Kayak, canoe in Mississippi: What you need to know about paddling trails, newest blueway

The number of paddling trails for kayakers and canoers is continuing to increase in Mississippi as the interest in outdoor activities grows.

The most recent addition is a blueway extension in Hattiesburg, but there are plenty of additional opportunities to paddle, enjoy and learn about the areas in South Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta.

“During the last year, we have seen a demand for outdoor recreation opportunities like never before," Marlo Dorsey, executive director of VisitHATTIESBURG, said. "Hattiesburg’s year-round mild climate and natural habitats have made the Pinebelt a haven for outdoor enthusiasts nationally.” 

Blueways are natural bodies of water enhanced specifically for kayakers and canoers. They include public launch points and signs indicating miles, points of interest and areas available for public use. There are also signs highlighting plants and animals that may be encountered along the way.

Paige Robertson, director of communications for VisitHATTIESBURG, said blueways are "huge for educating youth and outdoor enthusiasts in general."

In 2018, phase one of the development of the Pinebelt Blueways was completed, offering 10.8 miles of waterway from Jones County to Hattiesburg’s Chain Park on the Leaf River. The expansion provided an additional 13.5 miles on the Bouie River, beginning on Highway 49 North to Glendale Avenue with a ramp at Pep’s Point Road in between.

The Leaf River meets the Bouie River at Chain Park in Hattiesburg with 9.6 miles of blueway to Sims Road in McCallum before continuing 18.4 miles to Buck Creek Road in New Augusta. The recent addition brings the blueway to 52.3 miles with six points to launch and take out.

Currently, paddlers must provide their own equipment, but Robertson said that may change.

"We're working with partners to get an outfitter out there," Robertson said. "That's probably going to be within about two years."

Kayak and canoe blueways on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

South of Hattiesburg along the Mississippi Coast, blueways have become more common.

"Currently, we have 10 blueways," said Rhonda Price, director of Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area. "We're working on another on Rotten Bayou.

"You can go on for hours about the beauty you'll see on our bayous, creeks and rivers. You can admire the wildlife of the area like foxes, coyotes, turkeys and songbirds."

Blueways maintained by MGCNHA:  

  • Bayou Bogue Homa
  • Davis Bayou
  • Grassy Point
  • Jordan River
  • Old Fort Bayou
  • Pascagoula River, George County
  • Pascagoula River, Jackson County
  • Red Creek
  • Turkey Creek
  • Wolf River

Like Pinebelt Blueways, the coastal blueways have signage throughout to educate and keep paddlers on course. The MGCNHA website also has story maps for each blueway that tell of the people and culture that once inhabited the area, along with flora and fauna paddlers may see.

Other information is also available on the story maps such as which offer outfitter services or have camping areas. Even if there aren't designated areas for camping or picnicking, Price said that's not an issue along the creeks and rivers.

"There's always a sandbar you can find," Price said.


Kayak and canoe in the Mississippi Delta

The Mississippi Delta doesn't have actual blueways, but it has a number of paddling trails. Unlike blueways, the trails are unmarked, but GPS coordinates for points of interest, natural features, picnic areas and other information are provided on the Mississippi Lower Delta Partnership's website. Paddlers can keep up with where they are and what's nearby with their phones or GPS units.

"They're all good paddles," said Meg Cooper, MLDP coordinator. "One of the prettiest ones is the Yalobusha.

"It's really lovely to do. I also like the Little Sunflower because it's got a great ramp."

Paddlers will need to provide their own equipment to get on the water. Cooper said no outfitters service the paddling trails.

Delta paddling trails available:

  • Big Sunflower River
  • Little Sunflower River
  • Sunflower River
  • Yalobusha River
  • Yazoo River

The Delta paddling trails also include one on the Pearl River; however, the stretch of river it's on has been polluted by sewage from Jackson and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has issued a warning that people should avoid contact with the water in that area.

Not much skill is needed to paddle the Lower Delta trails — an appealing feature for the less experienced — because the water is much like the surrounding landscape.

"It's flat water," Cooper said. "There's not much of a current. It's an easy paddle."

Along the way paddlers can enjoy the sights of eagles, deer, raccoons, egrets and much more.

"You never know what you'll see," Cooper said. "There's so many different species.

"You might even see a bear. You never know. It's bear territory."

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