Skip to main content

Exploring the Mouth of the Lower Mississippi River

Janda Raker has explored four continents via power boat, train, motorcycle, cross-country skis, snowshoes, sea kayak and her own two feet.

The beautiful waves of the lower Mississippi River, highlighted by the sunlight and clouds overhead.

The beautiful waves of the lower Mississippi River, highlighted by the sunlight and clouds overhead.

Where Does the Mississippi River Meet the Gulf of Mexico?

The spectacular Mississippi River—have you wished to travel on it? Have you wondered what the mouth of it looks like, where it joins the Gulf of Mexico? Many assume that beautiful, lively New Orleans is a city built at that intersection. However, it’s actually almost 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

What Makes the Mouth of the Mississippi Unique

Big rivers often end in bays or gulfs, and humans love those spaces. Many have become huge population centers, while others are scenic natural areas, luring outdoorsmen. So most are readily visible to those who seek them. But the mouth of the Mississippi is not simple, to see or to navigate.

Most large rivers get wider, shallower, and slower the closer they get to the terminus, but the Mississippi is the only one that gets narrower, deeper, and faster as it nears its end, while constantly adding to its own delta.

How to Get to the Lower Mississippi River

Seeing the mouth of the Mississippi takes considerable effort. Its thirty-mile-long estuary is comprised of open-water channels and grassy marsh, with fresh water from the river mixing with the tides from the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, there are no roads through the area.

You could fly over in an aircraft, float through on a cruise ship, sign on as a crew member on a freighter, or charter a boat. Or go out in your own pleasure craft—a fishing boat, a cruiser of some sort, a canoe, kayak, or raft—each a possibility for those “Huck Finns” who enjoy outdoor adventures and are open to some inconvenience and perhaps excitement. You could even take a side trip to New Orleans.

Some Ways to Get to the Mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico

The crew of a large container ship has access to the mouth of the Mississippi. as it carries truck-sized containers, plying the river.

The crew of a large container ship has access to the mouth of the Mississippi. as it carries truck-sized containers, plying the river.

A large cruise ship carries passengers on the Mississippi River, heading toward the mouth of the big river, the Gulf of Mexico and points south.

A large cruise ship carries passengers on the Mississippi River, heading toward the mouth of the big river, the Gulf of Mexico and points south.

Considering Safety

If you go on your own, safety is the primary concern, so weather, equipment, and training must be considered. Check the internet for details. The most important question for power boaters is how many miles your boat can travel without refueling.

Two small pocket cruisers at a marina in Venice, Louisiana, preparing to start their trip to explore the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Two small pocket cruisers at a marina in Venice, Louisiana, preparing to start their trip to explore the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Venice, Lousiana: The Last Launch

For towable vessels, the most convenient launch site is at Venice, Louisiana, the last community accessible by road at the southern terminus of Hwy. 23. Venice is on the west bank of the river, 77 highway miles south of New Orleans. Two small marinas provide many services including fuel and boat launches. RV parking is available nearby.

A Map of the Lower Mississippi River

The River's Mouth

Technically you only need to go to Head of Passes, 8.8 miles south of Venice, the location of the last mile marker for the river. It’s just a day trip to visit the mouth of the river, out to the southern end and back.

At high tide, not much is visible to the south besides ships, tall grass, and the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico. The river is about half a mile wide there, with stands of giant reeds growing alongside. Three main branches of the river merge into the water of the Gulf, mingling with the vegetation and intermittently submerged sandbars, forming freshwater and saltwater marshes.

More Ships with Access to the Mouth of the Mississippi

A large yellow tanker owned by a Middle Eastern company carries petroleum products on the Mississippi River heading toward New Orleans.

A large yellow tanker owned by a Middle Eastern company carries petroleum products on the Mississippi River heading toward New Orleans.

Scroll to Continue

Read More from WanderWisdom

A large dry bulk hauler heads from the mouth of the Mississippi River northward toward New Orleans to pick up a load. The water line halfway up the hull is evidence that the ship is empty.

A large dry bulk hauler heads from the mouth of the Mississippi River northward toward New Orleans to pick up a load. The water line halfway up the hull is evidence that the ship is empty.

Safety Tips

The best safety measure is flexibility in scheduling. If storms are expected, postpone your trip, waiting for better conditions. Flooding, however, doesn’t prevent boating on the river. After all, boats float! But debris from flooded areas can create hazards.

If you go at such time, recruit a passenger who is skilled in spotting floating items to avoid collisions with large objects such as floating tree trunks, refrigerators, car hoods, and smaller hazards such as tangles of fishing nets that can stop boat propellers. Our trip was during flood time, and we experienced all of those, but we accomplished our goal, though it was a bit challenging at times!

Drought in the area doesn’t pose a problem for boaters, as low water levels in the river just allow saltwater from the Gulf to flow upstream. But do consider the effect the current will have on your gas mileage, whether you’re going against it or traveling with it.

Views from the New Orleans Area

The steamboat "Natchez" heads out from its dock in New Orleans as it provides passengers an excellent view of the city from the Mississippi River.

The steamboat "Natchez" heads out from its dock in New Orleans as it provides passengers an excellent view of the city from the Mississippi River.

The small C-Dory "See-Saw" poses in front of the Crescent City Connection, the bridge over the Mississippi River that connects the two sides of New Orleans.

The small C-Dory "See-Saw" poses in front of the Crescent City Connection, the bridge over the Mississippi River that connects the two sides of New Orleans.

"Bixby's Cub" motors in the Mississippi River at New Orleans in front of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas."

"Bixby's Cub" motors in the Mississippi River at New Orleans in front of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas."

The famous Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans is visible on the waterfront of the Mississippi River in  New Orleans.

The famous Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans is visible on the waterfront of the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The paddlewheeler "Creole Queen" docks at Riverwalk and Canal Street in New Orleans for cruises on the Mississippi. See the French Quarter and St. Louis Cathedral, while enjoying a jazz band and Creole buffet.

The paddlewheeler "Creole Queen" docks at Riverwalk and Canal Street in New Orleans for cruises on the Mississippi. See the French Quarter and St. Louis Cathedral, while enjoying a jazz band and Creole buffet.

The modern city of New Orleans as viewed from the Mississippi River.

The modern city of New Orleans as viewed from the Mississippi River.

The C-Dory "See-Saw" near the French Quarter of New Orleans, with Jax Brewery (now a shopping center), St. Louis Cathedral, and the red New Orleans Public Belt train, providing transport among local industries.

The C-Dory "See-Saw" near the French Quarter of New Orleans, with Jax Brewery (now a shopping center), St. Louis Cathedral, and the red New Orleans Public Belt train, providing transport among local industries.

New Orleans

If you have a boat you can sleep on, consider going upriver to New Orleans, turning around and heading back past Venice to the Gulf at Head of Passes, and then back north to Venice. Logistics for that trip are more complicated because of increased fuel use and lack of fuel sources.

Heading north, you’ll see the banks of the Mississippi change from marshes and few trees to industrial sites to the outskirts of New Orleans and then downtown. Boat traffic evolves from professional fishing boats, sport-fishing boats, pilot boats, huge freighters and tankers, and an occasional cruise ship near the Gulf to include Coast Guard boats, towboats pushing barges, small pleasure craft, and quaint tourist-filled paddle wheelers.

We couldn’t debark and visit New Orleans from the river because there are no docks (except those exclusively for cruise ships and paddle wheelers). So we boated near the levees of the French Quarter, waved at and conversed with folks strolling alongside the river, and glimpsed Jackson Square, the Audubon Aquarium, and St. Louis Cathedral.

Spending the Night on the Mississippi River

Sunset and clouds create a perfect backdrop for a C-Dory, a small pocket cruiser, anchored for the night at the eastern edge of the lower Mississippi, as the author and her husband prepare to bed down for the night between New Orleans and Venice.

Sunset and clouds create a perfect backdrop for a C-Dory, a small pocket cruiser, anchored for the night at the eastern edge of the lower Mississippi, as the author and her husband prepare to bed down for the night between New Orleans and Venice.

A tow boat with barges had parked overnight among trees at the edge of the river near "Bixby's Cub". The early morning fog greets the crew.

A tow boat with barges had parked overnight among trees at the edge of the river near "Bixby's Cub". The early morning fog greets the crew.

Where to Sleep on the River

If your boat’s fuel storage is too small to make the entire trip and if you’re in reasonably good physical condition, carry a folding hand truck and jerry cans for extra fuel, use a GPS to locate gas stations along Louisiana Highway 23, west of the river, tie up alongside the levee, and climb over to purchase fuel. Our friend, younger and stronger than we, did so twice, on the way up from Venice and on the way back toward the Gulf.

You may need to sleep two nights on the river, depending on your speed. A likely place to tie up is near trees, out of the traffic lanes. The river is used primarily for commerce, with hundreds of vessels passing each day, though most stop for the night. If you’re not experienced in tying up for the night, read up on it or travel with someone who is.

Two anchors and plenty of chain and rope are advisable. A white navigation light on top of the boat, visible from all sides and kept turned on all night, is required. A depth finder can be helpful. Towboats or pilot boats roaring by—taking river pilots to and from their assignments onboard the large ships and perhaps flashing spotlights on your boat to check your position—may disturb your slumber. But soon you’ll be comfortable with the procedure. Surprisingly those fast-moving boats cause very little wake, hardly rocking your craft. Like us, you’ll probably learn to sleep right through it.

Pilot Boats, Tank Farms, and Car Ferries

A pilot boat brings an experienced pilot for a tanker on the Mississippi River. At left, see the white-shirted pilot starting to climb up the sloping ladder, as both vessels travel at a fast speed.

A pilot boat brings an experienced pilot for a tanker on the Mississippi River. At left, see the white-shirted pilot starting to climb up the sloping ladder, as both vessels travel at a fast speed.

One of several tank farms along the banks of the Mississippi where petroleum products and chemicals are stored before being loaded into tankers.south of Venice, Louisiana.

One of several tank farms along the banks of the Mississippi where petroleum products and chemicals are stored before being loaded into tankers.south of Venice, Louisiana.

The Pointe a la Hache free car ferry is the southernmost ferry across the Mississippi River. It runs between Venice and New Orleans.

The Pointe a la Hache free car ferry is the southernmost ferry across the Mississippi River. It runs between Venice and New Orleans.

Wildlife

Between Venice and Head of Passes, squadrons of brown pelicans surveyed us from overhead. And a bald eagle looked on from a tall, dead bald cypress. A flash of white from a distance turned out to be a great egret erect in the shallows, waiting for a tasty morsel to float by. That was part of what we’d come for—the end of the great Mississippi, the scenery, the ships, and the wildlife! We and our friends stopped to take pics of each other’s boats at that last marker, to prove we’d been there. One of those photos later accompanied a magazine article.

Quiz About the Lower Mississippi River

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What state is the mouth of the Mississippi River in?
    • Texas
    • New Mexico
    • Mississippi
    • Louisiana
    • Alabama
  2. Why would I want to go to Venice, LA?
    • It's older than New Orleans.
    • It has gondolas.
    • It's the best place to launch a private boat to go to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
    • It has lots of alligators.
  3. Can I boat on the Mississippi River during flooding?
    • No, because your boat might sink.
    • Yes, because boats float.
    • Yes, because other people will be too afraid.
  4. How can I get gas for my boat along the lower Mississippi?
    • Climb over the levee with a hand truck and jerry cans, to reach a service station.
    • Ask to buy some from one of the tankers.
    • Pull into a marina in downtown New Orleans.
  5. Is New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River?
    • Yes.
    • No, it's about 8.8 miles from the mouth.
    • No, it's almost 100 miles from the mouth.
  6. What is the mouth of the MIssissippi River called?
    • Head of Passes
    • Venice
    • Shreveport
    • Mobile Bay

Answer Key

  1. Louisiana
  2. It's the best place to launch a private boat to go to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
  3. Yes, because boats float.
  4. Climb over the levee with a hand truck and jerry cans, to reach a service station.
  5. No, it's almost 100 miles from the mouth.
  6. Head of Passes

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 1 correct answer: You may not be very motivated to take this trip.

If you got between 2 and 3 correct answers: You will be pretty good at navigating to the mouth of the Mississippi.

If you got 4 correct answers: You would be good at reaching this destination.

If you got 5 correct answers: You would be a good guide, even to take other people on this trip!

If you got 6 correct answers: We'd be happy to ride along with you on this trip to the mouth of the Mississippi!

Reaching the Mouth of the Mississippi River at the Gulf of Mexico

The author and her husband in "See-Saw," which is dwarfed by a huge red tanker south of Venice, LA, near Head of Passes on the Mississippi.

The author and her husband in "See-Saw," which is dwarfed by a huge red tanker south of Venice, LA, near Head of Passes on the Mississippi.

"Bixby's Cub" turns for a photo op at the bottom mile marker at Head of Passes, the official end of the Mississippi River. A tanker is going the opposite direction.

"Bixby's Cub" turns for a photo op at the bottom mile marker at Head of Passes, the official end of the Mississippi River. A tanker is going the opposite direction.

Impressive View!

However you go, such a journey provides a view of the mouth of the impresssive Mississippi River, one that most people never experience!

(Thanks to Tex Allen of Cypress, Texas, for help on this article and on our trip on the Lower Mississippi!)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Janda Raker

Related Articles