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How Long Does it Take to Float Down the Mississippi River?

It takes 3 months to float down the Mississippi. It can take longer if you do not paddle, hit bad weather, or have wildlife issues.

You can float down in raft, canoe, kayak, or boat.

The Mississippi River is ranked as the second-longest river in Northern America with an overall distance of 2350 miles between its source and the Gulf of Mexico. So many communities are living beside this river and they find river water very useful for their living. It starts in Minnesota and ends in Louisiana.

Millions of people come to enjoy camping at the Mississippi River every year and they are known to have incredible experiences. There are so many places where you can set up your camp and explore the beauty of nature around.

Some of you might be interested to know how much time it may take to float down the Mississippi River. Well, at an average, it may take almost three months to cover the entire area. However, the total time is greatly affected by a few essential factors.

The most important factor is your fitness level as it will decide how long you can paddle every day. Other than this, the journey will be highly dependent on weather conditions as well. At the same time, you may need to consider seasonal changes for the area.

People that are planning to move out for camping in the Mississippi River are advised to go through the list of challenges that you may have to face during the journey. How well you face these challenges will also affect the number of days you may need to float down the river.

Below we have listed a few such challenges that demand your attention for the journey:


There is no doubt to say that safety is the prime challenge that people may face while navigating through the entire length of the Mississippi River. In order to deal with these situations, you may need to do proper team planning. The poorly designed program may lead to failure. The inexperienced canoers are advised to follow tips from experts to make a successful attempt.

Locks and Dams:

The United States Army Corps of Engineers in the year 1930s designed several dams and locks over the Mississippi River. The main goal behind this project was to maintain a minimum water range up to nine feet so that the navigation channel can be convenient for canoers.

But these dams and locks can be a challenging hazard for the inexperienced handlers and smart craft. As per local regulations, it is not allowed to enter the water with 600 feet upstream condition and 150 feet downstream. The water in these areas can be dangerous.


It is important to mention that the Mississippi River flows through urban areas and the riverside may sometime appear a very dangerous place. Be sure to bring some defensive weapons like arrows or pepper spray.

Wildlife Threat:

Along with other safety concerns, you have to be very careful about the wildlife threat in the area. There are a variety of creatures that may attack you anywhere during this trip. Some of the most commonly found wildlife creatures in these areas are alligators, sharks, bears, and snakes.

When you are planning a journey to the Mississippi river, it is good to get some tips from experts to make your trip safe and memorable.

Mississippi River

The Mississippi River flows from its traditional source of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and stands as the second-longest river, after the Nile. The river also forms the primary river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, after the Hudson Bay drainage system.

Flowing 2,320 miles towards south to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, the river forms several tributaries, along which several Native Americans have found their shelter. The river’s watershed borders and drains all or some parts of 32 states of the U.S. along with two Canadian provinces located between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.

The Mississippi not only ranks as the fourth-longest river but also positions as the fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river also borders around or passes through the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

Early Natives and Explorations

The Native Americans have created a home and lived peacefully around the banks of the Mississippi River and its tributaries for numerous years. They were mostly hunters and food gatherers; however, few indulged in productive agricultural work and few shifted to urban civilizations. In the 16th century, when the Europeans arrived, the Mississippi River started to serve as a link of communication and became a vivacious form of transportation artery among New Spain, the early United States, and New France.

Significance of the Mississippi River in the 19th Century

It is interesting to note that the embayment of the Mississippi River forms one of the most fertile regions of the United States. This is mainly due to the thick layers of silt that are being deposited by the river. This fertility had increased the use of steamboats during the 19th and early 20th centuries to ship agricultural and industrial goods. The river also highlights its strategic importance during the American Civil War when the Union forces captured the river area, marking it a turning point towards victory. During the first decades of the 20th century, with the growth of cities, barges and larger ships developed, replacing steamboats. It was during this time that witnessed the construction of remarkable engineering workings such as locks, levees, and dams. In a major way, these works were carried out mainly to focus on the prevention of the shifting of lower Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River channel.

State Boundaries and Cultural Geography Associated with the River

Starting from Minnesota to Louisiana, the Mississippi River runs through or passes along 10 states. In addition to it, the river also defines the portions of the state borders- along the east part, the river margins Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and along the west Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri is bordered. Although the Mississippi outlines the part of each of the states, considerable portions of both Louisiana and Minnesota can be found on either side of the river.

However, as years passed by, the shifting of the river has been witnessed in several areas, yet no change is observed on the state borders. The river is still following the former bed of the Mississippi River as it did in the times of establishment, and hence, it has left various tiny portions of a state across the new river channel isolated. These secluded parts of land remain contiguous with the adjacent state. 

Divisions of the Mississippi River

Based on physical characteristics, the Mississippi River can be divided into four distinct different sections. Rising from the source of navigation at St. Paul, Minnesota, the Mississippi flows as a clear and fresh stream. The river wounds its unassuming ways through the valleys and lowlands which are dotted with lakes and marshes.

Upper Mississippi

1,475 feet above sea level, the Upper Mississippi runs from its traditional source of Lake Itasca, Minnesota. The name Itasca itself illustrates the meaning of “true head”, and hence plays a vital role in being the source of the Mississippi River. The flow of the river is controlled and moderated by 43 dams starting from the source. These dams, however, severe a diverse range of purposes, ranging from recreation to generation of power and electricity. The only true waterfall on the Mississippi is the Saint Anthony Falls. As the Mississippi passes through the gorge carved out by this waterfall, the water elevation continues to drop steeply.

The river further flows past the steep limestone bluffs and receives water from tributaries in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. In this position, the river assumes the character that made the Algonquian-speaking Indians to name the river as the “Father of Waters”.

Middle Mississippi

As the Upper Mississippi forms the confluence with the Missouri River at St. Louis, Missouri, the Middle Mississippi takes its form. This part of the river is comparatively free-flowing, devoid of any turbulence. Besides the Meramec River of Missouri and the Kaskaskia River of Illinois, there is no major tributary that enters the Middle Mississippi River.

Lower Mississippi

The lower part of the Mississippi River is formed when the river forms a confluence with the Ohio River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. The distance measures about 1,000 miles

In addition to the Ohio River, the White River at the White River National Wildlife Refuge, the Arkansas River at Arkansas post, the Big Black River, and the Yazoo River, at Vicksburg, form the major tributaries of the Lower Mississippi River. The widest point of the Mississippi can be found in the Lower Mississippi section. The width exceeds 1 mile, that is, 1.6 km in several places.


The Mississippi watershed forms the world’s fourth-largest drainage basin, covering more than 3,220,000 square kilometres, which include various parts of the U.S. and two Canadian provinces. The river forms the drainage basin which empties itself into the Gulf of Mexico, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately 40% of the continental landmass of the United States form the total watershed of the Mississippi River. It is interesting to note that the highest point within the watershed, Mount Elbert (at the height of 14,440 feet), also ranks as the highest point of the Rocky Mountains.

Water Supply from the Mississippi River

The Mississippi has been used for commercial and municipal water supply even before the 18th century. The river has been used to obtain freshwater along with discharging the industrial and municipal waste of the community. According to a study by the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee published in January 2000, it has been observed that nearly 15 million people of the States depend on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency has also researched and claimed that more than 50 cities rely on the Mississippi River for their daily water supply and other purposes.

Things to Know about the Commerce Associated with the River

The river makes one of the most fertile basins and agriculture forms dominant land use for nearly two centuries in the Mississippi basin. The Mississippi played a huge role in altering the hydrologic cycle of the region. The lush agricultural products that are cultivated in this river basin has contributed around ninety-two percent of the nation’s total agricultural exports.

Besides, seventy-eight percent of the world’s exports that include feed grains, livestock, hogs, and soybeans are cultivated in this fertile valley. Nearly sixty percent of all grains that are exported from the United States are shipped on the Mississippi River through the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of New Orleans.

The commercial activities around the river also includes shipping, which is mostly done in the Lower Mississippi. The shipping is mostly concentrated on petroleum and its products. Nevertheless, grain, iron and steel, wood, coal, chemicals, rubber, paper, coffee, and edible oils, also stand as significant shipping items.

According to the tonnage measure, the largest port district in the world is also located along the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana. The Port of South Louisiana also forms one of the largest ports based on volume in the United States. 

A 9-foot channel of shipping is maintained and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to regulate the movement of the goods across the Mississippi River. This shipping channel extends from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis.

Interesting Facts about River’s Fauna

  • The Upper Mississippi houses about 50 mammal species and 120 fish species. Also, just within the subtropical region of the Mississippi basin, nearly 370 fish species are known. It includes endemics, relicts such as paddlefish, gar, and bowfin.
  • Besides fish species, we can find several turtle species, which range from musk, map, snapping, mud, cooter, to softshell turtles.
  • Approximately 150 species of aquatic amphibians and reptiles are native to the Mississippi basin.
  • The river corridor is used by nearly forty percent of the Nation’s migratory waterfowl, especially during their migration in spring and fall.

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