Picture this: Paddling along a lake, or down a river, surrounded only by the silent swells of water. Just you and your kayak. And a friend. You should, of course, never kayak alone. But then, the experiences and adventures you have while kayaking are always best shared.
Take the plunge (not literally) and explore some of the best kayaking in Minnesota.
1. Wild River State Park (St Croix River)
First on our list of the best kayaking in Minnesota is the St Croix River. In the beauty of the Wild River State Park, the St Croix river calls kayakers of all levels to enjoy the calm stretches of water, which is relatively shallow and has no strong currents. In fact, you could very well spend the day paddling gently around the numerous small islands. There are various launch points on the river, so the water is easily accessible for you and your boat.
If the river is swollen after heavy rainfall, then the flow is stronger and more challenging for beginner paddlers. What is a lovely option in the park are various canoe camping sites, some of which are only accessible by water, so you really will be able to enjoy everything water has to offer.
2. Cannon River
Cannon River offers a family-friendly paddle, with water that caters to all abilities of kayakers. The river runs through Minneapolis, with marked routes to choose from. As you paddle along, you will find sandbars on your route, which are perfect for stopping on and swimming or just chilling in the sun.
You can take a fairly easy paddle and then stop to see the Cannon Falls. Along the stretch after this, from the Cannon Falls to Red Wing, the river does feature some class one rapids, which make it a bit more demanding for an intermediate paddler.
Consider paddling on the Cannon River as a one-way, because the strong flow will be something you won’t want to battle against. Either arrange for a lift back from your endpoint to your starting point or make use of the shuttle options available.
Kayaking allows you to get much closer to birds on the water than you usually can on land, so plan to spend some time birdwatching. You may be lucky enough to see a first-timer!
3. Root River
Root River is almost unsurpassed for the beauty of the scenery along the river, particularly the stretch that runs through the ‘Driftless Region’ of Minnesota. This is the only place in the state where there is no evidence of glacial action, so you have the chance to look into the past, at what the land looked like before it was broken up by the glaciers.
Along Root River, you can paddle any stretch of the 85 miles, along which you will find flat water and some riffles, which you can either tackle or bypass. The river runs past a number of small towns, so stop along the way, to have a bite to eat, or simply enjoy the individual character of each town.
The southern part of the river is more challenging, with rocks and rocky pools around which you will need to portage. It would be even more challenging to try to paddle back upriver, so make use of a shuttle service in the region to get back to where you started.
4. Crow River
One thing that kayaking definitely gives us is the chance to see things differently. Paddling the Crow River places you in a rural landscape, just outside an urban area. Spending some peaceful time slowly paddling down this beautiful river will give you the chance to unwind from your city life.
This is gentle kayaking at its best: mostly placid water, beautiful scenery, and the chance of seeing plenty of wildlife, getting right up close and personal. You may spot the white-tailed deer and even a bald eagle.
Who says you need a whole vacation to recharge? Just go outdoors and explore the best kayaking in Minnesota.
5. Rum River
If you paddle the Rum River, you could paddle from Mille Lacs Lake all the way to the Mississippi — or just some way in between. The river is wide and relative calm within the Two Cities area, surrounded by urban homes, and used by a range of paddlers, from beginners to competitive teams.
As it moves away from the city into the countryside, the Rum meanders through a canopy of trees, where you can catch sight of deer, beavers, and birds. You can also get in some good angling.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the river flows gently the whole way, though. The lower stretch of the river is for intermediate paddlers, with the strong current and obstacles, including one and two rapids along the way. From Cambridge to Anoka, the river becomes more rural and more demanding.,
Rum River more than welcomes you to paddle: it embraces you wholeheartedly and says ‘come and stay’, in the canoeing campsite, which works on a first-come, first-served basis. Why just go for a paddle, when you can go for an experience? Just try to schedule your journey for a quiet time, or the campsite may have filled up already.
6. Kettle River
If it’s more excitement you are looking for, from the list of the best kayaking in Minnesota, then the Kettle River is for you. The river runs through rocky bluffs and cliffs, where the flow increases. Here, you will find class two and three rapids. In places, there are class four rapids. Big Spring Falls and Sandstone ‘Rapids are demanding, but the most notorious of all the rapids on the Kettle River is Hell’s Gate, through Hell’s Gate, appropriately named for the fury of the water.
Only take on the Kettle River if you are an advanced paddler and make sure you scout ahead before tackling any part of the river. This is a remote part of the river, so you’ll need to paddle in a party.
7. Minnehaha Creek
Paddling on Minnehaha Creek means an adventure through two distinct areas: the urban and the open. You begin in Lake Minnetonka, running through what is really a form of urban jungle. As you leave the confines of the city, the river runs through woodlands along to the Minnehaha Falls.
Around Gray’s Bay, you will move through wetlands, so you should look out for birds and small animals that live in these special areas.
Because part of the creek runs through the outskirts of Minneapolis, it’s easily accessible and you can have fun on even just part of the river. You can explore from Browndale Avenue to Minneapolis itself.
The run down Minnehaha Creek towards the falls takes you through lush vegetation and under some cute bridges. Along the way, there are three compulsory portages, so you will have a complete kayaking experience.
8. Snake River
It doesn’t matter how much kayaking you have done, or what level you kayak at, you will find the route for you along Snake River. There are different routes on the river, which accommodate all levels of paddler and which differ in difficulty.
It is the middle section, from Mora to Pine City, that will suit the beginner paddler better, but intermediate and advanced kayakers can also do some useful paddling here, possibly brushing up on river skills, or practicing sprinting on the relatively calm water.
The upper and lower stretches of Snake River are more challenging, with some class one and two rapids. After Pine City, the level of the rapids rises. This is the experience that advanced paddlers will enjoy.
9. Bde Maka Ska
Last but not least on our list of the best kayaking in Minnesota is Bde Maka Sk. The former Lake Calhoun is an urban flat water, right in town. It is a really great spot for beginner paddlers to learn to kayak and hone their skills.
The lake is part of the Minneapolis chain of lakes, so you can extend your paddle to move into Lake of Isles, via a channel. If you are feeling adventurous, there is another channel into Cedar Lake.
Turn the outing into an adventure by exploring the mini-islands and inlets around the lake. This is a popular paddling spot, because of the scenery and the unusual experience of being right in the middle of the city, but only experiencing you and the quiet of the water. Along the lake, you will see some of the oldest houses in Minneapolis, as you paddle along the quiet river, right in the middle of the town.
Do I have to own my own kayak to go kayaking in Minnesota?
There are a number of kayaking facilities on the lakes in Minnesota and most of these have kayaks for hire. They also offer transport for the boats and paddlers from one spot along a river to another.
What is Hell’s Kitchen Rapids?
Along the Kettle River, there are a series of rapids. The most demanding and challenging one of these is the Hell’s Kitchen rapids, formed when the river is forced through the Hell’s Kitchen canyon, where huge cliffs create a deep, narrow path for the river.
Kayaking in Minnesota:
Kayaking is both chilled and challenging, but always gives you the water, the scenery, and the chance to see things differently. Don’t be nervous about beginning this new experience, as there are plenty of lakes and rivers in Minnesota that offer calm, relatively flat water for you to explore. If you are an experienced paddler, Minnesota will not ignore you. There are kayaking routes that offer rapids and obstacles that make it quite challenging. You will need to find the best places for kayaking in Minnesota before you launch into this experience, which can be both fun and exhilarating.
Whether you enjoy relaxing in your kayak or paddling through the rapids, please share with us your most memorable adventures kayaking in Minnesota.
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.