Paddle the Wolf for a Howlin’ Good Time
Contemplate “Memphis” and “river,” and your thoughts may naturally flow to the Mississippi.
But let’s consider the Wolf. (It also flows to the Mississippi, and its variant path is one worth tracing.)
We explored the Wolf this weekend as it ribbons around Moscow, Tennessee (within 50 miles east of Memphis). Mark Babb of Ghost River Outfitters met us at the launch, a gravely spot with ample parking near local landmark Bateman Bridge. He had the nose of our canoe in the water; paddles and life jackets laid out; directions and a Ghost River Outfitters sticker for our daughter at the ready.
Cypress trees shade and guard the launch, extending a mystic invitation. We steered upriver, a route that started wide with medians of grass and sandbars and distant walls of green – forest fronted by a boggy barrier that sheltered dragonflies and yellow blooms. Where the route narrowed, trees – and their inhabitants – edged close, like the banded water snake I spotted, its umber-on-orange palette disguised better by branch than canopy.
Reversing direction, we coasted back through the tannin-colored water, past the cypress sentinels and beyond, where the river broadens. Beneath Bateman Bridge, locals and country music echoed. We smiled and paddled on, siting a beach surrounded by small islands and tributaries. We could have “docked” nearby and investigated any of them. We could have walked with the canoe across the beach to rejoin the river. Instead, we wiled away the better part of an hour watching water bugs race, erecting a sand castle and splashing in the shallows. It was summer perfection.
You can meet Mark at the Bateman Bridge launch most Saturdays and Sundays, when he rents canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards by the hour, offers paddling lessons and runs twice-daily excursions along the Wolf’s Ghost River section. Always call ahead and he’ll have your gear ready. He’s also available for weekday group and/or guided tours.
The Ghost River run is Mark’s signature. From Bateman Bridge, he shuttles paddlers 8.5 miles upriver to LaGrange, Tennessee. The float/paddle back to Moscow along the Ghost River section is “prehistoric,” according to Wolf River Conservancy Director of Development Ken Kimble. “You go on the Ghost River and it’s like you’re in a totally different environment than anything you would expect in this part of the country. Part swamp, part river, part lowlands, part lake – it takes you through five different ecosystems,” he explains.
Mark affirms. “People will tell me, ‘I’ve paddled all over the world and this was my favorite.'”
Mark’s Ghost River run takes 3-5 hours by kayak ($40); 4-6 hours by canoe ($50) and includes shuttle service and gear. Bring your own equipment to fish if you like, but keep in mind that the river flows along private property in places.
The Wolf River Conservancy also offers Ghost River runs – and so much more. Though some events require conservancy membership, the monthly proliferation of activities is worth it (think stream strolls, hikes and lectures on top of regular paddle and float trips). The conservancy also provides canoe training, which Ken recommends if you’re planning to paddle the Ghost: “It’s a living forest/swamp…stumps come up and trees fall down. Guides clear it out, but it’s kind of like the game Operation – you’re constantly dodging and weaving out of the cypress trees. You don’t have to be an expert, but it helps to have someone who understands how to maneuver in the back.”
The conservancy is equally intent on helping paddlers discover the lower, urban Wolf as it cuts through Memphis en route to the Mississippi. Study this page for accesses, maps and general tips for planning your paddle in the heart of the city. Then, like the MemphisOutside Facebook page (or follow @MemphisOutside on Twitter) to keep pace with what to do outside in Memphis.
Have you paddled the Wolf? What’s your favorite section?