Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?  A Bic Ballpoint or a Montblanc Meisterstuck?  There is no right or
wrong choice here, but your personal preference and comfort zone can make a big difference in what
is the best choice for you to make between the Tenn-Tom and the Lower  Mississippi routes.
Our intention is not to encourage or discourage cruising one or the other, but rather to provide you
with an honest picture of what to expect, so you can make the best decision for you and your crew.
Choose the boat and the route
that best fits your lifestyle, philsophy, and pocket book.
At the Upper Mississippi mile marker 195 you will
reach the mouth of the Missouri River. Here, you will
feel the turbulence as the rivers converge.  Just a mile
farther will place you at the entrance to the Chain of
Rocks Canal (see sign at picture on the left).  This 12
mile canal bypasses an area called the Chain of
Rocks Reach. The Reach extends along the
northeastern boundary of St. Louis and St. Louis
County, and has been a hazard to river traffic long
before me.
Whatever you do, you don't want to miss this sign, or
miss the canal. To do so will result in the destruction
of your vessel, as the Chain of Rocks Reach is
nothing more then big shallow rocks covering a very
rocky bottom in an extremely turbulent river.  
Starting on the Illinois River, and continuing on to
Alton, you will see some of the most surprising and
beautiful landscape on the Mississippi River.
The photo above was taken just below Grafton.
    While the vessels above may not be the "dream" vessel most of us (over 40 anyway)
    have in mind for doing the Loop, the fact is they very well may be the best type vessel
    for doing the Lower Mississippi RIver.
    Most of us have heard the "warnings" about how fast the current is, and how rough and dangerous the
    river. Most of this, as with our current day media, is dramatically exaggerated.  Boaters traverse this
    river in canoes, kayaks, rafts, pontoons, houseboats and in anything that floats all the time.
    Abe Lincoln went down the Mississippi River on a home-built flatboat when he was 19. We also know
    that he did it at least three other times, and on at least one occasion took a stern-wheeled steamboat
    back home.   
    Regardless of how you do it, cruising down the Mississippi River is a dream cruise shared by many.
    From Mark Twain's home town of Hannibal to New Orleans, there is just something very romantic
    about the thought of cruising down this river to New Orleans.
However . . . In order to cruise down the Lower Mississippi River successfully, as well as
enjoy it, you first need to understand it and know what to expect along the way.
© 1993 - 2012
Capt John's America's Great Loop