The fourth longest river in the world, the Mississippi River not only has physical breadth, but also a breadth of rich history. Native Americans hunted and gathered along the riverbanks, steamboats traveled north and south carrying trade goods, and many lives were lost during the battles fought over the fertile land bordering the river.
What Makes It Great
Paddling along the northern stretch of the Mississippi offers its paddlers calm waters and scenic views. Other than the occasional graffiti from the local youth, there are beautiful landscapes and wildlife to see. South of the North Mississippi Regional Park is aGreat Blue Heron rookery. Look for big, gnarly nests in the trees on an island on the left side of the river. Also, after the Lowry Avenue Bridge, to the left of the river is a beach for Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge. It's a great place to stop and enjoy freshly fried cheese curds and a cold beverage.
Who is Going to Love It
For paddlers who want to see Minneapolis from a totally different perspective, then the Mississippi River Water Trail is a great option.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are several put-ins all along the Mississippi River. There is water access at the Anoka County Riverfront Regional Park, which is about 6 miles north of St. Anthony Falls. This section is great for a relaxing paddle, especially since paddlers can take a break at Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge. On the left side of the river, just pasted a mini dock for the The Sample Room, is a beach with a stairway up to Psycho Suzi's epic outdoor patio.
There is also an 8.5-mile section that passes through the Twin Cities area. Just south of Plymouth Avenue Bridge, there is a boat dock found in Boom Island Park. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and there is parking available near the boat dock. During the lumber industry days, Boom Island once had booms and derricks that would channel floating logs downriver to northeast Minneapolis’ many sawmills. The lighthouse is all that is left that proves this part of the river was once full of lumber traffic. From the dock, you pass by the lighthouse and then the current guides you south towards St. Anthony Falls.
As of June 10th 2015, the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam is closed to boat traffic. The U.S. Congress decided to close the lock in an effort to prevent the advance of invasive carp. The DNR announced "watercraft may not navigate within the 600-feet restricted zone above either dam or within the 150-foot zone below the dam."
So, if you plan on paddling through Minneapolis, instead of taking the lock, prepare for a 1.51 mile portage around the Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dams. The start of the portage is at Flagpole Plaza, which is right before the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Look for signs for the portage site. There are steps that take you up to the plaza and then veer left, following the portage route, which also happens to be the West River Parkway bike and pedestrian trail. Though it's not optimal to have to portage through downtown Minneapolis, it's still a pretty cool way to experience the city. With watercraft in tow, enjoy the beautiful views of Minneapolis' Mill City District. Walk until you reach Bohemian Flats and then follow the portage signs leading you towards the river's edge.
The landscape changes drastically as you pass downtown Minneapolis. After the second lock, towering bluffs with layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale surround you. These layers can be seen clearly in the river valley all the way to Fort Snelling. Once you pass highway 94, the humming of city life becomes a distant memory and for the next 6 miles all that encompasses you is the Mississippi’s exposed rocky bluffs, river bottom forest, and wildlife. You will reach Lock and Dam No. 1, which is the third and final lock. Veer right and pull the signal cord to notify the lock master that you're ready to lock through. Once through, finish off your 12.5-mile urban paddling adventure at Hidden Falls Regional Park.