Can You Swim in the Mississippi River in New Orleans?

A Freighter on the Mississippi
••• The Mississippi River is for big huge boats, like this one, not swimmers. Megan Romer

When the balmier days of mid-summer roll in, visitors often ask if it's possible to take a quick dip in the Mississippi River. Only the New Orleans summer would make any sane person think that it's a good idea to jump into the Big Muddy.

But no matter what you think, it is never safe to swim in the Mississippi River.

Why You Shouldn't Swim in the Mississippi River

First off, it's dangerous. The river is huge and the currents are stronger than you can imagine, even right at water's edge (whether or not you're a great swimmer is irrelevant).

If you get pulled under, the water is incredibly muddy, so you'll disappear from view immediately, and even if people witness you going down, they won't be able to tell where you went.

Also, remember that the water is totally toxic. It's more like sludgy poison from the smoke-belching factories at the top of the river, swirled together with the pesticide and fertilizer run-off from farms in the Mississippi River watershed (which is to say, just about every farm in the midwest), plus a healthy dose of heaven-knows-what from all of the ship traffic that runs through the water... it's a funky, nasty brew. That does not seem like a good idea to dunk yourself in.

And while we're at it, there are leeches and snakes in there, too.

What Happens to People Who Do Jump In

Every year, there are a handful of foolish people who try to swim across the Mississippi River. The lucky few end up in rescue boats.

Others, meanwhile, drown in the river's strong midstream current. While the pollution is a big problem, the deadliest concern here is the current. The water moves so fast that not even the most experienced swimmers would be able to make it across to the other side.

Safe Places to Swim

If you need a place to swim, consider choosing a hotel with a pool (or perhaps choosing a beach destination instead of New Orleans).

Some of the best NOLA pools can be found in hotels such as the Ace Hotel New Orleans, Hyatt Regency New Orleans, The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Le Méridien New Orleans, W New Orleans—French Quarter, Bourbon Orleans Hotel, and Maison Dupuy. For your safety, and the safety of the first responders who'll get stuck going in after you, stay away from the Mississippi River.