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Upper Mississippi vs. Lower Mississippi River Cruises

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Upper Mississippi vs. Lower Mississippi Cruises
Unless you have over two weeks to spare and can cruise the entire Mississippi River, you will have to make the hard decision of whether to cruise the Upper or Lower Mississippi. Each section of this vast river can see wildly different weather at similar times of year, so the ideal time to visit will depend on where you plan to go. The overall experience between north and south also varies, with the north having more wildlife and scenery while the south offers more cultural experiences and history. The Mississippi tributaries like the Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois Rivers offer an alternative, abbreviated Mississippi River experience worth considering. 

Upper Mississippi River Cruises
The upper Mississippi encompasses the region from St. Louis upriver to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Here, see the natural beauty of river bluffs and surrounding forests, classic river towns, and wildlife refuges that protect the habitat of countless species of birds, fish, and land mammals. 

Weather: Spring, summer and fall are all excellent times to cruise the Upper Mississippi. Spring experiences more rain on average and can carry a risk of flooding, but the temperatures are pleasant and similar to fall. Temperatures are in general cooler compared to the lower Mississippi, making it a more pleasant option during the summer.

Wildlife: The farther you travel up north, the more likely you are to see wildlife on your excursions and even from the cruise itself. You can expect to see egrets, hawks, bald eagles, turtles, and, if you're lucky, you may spot river otters. 

Locks & Flooding: There are around 20 locks in the northern Mississippi that display how far modern engineering has come in the past century. In spring, the Mississippi can sometimes reach flood levels where riverboats are unable to cross under bridges, which can require itinerary changes.

Lower Mississippi River Cruises
The lower Mississippi, from St. Louis downriver to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, offers countless cultural and historical experiences as you float through the heart of the South. Take the following factors into consideration when choosing a cruise.

Weather: When it comes to the weather, winter can be rainy but the temperatures don’t get too frigid, especially farther south. Fall and spring are considered the best times to visit, as summers can be uncomfortably hot and humid. Spring is known for having a little more rain, but compared to fall the main difference will be the colors of the vegetation. Christmas and New Year’s cruises are also popular in the south, taking advantage of milder winters.

Culture & History
The lower Mississippi is great for highlighting American history, especially the Civil War and antebellum-period plantations. Southern culture shines in the music hot spots of Memphis and New Orleans. Entering New Orleans’ French Quarter is like stepping into another country and time period, with extraordinary Cajun culture and cuisine.

The Mississippi River Tributaries
For other options beyond the banks of the Mississippi, explore its tributaries. The Ohio River is navigable starting in Pittsburgh and flows past Cincinnati, Louisville, and into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The Tennessee River flows into the Ohio River with some cruises continuing downriver on the Mississippi to Memphis. Alternatively, sail from Chicago on the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi just north of St. Louis for a brief, but delightful, Mississippi River experience. 

Contact one of Adventure Life's Mississippi cruise experts for help planning your dream trip.

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