The Mississippi River in the United States has long been a thoroughfare for commerce and trade. Well before Europeans discovered the continent and the river the Native Americans were using the waterway for trade and communication. Entering the river through the Mississippi Delta, located near modern day New Orleans, the river allowed traders access to the Great Plains and beyond. This natural passage meant that the Mississippi region was colonised long before other regions of the modern-day United States.
Perhaps what gave the river its most lasting fame is one of America’s greatest writers, a writer considered by many to be the father of the American literary tradition, Mark Twain. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, as he was named at birth, was himself so much intertwined with the river that his pen name, Mark Twain, was drawn from a measurement used by riverboats captains to mark the depth of the waters. And of course his two most famous books feature the characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, whose lives revolve round the Mississippi River.
This connection to a period of American history—a time just before and the American Civil War in the mid-1800s—is what makes the river such a captivating place to visit and doing so in a kayak is the ideal way to connect to the spirit of middle America and its vibrant history.
If you’re lucky enough to get a chance to paddle down the Mississippi (and as a fast flowing river the only viable option is to go from north to south with the current of the river), you’ll need to be very cautious of commercial traffic as the river is still used by barges and other river coat to transport goods (and, in a more touristic fashion than was once the case, people) up and down the river.
While the cities and and towns on the banks of the Mississippi have definitely changed since the days of Samuel Langhorn Clemens, the river itself—Old Man River, as it’s referred to in the old song—is very much the same as it was in Twain’s day and there’s hardly a better way to connect to a time and the spirit of that time than through the commonalities the present day shares with the past.