Thursday, November 10, 2016

9.7 Mile Kayak Pearl River Loop Starting/finishing at "Logtown" - updated with an alternate route

Here's a very nice 9.7 mile route on the Pearl River and other sections of the Pearl "network".  This trip is very nice because it includes some fairly wide, exposed sections of the Pearl River, as well as some narrower, more "woodsy" feeling stretches. Because some sections are pretty exposed to any wind, I would recommend a decent canoe or a kayak at least 12' long. For this distance, especially with any wind, a shorter boat will probably be very tiring. On one group paddle on this route, we did actually have one 10' kayak and one fairly short fishing kayak, along with a collection of longer sea kayaks. We all thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but the paddlers in the two shorter boats agreed that they were very near their limit and they knew they were slowing us down. That was also a particularly calm day. I have done this route, or variations of it, on very windy days, and I was glad we were all experienced and in sea kayaks. When there's a strong southerly wind blowing against the current of the river, things can get choppy.
Keep in mind that you will not pass much dry land on this trip, so you may want to take any chances you get to stop when you do. At around the 6 1/2 mark, you can take a detour to Hwy 90 if you need to get out of your boat, but this does add about a mile (1/2 mile each way to Hwy 90).

***2021 Update***
In February of 2021, 2 friends and I set out on this trip and decided to go right at the end of Carey's Ditch, instead of left. I've updated this post at that point in the description below with an image of that route that turned out to be just about 2 miles longer, or 11.7 miles. 
Also, this original post was written after one trip on this route. After a few more trips, it's become obvious that Cary's Ditch is a bit of a wildcard. On my first trip in September of 2016, Cary's Ditch was clear, calm water. Probably the prettiest part of the trip. But on at least two trips since then, the water has been brown as we enter, and then a current becomes obvious. If you encounter this, be prepared for the very distinct right-then-left S curve coming up. The current can be very strong moving through this S curve, and you will be paddling against it. And if it's strong enough and/or you don't have experience in these conditions, your kayak will get pushed the wrong way. On one trip with nine of us. it was quite a struggle getting some of the paddlers through this, and it really took having our more experienced paddlers going through first and barking commands as each paddler tried to make it through. 
Don't underestimate this if you aren't trained and/or experienced with strong side currents. If you are not, have an alternate route ready. Of that group of nine, 5 or 6 probably wouldn't have gotten through alone and possibly would have flipped trying. Once that strong current starts pushing your boat sideways, things aren't going as planned.
So, this ties directly into the next paragraph.

Probably, if I sit and read all of my posts about "the Pearl", I'll see that I say the same things each time:
I don't know the Pearl System well, but I wish I did. And by "know",  I don't just mean all the various routes and bayous and launch spots, but also, "how it works". Sure, it's a river, and its main sections flow south. But it has a tidal influence, and lots of cross-connecting waterways, and bayous, and wind...and it's not always obvious whether you'll be paddling with or against a current, or if there will even be a current, on many spots in this network. And on my April 28, 2018 trip here, with two experienced guides who know this area, we were still caught off guard by the conditions in Cary's Ditch. It can be hard to predict what the water energy will be in some of the more east-west bayous and ditches that connect two larger, flowing bodies of water. Right now, I am only qualified to describe my trips as they were on the day that I did them,  often led by someone else. I've barely scratched the surface of route possibilities. Here's a screen shot from Google Earth of four routes I've done as of 2016:

kayak trips pearl river

I don't have a post about the blue, 15 mile route in the image above, but I do have a post on the fuchsia 7 1/2 mile trip (, which is an out-and-back trip starting and ending on Hwy 90, and the 13 mile light blue trip (, which is a one-way trip requiring a shuttle. Today's post is the red, 9.7 mile trip in the image above. 

You can see on any online map, and in the image above, how many possible trips you can create, just between I-10 and Hwy 90, with even more options south of Hwy 90.

When paddling around "The Pearl" in warmer weather, remember that you will get a lot of exposure to the sun and all the insects and critters that you'd expect to find in swamps and southern woods.  I've done this trip on a very mild November day and a very nice April day (before full bug season),  so the bugs weren't even noticed and we only saw one tiny alligator.  In warmer months, power boat traffic can also be heavy on wider sections of the pearl. Please consider these factors when planning a trip out here. Also, water levels and water flow vary with the seasons and rainfall, so as always, do your homework first.

This route is pretty easy to follow, but because you'll pass other intersecting waterways, print a map and bring a compass. From my gmap-pedometer link, with a simple browser add-on, you should be able to export the route to a gpx or other file format that you could then import into a GPS device. I would recommend that, and a well charged cell phone, and even a nice marine radio. I can only imagine how thoroughly lost I could get out here, and I really don't want to give you just enough information to get you lost. I always do my Pearl trips with friends who are pretty familiar with the Pearl network.

We launched from from Logtown Road not far from Pearlington, MS:'48.6%22N+89%C2%B037'49.5%22W/@30.2801786,-89.6326087,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d30.280174!4d-89.63042

This is the route, as drawn on Gmap-pedometer:

And this is what my Garmin recorded:
kayaking pearl river

I've only done this route counter-clockwise,  starting on the wide East Pearl River, right along the MS/LA state line. As you can see from satellite view, and the next picture, you'll come to a right hand option almost immediately, which is Bogue Homa. That's a short and pretty paddle described here: 
Then you'll come to what looks like a fork,  but that's really just a short little loop-back/oxbow to the right. We stay left.
kayaking pearl river

The river curves left at this oxbow/side loop, and it's a good idea to hug the left side of the river. The river soon makes a distinct right-hand turn, and start looking carefully for an opening on the left which is "Cary's Ditch" and go that way. You probably won't see Cary's Ditch until you're right up on it, which is why you should stay on the left side of the river. It is right at the top of the right hand curve. In the picture below, you'll see that you really could miss Cary's Ditch--the white kayak on the left is just entering it:
paddle pearl river

This is usually the prettiest part of this trip, but see my ***update*** about Cary's ditch at the beginning of this post.
kayak pearl river

pearl river kayak
Before too long, you'll come to a T intersection, and go left. This is Morgan Bayou, and follow it for 4 1/2 or 5 miles. You may notice one or two right hand turns, but just pass them by. This is a very pretty and calm stretch that is pretty wooded as you come out of Cary's ditch, and more marsh-like and grassy by the time you take the next turn on to one of the "Old Pearl River" fingers.
****Here's an update from 2021****In February of 2021, a group of us took a right at the end of Carey's Ditch, going north on Morgan Bayou.  This was a very similar paddle to this 9.7 mile route I'm describing, but it added about 2 miles.  Here's an image of that route, as recorded by my Garmin. Lucky for the reader, I won't add more words, just the image of the route:
Paddle Pearl River

Here's the continuation of the main post (9.7 mile route):
kayak pearl river

kayak pearl river
When you intersect the Old Pearl, you'll really just merge on by going straight, entering on the left side of the Old Pearl. 
Continue following a long left hand curve--you may notice Grave's Ditch a little more than 1/2 mile later, on the right--or you may completely miss it. Then, just after a mile and a half on this wider finger of the Pearl, you'll come to a 3 pronged fork, and take the hard left. First, you'll see a choice of right or straight, and if you continue straight, you'll see a hard left you can take onto Chalon Bayou. Take that left.  If you do happen to take a wrong turn to the right (south), or miss the left and continue straight,  you'll come to Hwy 90. At this fork, you're less than a mile from Hwy 90, so if you had some sort of emergency or simply get lost, you could go that way and get out at Hwy 90. 
Here's a Google Earth snippet to show you all that:
kayak pearl via google earth
Hwy 90 is just outside the bottom of the picture above.

Again, this left puts you on what is called Chalon Bayou, and you'll stay on it for just over 2 miles.
kayak pearl river

Stay right on any forks you come to, until you intersect the wide, "main" East Pearl River again, at which point you'll go left and almost be able to see your starting point.
kayak pearl river

The boat launch is on the far side of the East Pearl River, and this is "The Pearl River", so check traffic before crossing. You'll feel current and more energy than much of the earlier trip, and you'll be going across that current, so just be more alert until you're on the other side. You cross over, then start paddling upstream (left). You'll see a nice red marker telling you you're finished.  I need to go back to my comments about the wind here: On at least one occasion, we had a very strong wind from the south, and when we made this left/north turn upstream, it was a bit of a rush. We had a very strong tailwind pushing us upstream against the flow of the river. The strong wind blowing against the current creates short little splashing waves that bounce you up and down, but the wind itself, coming from behind you, is creating very different energy than the water is. So know how to read the water and conditions, or be with someone who does, when you're dealing with these larger sections of the pearl. 
I can imagine that I could make a whole day out of exploring and playing photographer out here, exploring all the various options out here. I can certainly imagine myself getting hopelessly lost out here, so I'd bring printed maps, my GPS, tons of batteries, and a charging brick for my phone, and I'd make sure someone had an idea of where I was going, and a "panic time" for me if I don't check in.  Depending on the time of year, and exactly where you are, boat traffic will vary.  But I'd have some fun, and burn through some camera memory, one way or the other.

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