How Long Does It Take To Kayak The Mississippi River?

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: November 26, 2022
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On average, it takes paddlers around three months to kayak the Mississippi River. The duration may change depending on several factors, but you will take less than ninety days to kayak from upper Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico if you are floating consistent miles per hour.

Key Takeaways

  • The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America, with a length of about 2,320 miles
  • According to the Guinness World Records, the title “fastest time to row the length of the Mississippi river by a team” is held by Bob Bradford and Clark Eid. It took them 18 days, 4 hours, and 51 minutes.
  • A few factors determine how long it will take paddlers to kayak the entire river like the weather, how long you can paddle, water levels, etc.
  • The changing water levels and speed of currents also affect the safety of paddlers on the Mississippi river

What Are Some Challenges Paddlers Face When Kayaking The Mississippi River?

Some Challenges Paddlers Face When Kayaking The Mississippi River

As with everything that is greatly rewarding, kayaking along the Mississippi river comes with numerous challenges too. Some are expected, while others are pretty unforeseen. Let’s look at some common challenges paddlers face and how you can avoid them.

1. Safety

Safety is a significant concern when kayaking along the entire Mississippi River. Some states have not mapped the river, and this can make navigation a bit difficult. We recommend having google/ apple maps to help you navigate through the rivers. The changing water levels and speed of currents also affect the safety of paddlers on this river. In some states, the Mississippi flows through urban towns where crime levels are high. If you are looking to kayak this river, have maps and make plans for any eventualities that can be unsafe.

2. Tugboats and water containers

As you kayak between lake Itasca and St Louis, you are bound to come across towboats that create strong waves along the river. While kayaking, it is advisable to stay clear of towboats because they have the right of way. If you meet towboats at a bend, remain inside the curve and turn your bow towards the waves they create.

3. Wing dams and locks

Wing dams are made up of rocks that do not show on the surface of the river. They are a danger, especially to small boats, since they can damage the vessel or even change your course. Always ensure you stay within the marked navigation on your map to avoid them.

Some locks and dams can slow you down considerably. There will be spots where you will have to sit for over an hour waiting, and others will need you to get your kayak out of the water and carry it. However, ensure you are patient and follow any provided guidance since the locks and dams can be the most hazardous and challenging parts of your trip.

4. High and low water

Low water is hazardous because of the rocks in the upper reaches, which may damage your kayak or even cause it to capsize. High water is dangerous because of the currents, and it also carries obstacles that can smash into your kayak. There are high waters near lake Itasca, the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans. If possible, avoid kayaking in high-water areas.

 Top 8 Tips For Kayaking The Mississippi River 

Tips For Kayaking The Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is a great adventure that offers a tremendous challenge to intermediate and professional paddlers. If you are looking for a river that provides different kayaking experiences, the Mississippi will be an excellent place. Being about 2320 miles, the river offers remarkable experiences over a long distance making it a worthy try. However, you will need some prior research if you want a successful trip. You need to be aware of the dos and don’ts and what to expect along the way.

We have come up with a few tips to make you better prepared for kayaking the Mississippi River.

1. Be prepared and do not fear

There are a few stories of paddlers who drowned in the Mississippi, which can get scary for most people. You don’t need to be scared, be cautious, and everything will go well. Always ensure you wear your life jacket when kayaking and be aware of your surroundings. Google and Apple maps will come in handy with navigation to ensure you are aware of your surroundings. Also, keep an eye on storms and changes in the water current to ensure you are safe throughout the adventure. Have everything that you feel is necessary for a safe and comfortable trip.

2. Be ready for long walks and portages

As you start your journey at Lake Itasca, you’ll notice that the river is only ankle-deep, and you will need to carry your kayak for quite a distance. You can walk between 100 feet to one and a half miles, so we recommend having your hiking boots ready. Be ready to walk and carry your kayak for long distances at different points of the river.

3. Use Google and Apple maps for easy navigation

 As you research, you will realize that there isn’t a comprehensive map detailing your journey down the river. Minnesota has graphed the river excellently through its borders, but they are the only state that has done it. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers also has a map that can help you fill some gaps along the way. The best resource will be your google maps since they direct you even when you hit multiple junctions and forks on the way.

4. Be ready to paddle all the time

Prepare yourself mentally for long hours of paddling. On the Mississippi river, the current is fickle, and you can’t sit without paddling and expecting it to carry you down the river. Some people say the current is dangerous, but you won’t feel unsafe as you glide or get in or out of the kayak. 

5. Get your timing right 

If you plan to kayak the entire river, ensure you don’t start too early in the year, so you don’t encounter any ice. It is also not advisable to start too late since it could get too cold by the time you finish. Depending on your pace, give yourself ample time and start around July or August to increase your chances of finishing.

6. Plan for your meals and other expenses

You need to plan ahead of time where you will get water or food. You can carry enough money to buy food in nearby locations and carry packed snacks. Ask locals and use your maps to get the best deals and avoid spending a fortune on food. In some towns, you will need to chain up your kayak and carry your valuable items to prevent theft.

7. Stay clear of towboats and barges

These vessels create dangerous currents even when tied up and cannot maneuver or stop quickly. One of the main dangers of this river has to be the currents near fixed objects. These currents can trap you and destroy your kayak.

8. Observe safety and carry anything you need for a comfortable trip

Ensure you have a lifejacket at all times when paddling and secure your gear as though you expect to capsize. Have good paddles, a sleeping bag, a chain and lock, and other accessories that you feel will be necessary for a safe and comfortable adventure.


Kayaking the Mississippi River is a great adventure that can take you up to 90 days. Every paddler that enjoys a good challenge enjoys taking on this journey. We hope that you enjoyed getting tips from us and you are motivated to kayak on the river. Jump on the adventure and probably set a new world record for the shortest time taken to kayak the Mississippi.




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