Ohio River Islands
Covering over 362 miles of the Upper Ohio River, this conservation area is a collection of twenty-two islands and four mainland stretches. As the Ohio is one of the nation’s busiest inland waterways – through commercial and recreational interests – the refuge area protects 3,440 acres of land and underwater habitat.
Cruising on the Ohio involves coming across one of these many islands and mainland tracts – often allowing for scenic anchoring and camping points. Be on the lookout for native wildlife in these areas, including 47 species of freshwater mussels! The Spring season provides the best opportunity to experience the diversity of the natural surroundings; namesake birds, such as the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, become a constant sight and sound.
Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge
As one of the largest river basins in the World, the Mississippi River is home to a huge amount of diversity and is a vital part of the natural habitat and commercial traffic. Inhabiting four states – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois – it is also one of the largest wildlife refuges in the country and is the main flyway for migratory birds to the North and South.
Cruising the Mississippi during the late Summer and early Fall provide the most navigable water levels; however, there is no season in particular – in terms of wildlife – that stands out from the next. From the songbirds in Spring to the herons and pelicans in Summer and on to the one-of-a-kind Bald Eagle in Winter, there is no shortage of diversity while on the Mighty River. And, similar to the Ohio, the Mississippi provides a plethora of anchor only sections and island beach campsites for those looking for an adventurous thru-boating experience.
Cross Creeks Wildlife Refuge (Cumberland River)
Located just 75 miles from Nashville along the scenic Cumberland River, Cross Creeks Wildlife Refuge – created in 1962 – provides a unique resting spot for migratory birds to the South. Smaller than the aforementioned conservation areas in size but no less diverse, this area boasts over 250 species of shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds and over 80 different species of fish – including the prized White Bass.
Cruising the Cumberland can be one of the most rewarding experiences on the Inland Waterways and Cross Creeks Wildlife Refuge is just a sliver of what it has to offer. With a number of marinas accessible to the West near Kentucky Lake or to the East in Nashville, it can make for an easy out-and-back day trip or a thru-boating experience from one point to the next.
For a guide to different fueling spots on these waterways, check out the list here