A man paddling with an Accent Paddle
Photo courtesy of Accent Paddle
With hundreds of ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams within 30 minutes of the cities, there’s no reason you have to go to the BWCA or southern Minnesota to find a solid paddle. Sue Leaf, author of Portage, an ode to a life lived in a canoe, gave us her picks of the best local routes.
Gray’s Bay on Lake Minnetonka to the Edina dam
I love the start of the journey from iconic Lake Minnetonka through the marsh of the upper creek. Seems very wild!
Edina dam to Minnehaha Falls
It’s hard to believe one’s in an urban core as one paddles through the leafy tunnel. I’m always in it for the birds and I pick up dozens of bird songs (I bird by ear) as we float by their homes. Check the flow rate at MinnehahaCreek.org before you go. The website says flow should be 75–150 cubic feet per second. Faster than this, the bridges will not adequately clear the surface.
Arden Hills to Anoka
Since the Arden Hills arsenal closed, this waterway has beckoned to me.
Hidden Falls to Harriet Island
When you’re on the water, the banks are green, little waterfalls trickle out, and great blue herons wing away as the canoe approaches.
Cedar Avenue Bridge to Fort Snelling
In many ways, my husband and I feel like this is a “home” river, since we went to school in St. Peter with the great river flowing past the town. The section immediately above Fort Snelling cuts through a national wildlife refuge as great jets roar overhead. On the water, you can also feel how stressful the noise is for the birds and mammals that live there. It’s constant, scary noise, day in and day out, and I feel distressed at how our complex human world impinges on their lives.
Lake of the Isles
Lake of the Isles to Brownie Lake
This is a placid little paddle under bridges and through channels that gives you a sense of how it all hangs together.
Wanna go bigger? Here are Sue Leaf’s picks slightly farther from town.
Taylors Falls to Osceola
St. Croix River
St. Croix River trips are a great day paddle. We bring our bicycles, stash them in the weeds at the end, and when [we] reach the take-out point hop on the bikes and go back on Hwy. 95, a decent cycling road, to retrieve the car. If people can do these trips on a weekday, there will be very little traffic on the river. Oh, and bring your swimsuit to jump in the sandbars.
Cannon Falls to Welch
The Cannon flows mostly through hardwood forest, and paddlers will be very surprised by how “natural” it looks given the intensive agriculture in the watershed. You can rent canoes at Welch, a charming little burg in which to picnic.
Sunrise Dam to the St. Croix River
A little more exciting than the others because the Sunrise is narrower and no one maintains the channel (cutting snags and sweepers). . . . We went tubing on it last summer on a weekend in July and saw no one else. Après paddling, stop for beer and burgers/pizza at the Sunrise River Bar & Grill in North Branch.