- If you like to see a metro area from its backside, try Rice Creek from the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve to its entrance into the Mississippi River in Fridley. Rice Creek rats advise that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best paddled in its sweet spot: Too much water makes passages under culverts dicey, while too little water begets a dragfest. Usually, early spring is the time of sweetness. (Photo courtesy Rice Creek Watershed District)
- A couple enjoy a paddle upstream on the St. Croix River through Interstate Park, after launching their kayaks from the Minnesota side of the river at the state park boat and canoe launch, Thursday, July 28, 2011. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
Start early, drive two hours or less, paddle for most of the day and get home in time for bed. Or camp for a night or two. Either way, within two hours of the metro lies an array of routes for canoes and kayaks, from rookie floats to roaring froth. Here are 12 suggestions.
Remember that any river can be dangerous during flooding, and always wear your lifejacket.
For more information on any of these locations, click the label.
Upper St. Croix
Not the motorboat-heavy St. Croix through Stillwater. The Upper St. Croix around Grantsburg, Wis., and downstream through Minnesota’s St. Croix State Park lies barely within the two-hour zone. This is more of a Wild and Scenic River, with much less boat traffic than the Lower St. Croix. Early-season rapids are options, as are shoreline campsites for a multi-night trip. A detour through Kettle River Slough might be worth it.
An intimate paddle whose demands can vary greatly with flow levels, you can do all, or part, of the route from Lake Minnetonka to before Minnehaha Falls and see a suburb-to-city “commute” from a new perspective. A metro bucket-lister, for sure.
The first of three suggested rivers through southeast Minnesota’s bluff country, the Root’s epicenter is Lanesboro, a weekend destination itself, where lodging possibilities include B&Bs. An easy-flowing river, the Root harbors decent fish populations, and its tributaries support wild trout. With the Root River State Trail following the waterway for long stretches, a paddle-pedal shuttle combo is an option.
The lively currents and occasional boulders of the Zumbro can be great confidence builders for novice paddlers who need to discover for themselves that riffles aren’t dangerous and standing waves easily can be navigated. Best advice if something does go wrong: Just stand up. These waters are neither dangerous nor deep.
A quick drive south through Dakota County can get you to the Cannon, which, like the Root and Zumbro, fall nicely into the family-friendly category, with no dangerous rapids. On hot summer weekends, parts of the Cannon can be bobbing with float tubers, which might or might not be to your liking.
Not for beginners, Kettle River is one of the premier whitewater paddles in the Upper Midwest when it rushes through Banning State Park, where Class III and IV rapids are given names such as Hell’s Gate. However, elsewhere on the river, such as through St. Croix State Park, you’re talking Class I through III rapids, depending on river levels. The Kettle also gave up the state record lake sturgeon, which can be targeted for the first time in years starting June 16.
The Snake, which enters the St. Croix River not far from the Kettle, also can boast some beastly Class IV rapids in high water. But the Snake has gentle stretches, as well, with nice campsites and options for total seclusion. The Snake is especially prone to fluctuation in water levels, so check first.
Perhaps the prettiest paddle within an hour of St. Paul, The Lower Kinni moves swiftly from River Falls, Wis., toward its sandy confluence with the St. Croix in Kinnickinnic State Park. With tight quarters and overhanging limbs, many stretches might frustrate neophytes, and kayaks are often preferred here. A top-notch trout stream, paddlers should be aware of fly anglers — and consider bringing their own rods.
The Rum’s 145-mile course from Lake Mille Lacs to the Mississippi River in Anoka offers a range of settings, and excellent smallmouth bass fishing. Many paddlers enjoy the overhanging canopy of trees around Cambridge, although beware of construction this summer that is affecting at least one access.
If you like to see a metro area from its backside, try Rice Creek from the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve to its entrance into the Mississippi River in Fridley. Rice Creek rats advise that it’s best paddled in its sweet spot: Too much water makes passages under culverts dicey, while too little water begets a dragfest. Usually, early spring is the time of sweetness.
Mississippi River backwaters
No, this isn’t that trip, where you dodge barges and navigate shipping locks. The Mississippi from the south metro down past Red Wing features numerous backwaters, from Gores Pool to the Weaver Bottoms. These are mazes of islands, channels, flooded forests and marshes. Waterfowl is often plentiful, currents often minimal,