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Mississippi River in Illinois

Trip Overview

The Mississippi River Pool 13 is around 30 miles long. This write up describes the area immediately surrounding Savanna. Savanna, Illinois and Sabula, Iowa are near the middle of Pool 13 with dams at Fulton, Illinois to the south and Belleview, Iowa to the north. A bridge crosses the Mississippi from Savanna to Sabula. The Mississippi is about half a mile wide at Savanna.

The area has extensive back waters on both sides of the river. Current is slow in this pool and paddling up stream is not too demanding. Bluffs rise above the river on the Illinois side as soon as you get north of Savanna and are mostly part of the Mississippi Palisades State Park. Several islands are in the area, they are nice places to stop for lunch.

Although I am describing a day trip, the areas islands and sand bars make for good camping as well. Eagles, Herons, Egrets, Pelicans, and countless other birds are seen along the way. Beaver and Muskrats are regularly seen and I have recently observed a fox trying to pull a dead beaver from a log jam in one of the back water sloughs. Fish are observed on every outing. Routinely catching them unaware, I see the familiar poof of mud and they are gone. Occasionally I will run up on top of a large carp which surprises us both as he moves my boat while getting clear of me. Lots of carp in the shallows, but bass, crappie, blue gill and other fish are routinely taken from the river and back waters.

A nice day trip (which is about 10 miles of paddling) is to put in at Marquette Park in Savanna, IL. Wait for large boats or barges to pass before crossing the Mississippi to the Iowa side - paddle north (current is weaker on the Iowa side at this point). You will go under the Savanna-Sabula Bridge. From the Iowa side of the river you will have a breath taking view of the bluffs north of Savanna.

As you paddle north, be aware of large boats such as the River Boat Twilight which makes excursions and barges which can create sizable wakes. As you continue north you will pass 3 cabins on the Iowa side. The last of which is at a slough which runs to the west. Turn into the slough here. You will see an island right in front of you. From there if you go to the right of the island you will take the slough north (another time).

On this trip, go left of the island and you will see a south-running slough that roughly parallels the river. This is known as Running Slough. If you follow the current you will wind your way about 6 miles south to the municipal boat ramp at Sabula, Iowa. From the boat ramp looking east you will again see the Mississippi River under a small bridge. Head out to the Mississippi and again sticking to the Iowa side head north. When you get across from Marquette Park in Savanna or a little north, check to see that no dangerous traffic is approaching and cross again to the Illinois side and take out at Marquette Park.

Beware: Spring high water allows you to cut across many of the islands and hides many of the features that help with navigation. Backwaters not described in this report can be confusing, so make sure you have proper navigation skills and tools.

That's it. With a stop for lunch and to stretch, it takes me about 3 hours to do this trip at a leisurely pace.


There is a Super 8 and a couple small motels in Savanna. Executive Inn south of Savanna near Thomson. Camping at the Mississippi Palisades State Park about 4 miles north of Savanna on Rt84 and just south of Savanna at seven Eagles Campground. Other motels and campgrounds are found within the pool.


No fees for put in or parking at the sites mentioned.
Camping fees at the Park and camp grounds.


Savanna is located on IL Rt. 84 which is the river road about 40 miles north of Interstate 80.

Or from Rockford IL, you could take Route 20 West to 84 and then south about 30 miles to Savanna.


Put-ins are available at Marquette Park in Savanna, Lazy River Marina, about 4 miles north of Savanna on Rt.84 or at the municipal boat ramp in Sabula Iowa. These are free ramps.

There are countless other put-ins in the pool, that I have not yet tried.


I have found that the Army Corps of Engineers maps, which are available for download on-line, are fairly accurate in showing the backwaters of the pool.

  • Duration: Day Trip, 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip