Drive around the Twin Cities this time of year and you’ll see countless canoes and kayaks affixed to the tops of cars. This may leave you to wonder where all of those paddlers are headed. Well, it turns out there's a plethora of options. In addition to the 11,842 lakes in Minnesota, there are also 6,564 natural rivers and streams, totaling 69,200 miles of water trails in the state.
Indeed, there are a number of great paddling routes right within and near the Twin Cities. The DNR’s Minnesota State Water Trails site has a great interactive map for statewide water trails, but we wanted to give you a head start on canoeing and kayaking options close to the metropolitan area.
If you plan on checking any of these out, be aware of water levels and always wear a life jacket, as conditions can vary widely depending on the season.
1. Minnehaha Creek
Flowing from Lake Minnetonka to Minnehaha Falls, the Minnehaha Creek offers a variety of scenery, both urban and wooded. If you want to paddle the entire 22-mile span, you can put in at Gray’s Bay on Lake Minnetonka and head through several wetlands before reaching Hopkins, St. Louis Park, and Edina. Be aware that in Edina you’ll have to portage at Browndale Avenue and at West 54 th Street. The route then travels into Minneapolis and follows the Minnehaha Parkway. For a shorter paddle, simply put in along the parkway—Chicago Avenue is a good option—and head towards the falls.
2. Rum River
The Rum River State Water Trail travels 145 miles from Lake Mille Lacs to Anoka where it joins with the Mississippi River. While navigable by canoe, boulder beds can pose some challenges, but water levels generally stay high enough to accommodate canoes through the spring and summer. Kayakers can expect Class I and II rapids along the length of the river.
3. Minneapolis Chain of Lakes
With plenty of places to put in at the lakes, you can’t beat the convenience of this option. If you’re looking to check out several lakes without portaging, consider putting in or renting a watercraft at Lake Calhoun and paddling to Lake of the Isles and onto Cedar Lake. The latter two are among the calmest and quietest lakes in Minneapolis.
4. St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
To find some of the most scenic landscapes in the region, head east from the Twin Cities to Taylors Falls. While you can choose a longer trip, the 6.6 miles from Interstate Park to Osceola is a favorite of many local outdoors buffs. Putting in at Interstate Park, you’ll be treated to views of the St. Croix Dalles, a deep and imposing river gorge carved out by the last ice age. There are also many basaltic cliffs and other geologic features that will capture any paddler. A hot spot for prehistoric sites and former Indian settlements, history buffs will love the upper river valley.
5. Mississippi River
If you’re an expert paddler, going from Anoka to Fort Snelling on the Mighty Mississippi is a perfect day trip. Although you’ll have to keep your eyes open for barges and motor boats, this route offers an exciting tour of the Twin Cities you won’t get anywhere else. Just be sure to research ahead of time so you know where the lock and dam locations are along the river. For those who are motivated, you can also continue down south to Hastings and beyond.
6. Cannon River
If you’re looking for a day on the water, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better locale than the Cannon River . About an hour south of the Twin Cities, you can put in at Riverside Park in Cannon Falls and paddle the river gorge about 12 miles to Welch. Offering relatively smooth sailing, this is a great option for paddlers of every skill level.