Canoeing, Kayaking, and Rafting
With over 11,000 lakes, 92,000 miles of rivers and streams, and the wild Lake Superior coast, you bet the canoeing and kayaking are good here. The pinnacle of paddling in Minnesota is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), a million acres of portage-linked lakes and streams.
The remoter parts of Voyageurs National Park, the largest water-based park in the nation, offer a similar experience. The Superior National Forest (SNF) beyond the BWCAW has other wonderful but often overlooked rivers and lakes.
Most of the state’s rivers offer quiet canoeing with a mix of natural scenery and rural life. Although experienced paddlers can find some challenges, beginners generally have little to worry about since most rapids, if there are any, are tame. Overall, the Kettle, Cloquet, and especially the St. Croix, along Minnesota’s border with Wisconsin, come most highly recommended for a wilderness experience.
While the number of streamside towns and farms increases as you move south, that doesn’t necessarily mean that heading north is always the best option. The scenic rivers cutting the deep valleys of Minnesota’s southwest, such as the Cannon and Root, are rightly popular, and poking around the Mississippi River backwaters in the far south can be a lot of fun too.
Although most of the state is pretty flat, the northeast has no shortage of white water, with many rivers along the North Shore dropping over 200 feet per mile. Kayakers experienced or foolish enough to run some of these monsters should note that for the most part there is only enough water in the spring or after very heavy rains. The St. Louis River below Cloquet, with rapids up to Class V and a steady flow through the entire season, is the state’s premier white-water route, while the Kettle River through Banning State Park is also popular. Superior Whitewater in Carlton leads commercial white-water rafting trips down the St. Louis.
The Lake Superior Water Trail (www.lswta.org) is drawing an increasing number of sea kayakers each year. The goal is to have a campsite or rest area every three or so miles, and though there are still a few gaps due to private land (the longest is eight miles, though you can get on shore in an emergency), most of the work is done between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. Someday the trail will circle the entire lake.
Because of the lake’s perpetually cold water and fickle temperament, beginning paddlers should take a guide or at least stay very close to shore. Contact the Lake Superior Water Trail Association (www.lswta.org) for further information. Voyageurs National Park’s larger lakes are also good sea kayaking territory.
The best single source of information is Greg Breining’s Paddling Minnesota, published in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Minnesota Canoe Association (www.canoe-kayak.org) is also a good resource.
The DNR’s Canoeing webpage (www.dnr.state.mn.us/canoeing) has detailed descriptions of two dozen rivers (pocket-sized maps are free), a list of outfitters, and water-level reports. Explore Minnesota Tourism publishes the handy Explore Minnesota Canoeing brochure, with general information on the major paddling areas and the businesses that serve them.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition