Meandering through tranquil forests, marshy wetlands, fancy golf courses, and neighborly backyards, Minnehaha Creek offers paddlers a scenic flat water experience through an urban wilderness. On any summer weekend, you will see groups on this sleepy creek: inner tubers taking it easy, canoeists slowly gliding on the water, and fishermen snoozing with their poles in hand. It can take from 6 to 9 hours to complete the whole route, so most people divide it up into sections.
What Makes It Great
Shortly after the ice goes out in early spring, Minnehaha Creek is a completely different story. The water runs higher and faster, at times becoming potentially dangerous. Especially when a large amount of water moves through the creek’s more narrow areas, things can get hairy very quickly! The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) advises against attempting the creek when the flow rate surpasses 150 cubic feet per second. If you are a confident paddler and plan accordingly, these conditions do create some class 1 and class 2 rapids. On the other hand, during the summer and fall, the flow rate can be rather low. This means you may have to portage more often along your route. A flow rate between 75 and 150 cubic feet per second indicates ideal paddling conditions. Before setting out, make sure to double-check the flow rate on the MCWD website.
Head on towards the headwaters of the Minnehaha, which start at Gray’s Bay Dam on Lake Minnetonka. Paddlers put in at the wooden dock just east of the dam. Within minutes of leaving the shore, the concrete dam disappears behind you as you enter a wetland much like what the Minnehaha once was. The next two miles wind through undeveloped wetland that houses great blue herons, redwing blackbirds, and painted turtles. Enjoy the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and the wind rustling in the reeds.
Once you reach Minnetonka Mills, a small town just off the creek bed, the route gains a more urban feel; you can hear the hustle and bustle of traffic that runs parallel to this portion of the creek. Once you pass under the Plymouth Road Bridge, look to your right for a dirt path with a red bench. If you’re hankering for some ice cream, a Dairy Queen is only a stone’s through away.
Continuing onward, the sounds of cars subside and soon you find yourself snaking through the backyards of Edina. The creek veers off into quiet marshland or into tranquil woodland from time to time. There are mandatory portages at Browndale Avenue and at West 54th Street in Edina. Depending on flow rate conditions, you may need to do some extra portaging or watch your head under low-clearance bridges.
Minnehaha Park begins as you enter the Minneapolis city limits. The Grand Rounds Scenic Bicycle Highway adjoins Minnehaha Creek at this junction, so be prepared to share the rest of your ride with commuting bicyclists. If you want to explore Lake Nokomis, a sign designates that there is a very short portage just as the Minnehaha graces the northern edge of the lake. If not, continue on to Lake Hiawatha and paddle your final strokes before reaching Longfellow Lagoon.
Who is Going to Love It
The Minnehaha Creek is a great for paddlers wanting to see Minneapolis from a whole different perspective.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There is parking available at Gray’s Bay Dam, which is the creek’s trailhead. If you want a shorter ride, then there are over a dozen other carry-in points to choose from.