Steamboats Of The Mississippi
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Steamboats played a major role in the 19th-century development of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, allowing practical large-scale transport of passengers and freight both up- and down-river. Using steam power, riverboats were developed during that time which could navigate in shallow waters as well as upriver against strong currents. After the development of railroads, passenger traffic gradually switched to this faster form of transportation, but steamboats continued to serve Mississippi River commerce into the early 20th century. A small number of steamboats are still used for tourist excursions in the 21st century.
How Long Would It Take To Float Down The Mississippi River
According to the National Park Service, it takes water 90 days to flow from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.
That timeframe doesnt take any stops into account however so if you are a normal person attempting to float down the entire river it would take you approximately twice that long to float down the Mississippi.
The thing with that 6 month time frame is that means you have to spend 12 hours EVERY DAY for 6 MONTHS floating down the river! No days off and no rest periods beyond your 12 hours of sleep/rest at night.
In theory, floating down the Mississippi sounds like an amazing idea and it might be cool for a few days but floating on the river for 6 months straight? Not so much.
American Cruise Line Has Three Itineraries That Combine The Upper And Lower Mississippi:
Mississippi River Gateway Cruise from New Orleans to St. Louis, or reverse
This 11-day itinerary visits New Orleans, Louisana Baton Rouge, Louisana Natchez, Mississippi Vicksburg, Mississippi Memphis, Tennessee New Madrid, Missouri Paducah, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri.
Guests on this voyage will have a chance to visit the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, take a historic hayride in New Madrid, and visit Graceland in Memphis.
Great Heartland Cruise from St. Paul to New Orleans, or reverse
This 15-day sailing takes guests to St. Paul, Minnesota La Crosse, Wisconsin Dubuque, Iowa Davenport, Iowa Fort Madison, Iowa Hannibal, Missouri St. Louis, Missouri Memphis, Tennessee Vicksburg, Mississippi Natchez, Mississippi Baton Rouge, Louisana and New Orleans, Louisana.
Complete Mississippi River Cruise from New Orleans to St. Paul, or reverse
The longest itinerary weve looked at today, this 22-day sailing takes guests to eight of ten states on the Mississippi River. On this sailing, passengers will visit New Orleans, Louisana Oak Alley, Louisana Houmas House, Louisana St. Francisville, Louisana Natchez, Mississippi Vicksburg, Mississippi Greenville, Mississippi Memphis, Tennessee New Madrid, Missouri Cape Girardeau, Missouri Chester, Illinois St. Louis, Missouri Hannibal, Missouri Fort Madison, Iowa Davenport, Iowa Dubuque, Iowa La Crosse, Wisconsin Red Wing, Minnesota and St. Paul, Minnesota.
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American Cruise Lines Offers One Itinerary On The Upper Mississippi:
Upper Mississippi River Cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minnesota, or reverse
This eight-day itinerary takes guests to St. Louis, Missouri Hannibal, Missouri Fort Madison, Iowa Davenport, Iowa Dubuque, Iowa La Crosse, Wisconsin Red Wing, Minnesota and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Highlights of the sailing may include a visit to the Missouri History Museum, an agri-tourism tour at a dairy farm and a visit to the National Eagle Center.
*This sailing has two themed varieties, Mark Twain cruise, or Fall Foliage Cruise.
Where Does The Missouri River Start And End
The Missouri River starts in Browers Spring, Montana and ends at the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. The Missouri flows 2,540 miles until it empties into the Mississippi River.
There is a debate whether the Missouri River is longer than the Mississippi River and it honestly depends on where you think the rivers start. If you search online:
Is the Missouri River longer than the Mississippi river?
You will find a variety of answers to that question. If you go to google right now it says that the Mississippi is longer than the MIssouri! But is that correct?
According to the USGS the Missouri River is 2,540 miles long while the Mississippi River is 2,340. That makes the MISSOURI RIVER the longest river in the United States! So how does the almighty Google get that wrong?
The problem is the answer changes depending on how you measure the start of the rivers but according to the United States Geological Survey the MISSOURI RIVER is longer!
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Can You Float The Missouri River
The Missouri River does a lot of meandering and flows into a variety of lakes in the upper portions which makes simply drifting down the river a VERY slow process. Can it be done? Yes, it certainly can but I personally wouldnt recommend just floating.
Many people canoe or kayak the Upper MIssouri as there are many areas where you can go for 100-150 miles without encountering rough water. That meandering section or lakes would be difficult to float down but with amazing scenery it is excellent to paddle down.
Floating is possible on the lower Missouri River as the current will normally run 3-5mph but there is a lot of barge and large boat traffic so floating that section is an option but avoiding those large boats while simply floating would be difficult to do.
How Long Does It Take To Travel The Mississippi River
So, how long does it take to float down the Mississippi River? The short answer to how long it will take to float down the Mississippi River is around three months. However, as in most things, some factors can change this.
For example, your level of fitness, how long each day you will paddle, weather, and what you are looking for with this trip. Do you want a pleasant journey, or is it a challenge to complete as quickly as possible?
Kirk Milhone and Kevin Eckelkamp hold the record for paddling the length of the Mississippi. The pair completed the journey in thirty-five days, eleven hours, and twenty-seven minutes, in 1980 starting from Lake Itasca and ending at Lower Mississippi.
The team are very experienced canoers who have previously attempted to paddle down the Amazon, and up the west coast of Canada to Alaska.
Every year somewhere between 80 and 100 people attempt this challenge, and just over 50% succeed. Occasionally the trip will end in tragedy with the death of the paddler around 0.25% would be the closest estimate.
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Can You Boat Up The Mississippi River
Barges and other large craft boat up the Mississippi all of the time so it is certainly possible to go up the river if you have a large enough boat/motor.
Boating up the Mississippi is a much taller order than boating down. If you have to boat up the Mississippi it can be done but it is difficult and would require a large boat with very large motors.
Not only would you have to fight the current while traveling up the Mississippi but you would also have to fight the debris flowing downstream as well as the other boats that would be going with the current at a much faster pace.
The real question would be, should you boat up the Mississippi not can you. Assuming you are planning on using a recreational boat, I would strongly advise against going up the Mississippi. Not only will it take a much longer time while fighting the current but it also wont be a very pleasant trip as you have to fight the other boat traffic, debris, and even worry about barges and large boats that will be going upstream much faster than you.
If you need to get to the upper Mississippi a much better route is taking the Great Loop rather than fighting the mighty Mississippi upstream.
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My water bottle was close to empty, and I was starting to hear the siren call of Chestnut Mountain. Just when I thought we were headed in, Captain Mike pointed at a small vessel along our stern. Kayak! he shouted. Let check it out!
That wouldnt have been my first impulse, content as I usually am to give a casual wave to passing boaters. We pulled around and headed straight for the one-person kayak, paddled by a woman who looked very comfortable in a small craft on the barge-infested Mississippi.
We tied off the boat and hiked 40 yards or so to the chairlift. To get there we had to be sure to stop, look and listen before crossing the railroad tracks that carry freight trains traveling around 50 miles per hour. Safely across, we settled into an upward-bound chair and gripped our flip-flops tightly with our toes. As the lift stopped momentarily to let people ahead of us get off at the top of the hill, Captain Mike took the opportunity to talk to the people headed down. Where you from? How was lunch? What brings you to Iowa?
Blitgen was born on a farm about 10 miles from Bellevue. He recalls walking across field to neighbors places a few times a month for barn dances and other get-togethers. It was a real Mayberry RFD feeling. We swam in the creeks, fished in the ponds, made forts in the corn fields. It was pure wholesome country living.
Mike Blitgen, left, has been a river boat captain, just like his father and son.
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Can You Boat The Entire Missouri River
Knowing that you can boat the Missouri River is great but what if you want to boat the entire river, is that possible?
Yes, it is possible to boat the entire Missouri River but you would have to change boats at some point during the journey.
The upper section of the river is only deep enough for a canoe or kayak. There are also six dams that dont have a lock on the top portion of the river so you would have to carry your boat along the shore and then relaunch it once you get to the bottom of the dam.
Once you reach Sioux City you can then use a power boat for the remainder of the trip. You do have to be careful as there are many places that have sand bars or debris that could damage your boat or motors.
The time of year can be a factor as flooding on the river can introduce a lot more debris and some areas can become unnavigable or even be closed to recreational boats and barges.
Tips For Canoeing The Mississippi River
When my brother and I began doing research for this trip we uncovered a troubling realization there isnt much up to date information on canoeing the Mississippi River. In fact, there was such a void we based a lot of our research on a book written in the 1980s. While Mississippi Solo was a great account of what it was like for a single black man to make the journey, it didnt do much good in preparing us. So Im taking it upon myself to jot down everything Ive learned, with the hope of assisting the next set of travelers.
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Construction Of The Vessels
Vessels were made of woodâtypically ranging in length from 40 feet to nearly 300 feet in length, 10 feet to 80 feet wide, drawing only about one to five feet of water loaded it was commonly said that they could “navigate on a heavy dew.” The boats had kingposts, or internal masts, to support hogchains, or iron trusses, which prevented the hull from sagging. A second deck was added, the Texas Deck, to provide cabins and passenger areas. Everything was constructed from wood. Stairs, galleys, and parlors were also added. Often the boats became quite ornate with wood trim, velvet, plush chairs, gilt edging, and other trimmings, sometimes per the owner’s taste and budget. Wood burning boilers were placed forward center to distribute weight. The engines were amidships or at the stern, depending on if the vessel was a sternwheeler or sidewheeler. Two rudders were fitted to help steer the ship.
On average, vessels lasted only about five years due to the wooden hulls being breached, poor maintenance, fires, general wear and tear, and the common boiler explosion. Early trips up the Mississippi River took three weeks to arrive at the Ohio River. Later, with better pilots, more powerful engines and boilers, removal of obstacles, and experienced rivermen who knew the location of sandbars, that figure was reduced to 4 days. Collisions and snags were constant perils.
Combination Upper And Lower Mississippi River Cruises
Though the Mississippi can be broken up into two parts, there are many itineraries that combine both parts of the river. Most of these itineraries are longer than those that are segmented, so if youre looking to do a combination cruise, youll likely need to block out at least two weeks.
American Duchess leaving Winona, Minnesota at sunset. Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company
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American Queen Steamboat Company Has Two Itineraries That Combine The Upper And Lower Mississippi:
American River BBQ Challenge from Memphis to St. Louis, or reverse
This nine-day sailing only has a few sailing dates that start in May and end in September. The sailing is a BBQ competition between the culinary teams onboard, and regional barbeque masters.
Stops on this journey include Memphis, Tennessee New Madrid, Missouri Paducah, Kentucky Cape Girardeau, Missouri Chester, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Apart from BBQ sampling, guests will have a chance to visit many historic sites.
Authentic America On The Mighty Mississippi from Minneapolis, MN to New Orleans, LA, or reverse
This is the longest voyage on the Mississippi offered by American Queen Steamboat Company. Over 16 days, guests will visit Minneapolis, Minnesota Winona, Minnesota La Crosse, Wisconsin Dubuque, Iowa Bettendorf, Iowa Hannibal, Missouri St. Louis, Missouri Memphis, Tennessee Vicksburg, Mississippi Natchez, Mississippi Nottoway Plantation and New Orleans, Louisana.
American Queen Steamboat Company Offers Two Itineraries On The Upper Mississippi:
This itinerary is either eight or nine days and includes stops in Red Wing, Minnesota Winona, Minnesota La Crosse, Wisconsin Dubuque, Iowa Bettendorf, Iowa Burlington, Iowa Hannibal, Missouri and Alton, Illinois.
Highlights of the voyage might include a visit to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, the Romanesque Chapels of St. Rose, and a tour of a Dutch windmill.
Heartland Heritage roundtrip from Minneapolis
This nine-day itinerary takes guests to Red Wing, Minnesota La Crosse, Wisconsin Dubuque, Iowa Prairie du Chein, Wisconsin and Winona, Minnesota.
Highlights of the trip might include a visit to the Pottery Museum of Red Wing, the Fur Trade Museum, and the Sheldon Theatre, which opened in 1904.
*Both of these sailings have multiple themed varieties.
American Harmony, the second in a lineup of five modern riverboats from American Cruise Lines. Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines
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Modern Engineering & A Trip Back In Time
At the revitalized Port of Dubuque, we docked in the protected Ice Harbor inside the floodgate, where courtesy docks make stopping off easy. Near the National Mississippi River Museum is an extensive riverfront plaza, and the Diamond Jo Casino and gaming complex. Back on the water, just three miles from the start, we had our first lock-through, at Lock and Dam 11, along with one man on a jet ski. He wasn’t the least bit surprised when we told him we were headed to Minneapolis. “I took the trip last year with my sons in an aluminum fishing boat,” he told us, “and we camped along the way.”
The Upper Mississippi lock and dam system is called the “Stairway of Water.” Elevation above sea level is shown at left. The river travels at 1.2 to 3 mph, and is approximately 2,350 miles long.
The idea of locking through was initially daunting, but we breezed through it, grabbing lines from a friendly lockmaster to steady our boat against the concrete wall. When Twain saw the river, it was untamed even, he speculated, untamable by the United States River Commission . In the 1930s, though, the Corps of Engineers began the 9-Foot Project to revive and improve the navigation on the Upper River, creating 29 locks and dams, from Minneapolis to St. Louis, by 1964. Today, more than 90 million tons of cargo move by barge on the upper Mississippi River annually. Recreational boats and commercial vessels share the locks on a first-come, first-served basis.