Saturday, September 10, 2016

Jourdan River Paddle-McLeod Park, Kiln Mississippi

This is a very pleasant out-and-back trip, about an hour from New Orleans, that's perfect for a casual group paddle or a nice workout paddle.

This route starts and finishes in McLeod Park, near Kiln, MS. But the Jourdan River empties into Bay St Louis, so you could certainly get creative with some point-to-point, shuttle-based trips also. But this post will only be about the Jourdan River from McLeod State Park, upriver for a few miles, and then back. On our trips, we go left/upstream from the launch, towards Bacon Bayou, and determine our turnaround point depending on how we feel. Bacon Bayou is a little more than 5 miles upriver, so these are usually 10 or 11 mile trips.

For more info about this area, here's a link to the Jourdan River Blueway site:

And, a link to McLeod Park. Note the $4/car fee(as of May 2019).

Here's an 11 mile round trip route, as recorded by my Garmin:
kayak jourdan river
The route I'll describe below is really pretty, with lots of sandy beaches/pullovers along the way. Though there may be some traffic at the beginning, this does turn into a very pretty, peaceful paddle through the woods. One of the nicest features of this paddle is all of the sandy pullovers you'll pass.
Kayak Jourdan River
Paddle Jourdan River

On Memorial Day Weekend 2019 (Sunday), a group of eight of us paddled this route. For our 10 A.M. start, the river was not yet very crowed. This was a very slow trip, and when we returned around 3 P.M., the boat traffic became pretty heavy within the last 2 or 3 miles as we returned to the park. In fact, in the last mile the traffic was very heavy. But in the last mile or so, there are so many large gatherings of people having beach parties along the way, with people playing in the river, that boat traffic was alert and polite. Just be ready for lots of crisscrossing wake action. 

On one trip on Labor Day weekend, the weather alternated between extremely hot and short rainstorms. Our plan was to just have a relaxing paddle and swim and "who cares if it rains" kind of day, and this is a perfect trip for that. In fact, on that trip our group took advantage of all the pullovers and swapped boats periodically so folks could try out different styles of kayaks (and a homemade pirogue, actually). That was one of the most relaxing 10 mile paddles I've done. We turned around at 5 miles on that trip, but the river remains navigable for canoes and kayaks for a ways further. 

The river becomes Catahoula Creek after Bacon Bayou, actually, and as you continue upstream you'll probably be fighting a pretty good current. Paddle until you get tired of fighting the current or simply need to return to the car. Bayou Bacon is actually a good reference point for a turn around spot (since it's really the ONLY reference point around), and you'll probably find some nice sandy beaches to pull over on around it. 
The picture below was our turnaround/lunch spot in our May 2019 trip. The current was quite strong, and the water was very shallow and cool (so we sat in it and forgot about the heat).
Paddle Jourdan River
Around Bacon Bayou, you'll skim through some pretty shallow water, and definitely north of Bacon Bayou you should check skegs or rudders. My friend, David Leon, joined us on the Memorial Weekend trip on his paddle board and he had to remove the fin. Typically your speed has slowed noticeably by the time you get to this spot, and typically you get a nice push back, at least for the first mile or so, as you return.
kayak jourdan river
The short, right hand detour right before our turn-around(above) is Bayou Bacon.
Since the Jourdan River flows to Bay St. Louis, it does have a tidal influence. Check the tide charts and consider any recent heavy rains, and you may be able to predict how much current you may have going out and returning. On one trip, we felt no current for the first 2 or 3 miles, but did feel it strengthen as we approached Bacon Bayou, and we definitely enjoyed a nice push for 2 or 3 miles as we returned. On the Labor Day 2016 trip, any current was really not a factor. However, on May 2019 trip, we paddled upstream with the incoming tide, and then against it on our return. The water was maybe 10 inches higher when we returned, and that "invisible" current definitely affected the smaller boats.

Normally, you can assume any current you feel within a mile or two north of McCleod Park, and between the park and the bay, is tidal flow. And certainly, you should expect to feel a more typical upstream current as you near Bayou Bacon, which is just past the 5 mile mark. Don't get too excited: There actually is no bacon there.
paddle Jourdan river
One of our many breaks on this very leisurely day.

paddle jourdan river
As I indicate above, for the first mile or two the river is large enough for pontoon boats, jet-skis, and some pleasure boats. In warm weather, expect boat traffic, and folks pulled over onto the soft banks or the several sandy beaches having little water parties. On a busy day, you'll get a good variety of music But, there are no ramps north of McLeod Park, so all traffic is coming from there, or downriver. So, as you paddle upstream, traffic really thins out. Also, as you paddle upstream, the river narrows and you start to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness, You continue to pass sandy pull-overs along the way, so you will have plenty of lunch spots.

A friend of mine has a very nice description of this paddle on his blog, and it's worth a read:

The road through the park will probably take you to a launch for larger boats. However, there is a more kayak-friendly launch spot off of the main road into the campground, a little trickier to find. In busy season, watch for kids as you drive through the campground to this smaller launch.

I've done this trip in December, and the park was practically empty. I've also done it on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, and the park was very crowded, and the launch was very busy (especially on Memorial Day Weekend). But the launch is manageable--some of us used the dirt bank, and some of use used the concrete ramp during the gaps between the big boats.
paddle jourdan river
The picture above is of my preferred launch. This is not the river: it's a small oxbow lake with an opening across and to our right that puts you on the actual river. I have more specific launch info at the end of this post.

The link above should open in satellite view, and you'll note that the launch on a small oxbow that looks like the river. But it's not. Go away from the ramp and to your right, through a small opening, to get out to the river. Upstream is to your left.

I actually returned to McLeod Park in May 2020, when the nation was in the Covid-19 lock-down. McLeod Park was open only for the boat launch, with no camping. On this trip, the road to our smaller launch was blocked off, and we had to launch from the larger, more obvious launch. This was actually the only time I've launched from here, and since there is sometimes confusion about group meeting spots between these two launches, I thought I'd add a picture from Google Maps that I've added labels to. Most references in this post are about the smaller launch on the southeast corner of the oxbow, as opposed to the larger one on the western edge of the oxbow:
kayak mcleod park

As I said, this is a great paddle that should be enjoyable for anyone. Expect some current--fighting you for a mile or two, then pushing you for a mile or two--but read the water, know your limits, and this trip should be fine for almost any boat or skill level. Turn around when tired, and pull over and relax when needed.


  1. Chet, I am very glad I found your blog. Came across it looking for a place to paddle in New Orleans on a recent visit. Your description of the bridges on Bayou St. John kept me away from there, as I heard water levels were high. Paddled the Bataria Preserve. Paddled the Jourdan on the way from Orlando. Never heard of it, until I read this post. Thanks. It was fun for this Packer Kayaker to paddle in Brett Favre's home town. By the way, is it pronounced, Jor, or Jer dan?

    1. Hey Dave, I don't know why I didn't get an alert about this message--sorry for months late reply. Glad people are actually reading this! I've always heard it called "Jor-dan", and sometimes it's spelled that way.
      I've never made it over to Barataria, and I'm not sure why.
      Thanks for the note!

  2. Hey Chet! I'm a fairly experienced paddler, but I'm wanting to get my dog out on the water with me. He's definitely a beginner kayaker but a true water dog. I've been reading through your posts since you have great descriptions of the loading and water conditions. I'm thinking McLeod would be a good spot for some training since we need a calm, easy loading and send off. The frequent banks and shallow bits are also ideal. The water also has to be pretty clean because we will definitely have some initial spills. I'm in NOLA, willing to travel for good spots. Do you have any other recommendations for spots that could meet these requirements? Thanks again for your thorough descriptions; they are incredibly useful.

    1. Hey Alyx,
      Thanks for the comments, and you are right - Jourdan is great, especially when you've gotten away from boat traffic. Don't underestimate that boat traffic though--especially on the return, since traffic picks up as the day goes on. The other super obvious spot is Bayou St John.
      Cane Bayou and Bayou Lacombe are great also. Very calm water. Bayou Cane does have at least one very old gator, but I've never heard of any trouble there and it's really nice where it meets the lake. Bayou Lacombe from Main St going north (as described in my blog) is also very calm and usually has some pull-over spots(except when the water is very high). The one time I did Bayou Lacombe going to the lake, I did see A LOT of gators, and with boat traffic, that may not be great for your dog. I also hear that Bayou Castine is very nice, with a launch at the Northlake Nature Center, but I haven't paddled that yet.
      Have you seen my Facebook group: NOLA Paddlesports ? Feel free to join and post questions.
      Thanks again. It makes me happy that my blog is helping people. Hopefully we'll meet on the water!