Riding the South

The blog of Scott and Jenny Morris
The Wolf River changes from narrow passageways to the vast Spirit Lake.

For more information, see the Wolf River Conservancy. For canoe and kayak rentals, or shuttle service, see Ghost River Outfitters.

By Scott Morris

Forget about a landmark. We couldn’t find land.

We were beginning to think we wouldn’t get out by dark if we didn’t locate the canoe trail markers that we had somehow lost.

But no matter which way we searched, we saw nothing but a watery forest of bald cypress and water tupelo, which seemed to stretch for miles around us.

Finally, friend Wayne Williams and I backtracked to the general location of the last 3-by-6-inch blue trail signs we had seen. Several anxious moments passed before we relocated the trail and started paddling again.

We were floating the Wolf River in southwest Tennessee. This scenic stream offers a wilderness adventure through the swampy floodplains that empty into the Mississippi River.

The Wolf River originates as artesian springs in northern Mississippi before flowing 90 miles west to Mud Island in Memphis.

We chose the 8.5-mile section of Wolf River that passes through Ghost River State Natural Area, the most popular segment. We parked the truck at the river take-out near LaGrange, Tennessee, and paid $10 each to Ghost River Outfitters for shuttle service to the upstream launch point.

The day was unlike any other river trip I have ever experienced. Rather than dropping over rocky ledges into deep clear pools like creeks in the Tennessee Valley, the murky Wolf River twists and turns through narrow passageways lined with dense cypress groves.

Other than the blue trail markers, few signs of human encroachment mar the view. It’s easy to imagine the red wolves, black bears, mountain lions and woodland bison that still inhabited the region when French trappers and the Chickasaw roamed the river basin.

The trip began with a fast-moving current through a well-defined river channel and continued this way for the first three miles. Heeding the advice of our shuttle van driver, we stopped for lunch near the end of this section so we could get out of the kayaks and stretch our legs. The driver warned there would be no place to stop downstream past here.

Soon after getting back underway, we spotted the sign marking the narrow entrance to Ghost River State Natural Area. The Ghost is an eerie, deepwater swamp.

Eventually the river pours into Spirit Lake, which looks like a miniature Reelfoot Lake. This is where we got lost several times because we could not find the blue canoe markers. Spirit Lake is also where the trip becomes more strenuous for about 45 minutes because there is no current to propel a boat.

Thankfully, the fastest flowing current on the Wolf River is just downstream of Spirit Lake, and it is a blast. Paddlers must negotiate many narrow, sharp turns between cypress trees as the increased flow quickly sweeps their canoes and kayaks downstream.

After four hours, including 30 minutes for lunch, we arrived at the take-out. Tired? Yes, but ready to get lost again on the Wolf River. 

Bald cypress knees mark the way through the Ghost River Canoe Trail stretch of Wolf River in southwest Tennessee.

Lost and found

on ghostly river