South of the Twin Cities and very near Sakatah State Park, the Cannon River Water Trailhead begins. A designated Wild & Scenic River, Cannon River offers its paddlers jungle-like canopies and beautiful views of the glacial-carved river valleys. With over 80 miles of flat water following along its scenic rolling hills, towering bluffs, and tranquil marshland, this water trail is perfect for a relaxing paddle.
What Makes It Great
If it is a beautiful sunny afternoon on a Saturday, you may need to practice your maneuvering skills around the crowds of people tubing. If you set off early in the morning, you can easily miss the crowds. All depending on what experience you prefer, set off and paddle downstream. On a normal day, the river flows at a leisurely pace of one to two miles an hour, and offers a few Class I rapids, which is perfect for beginner paddlers. Though, during high rainfall the river can become quite rambunctious.
For some of the wilder portions of the trail, there are two protected parks you paddle through. The first is the River Terrace Prairie S.N.A, which houses a rare gravel prairie. On the river, you mainly get the views of the bluffs, but atop of those bluffs are well-protected terraces that are filled with Pasque flowers and spotted with rare kitten-tails.
The second park is the Cannon River Turtle Preserve S.N.A. This floodplain forest is dominated by silver maple and cottonwood. One of the only places to find the state-threatened wood turtle, this preserve has the perfect habitat for them; fast moving streams, grassy meadows, and raised sandbars. The turtles live in the park’s sandbars, so try your best to paddle quietly through this portion of the preserve. Three miles downstream, there is a large island that bisects the river. The river splits, but then reconnects three miles downstream.
Once you pass the turtle preserve, the river valley open up and it is evident you are in the heart of Minnesota’s blufflands. The closer you get to the Mississippi River Valley, the higher the bluffs become. Ranging from 500-600 feet, once you reach the Mississippi Valley, prepare for the most scenic views of the entire trip. Especially during the early morning or late evening, when the sun hits the rocky cliffs, the photo opportunities are endless.
Who is Going to Love It
Expect spending the whole day on the river. Pack a lunch, a book, some good company, and prepare for a relaxing day on the Scenic & Wild Cannon River.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trailhead technically begins at Tetonka Lake, but there are several put-ins all along the river. Depending on which quaint towns or scenery you want to see, it is easy to cater your paddling route to exactly what you want. Cannon Falls is a popular put-in, since there are a couple outfitters, as well as some of the best views of the river bluffs. This 25-mile portion takes you through glacial-cut sandstone, floodplain forest, and turtle inhabited sandbars. If you prefer a quieter ride, putting-in upstream would offer equally beautiful scenery and fewer crowds.