The Atchafalaya River begins as a big river. All of the water in the Red River basin and a great deal of water from the Mississippi River join to create a navigable waterway all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
There are two ways to take a boat to the head of the Atchafalaya River (see photo illustration). The first way is to go down the Red River and it will turn into the Atchafalaya River at the Old River confluence (see Red River page for details about Old River structures).
The second way is from the Mississippi River mile 304. One will pass through a lock into the Old River channel and go about seven miles to the confluence mentioned. Bear left and you are on the Atchafalaya River. There are no locks and dams on the main channel of the Atchafalaya River. This means that the current can be very swift during times of high water.
Photo is the Old River Lock that must be used to get from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya/Red Rivers. The Mississippi River is usually higher that the Atchafalaya, so one would be lowered about 22 feet, or raised 22 feet if going to the Mississippi River.
The outflow channel seen in previous illustration cannot be used for navigation. They are strictly for the flood control and hydroelectric plants.
There are several small towns along the Atchafalaya River, but access to them from the river can be a challenge.
This is due to the large levee system (photo) that is built between the river and the town to protect the community from flooding.
Often there are railroad tracks running along the river creating yet another obstacle.
This means that those traveling the river must be as self-reliant as possible. For emergencies there are many fish camps and boat ramps along the river.
The Atchafalaya River is beautiful with many remote places but like few rivers it has many opportunities for side trips.
The rivers, canals, bayous and backwaters of the Atchafalaya river are not only great for exploring in a small craft but it is truly a fisherman's paradise.
The farther south you go, more of these waterways are present. Some are channels for commercial traffic (which shows on charts) and others are a natural part of the incredible Atchafalaya Basin.
As can be seen on the map, The Atchafalaya intersects many waterways at Morgan City, Louisiana. One can make the following choices:
Stay on the Atchafalaya to the Gulf of Mexico
Go west on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW all the way to Brownsville, Texas
Go east on the ICW to Carrabelle, Florida
Access Tensas Bayou that leads to Baton Rouge
Many other bayous and lakes