These questions and more may be running through your head at a million miles an hour, but don't stress yourself. Organizing a systematic approach to your planning is the first step to starting your journey, and we're here to help. For more, read on...
Do you really want to dedicate the next few months of your life to a paddling trip?
Do you have the ability to up and leave for a few months?
Can you finance it?
If you've answered 'yes' to those questions, do it. Plan the trip. Buy the gear. Get in the water.
Now, before we get into the details, if at any point in planning this trip you feel overwhelmed, just remember to keep it simple. The trip will go just fine and there will be moments when you'll have to improvise. We completed the entire river with a bit of research and very little prior experience. Just remember, safety should be your number one concern.
Yes! When we started, Adam had absolutely no canoe experience and Cole had only a few hours of paddling under his belt. The Upper Mississippi River is relatively slow and is a good place to learn paddling. By the time you reach St. Louis and the Lower Mississippi River, you will be an adequate paddler.
It really depends how you want to do your trip and what gear you already have. If you already have the gear and plan on traveling simply, you can spend under $600 on your entire trip. If you don’t have any gear, want to stay in hotel rooms, and eat expensive meals, you could end up spending anywhere up to $5,000. If you would like a more detailed understanding of the finances involved in a trip like this, take a look at our 'How much will it cost' post.
2. How should I plan?
Do not over think this. Like we said before, we planned for two days and took off. However, here are a few things to consider:
- Figure out what time of year you are able and willing to go
Depending when you start, there are a few things that could change throughout the year.
Spring: The weather is a bit cooler, the water levels are higher, and the upper river is fast.
Summer: The weather is brutally hot, the water levels have dropped slightly, and the upper river is still moving slowly.
Fall: The weather is cool again (especially in the morning and night), the water levels are low, and the upper river barely has a current.
- Figure out logistics
How will you get to the headwaters in Minnesota?
What will you do with your canoe once you’ve finished?
How will you get home?
We were lucky with trip logistics. We both live in Minnesota, so we simply had our family drive us to the river. We used Cole’s parents’ canoe, and, to put a cherry on top, Cole’s parents took a road trip to pick us up in New Orleans.
3. How long will it take you?
Generally, it can take 60 to 90 (or more) days to canoe down the Mississippi River. Kayaking may be a little faster. Also, keep in mind that you may want to take some off-days in places like Memphis, St. Louis, or some other 'Favorite Places' along the river.
We've made things easy for you and posted a General Gear List and a more Extensive Gear List. Also, you'll need to buy the obvious necessities like a tent and watercraft, but we've also organized a list of the Top Ten (less obvious) Gear Necessities (which includes the correct maps you'll need--a very important purchase).
For more information, please consult our Paddling Resources page or send us an e-mail.