How We Got to and From The River | Mississippi River Source to Sea 2023

  • Updated: August 30, 2023
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Unlike a trip of a few hundred miles where you can generally rent a boat and get shuttled back at the end our epic paddle down the Mississippi saw us covering 2,300+ miles and crossing nearly the entire country. And so the process of getting to and from the river was a little bit more involved.

Because of the difficulty of traveling with items like the paddles we elected to just get a one way rental car from our home state of California out to Bemidji which is the closest town to the headwaters. We were able to get an Enterprise one way rental and return it at the Bemidji airport.

Because of the hassle and expense of transporting a canoe or kayak over long distances we elected to buy a used canoe near the headwaters and sell it at the end down in New Orleans. We found multiple outfitters in Boundary Waters selling used Quetico 17 kevlar canoes which are light and very stable. I'd heartily recommend at least evaluating that option before you throw a lot of money at something new.

We originally planned to drive to Boundary Waters in the rental car, pickup the canoe, and then drive to the headwaters at Lake Itasca to drop off the boat along with Jen and our gear. I would them drive to the airport to return the rental car and try to hitch or get an Uber back out to the headwaters.

That slightly roundabout plan would have worked but this was the first of many times where our life was made significantly easier by engaging with local river angels. We ended up lucking out and finding someone who was able to retrieve the boat for us from Boundary Waters and then the fine folks at Itasca Sports were willing to both store the boat until our start date and come and get us from the airport.

As a result we launched at Itasca Sports which was a short distance across the lake from the headwaters.

Ending is a little bit more complicated since there are multiple routes you can take for the last few hundred miles. We did the two most popular.

Ending at the Atchafalaya / Burns Point

The Atchafalaya route leaves the main Mississippi about 300 miles from the gulf and seems to be the most popular route to finish these days. That's both because it's quieter, avoids the heavy industrial and shipping activity between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and because it ends at a vehicle accessible campground.

After coming out Hog Bayou Burns Point is just an easy two mile paddle along the coast. It has cheap tent camping, drinking water, and hot showers making it an ideal spot to wait for your ride. 

Everyone we talked to had someone come out and pick them up here though we heard stories of people hitching a ride into a nearby town without too much difficulty.

Before we decided to continue on and do the New Orleans route as well we had posted the boat on Facebook Marketplace and had multiple people interested and willing to pick it up from Burns. Our plan had been to get people to agree to giving us a ride into Lafayette or Morgan City as part of the purchase price where we intended to get a rental car so I could drive the gear back home.

Ending at Venice / South Pass / Port Eads

The Atchafalaya might be the most popular way to end the trip but after doing both we really enjoyed the traditional end out past Head of Passes. Paddling alongside massive oil tankers was an experience we would have missed out on completely and reaching the end of South Pass somehow felt more epic than Burns Point had. (For more on how the routes differ see our post comparing the two in depth)

This does however make for a bit more complicated of an ending since the last place vehicles can access along the river is 23 miles back up river from the end of South Pass.

(Technically mile zero is at Head of Passes which is only 10 miles past Venice but we along with others I've seen elected to go all the way out to the end of South Pass to reach salt water which was another 13 miles past Head of Passes for a total of 23 miles)

We were put in touch with a charter captain who was willing to come get us but it was going to cost over $300. For that amount we elected to just paddle back up the river and see if we could get someone to pick us up along the way.

There was a good amount of fishing boat traffic coming up South Pass from the open ocean in early afternoon and we lucked out after about 6 miles of paddling against the current when a boat stopped to see what we were up to. When we explicitly asked if they could give us a ride back they ended up hoisting our boat up onto the front and taking us back to town.

Once we were back at Venice we had a generous river angel who came and took us back to New Orleans. Jen flew out of the New Orleans airport while I grabbed another one way rental car this time from Budget and drove the gear back to Colorado.

We dealt with the boat itself by posting it on Facebook Marketplace when we were about a week from the end. We had a lot of interest and had two solid buyers lined up by the time we reached the end. It seemed like we could have arranged for the buyer to come out to Venice if we hadn't had boat transportation back to NOLA already arranged.

You Might Also Like