If you’re an avid canoer, you could choose a worse location than the land of 10,000 lakes.
Well, it’s called the land of 10,000 lakes, but the truth is there are 11,842 lakes over ten acres in size.
Minnesota has over ten million acres of protected wilderness. State and National Forests checker the map, connected by thousands of miles of waterways.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota is one of the most visited, yet least known, nature getaways in the country, while also one of the world’s premier canoeing and fishing destinations.
Pristine wilderness, endless destinations and breathtaking scenery abound in Minnesota. Some of the oldest and most sweeping national protections, as well as the states naturally rugged and isolating geography, have left some of the United States last true untouched natural grandeur.
From the sweeping planes in the west to the northern “Big Forest”, there is nowhere better for paddling. Whether you’re looking for a casual day out with the family or an epic whitewater ride, we set out to find the best canoeing experiences the North Star State has to offer.
Before you hit the water, a word of caution.
Very few of Minnesota’s wild animals are dangerous to humans. Though there is a massive array of fauna, including river otters and swans, larger animals like grizzly bears live further west. The list of deadliest animals in the state includes deer and bees.
That is absolutely not to say, however, that setting out into the wilds of Minnesota is 100 percent safe. Quite the contrary. With such a vast amount of protected wilderness there is a very small chance of being found if you wander off the beaten path, and, well, canoes aren’t particularly great for staying on beaten paths.
Especially if you’re traversing a lake between waterways or finding somewhere to pull off and camp for the night, there is always a chance of getting blown off course or getting hit with unexpected weather.
Canoeing Minnesota can be one of the most laid back and enjoyable days or weekends you ever have, but a cold snap or sudden storm can leave you stranded with no supplies and no way home.
The most important areas to consider before you set off are:
Registering with the forest service
If you’re planning a day trip on well regulated and maintained rivers like one of Minnesota’s 35 state water trails or you’re just taking the kids around the lake by your vacation rental, it may be a bit much to go so far as to register with the National Forest Service.
You don’t even need a license for canoes under ten feet and, frankly, if you’re caught without one on a fifteen footer, you’ll probably just get a warning if anything. The license is only ten bucks.
However, if you’re planning on going off-book and charting your own path through one of Minnesota’s state forests…yes. Register with the forest service. It doesn’t cost anything at all to call in a weekend itinerary and set up a check in time.
That way, if you went down the wrong channel or a flash storm sunk your canoe thirty miles from the nearest outpost, the Forest Service will send out a rescue patrol to find you when you don’t check in.
Just make sure to actually check in when you finish. They really don’t like sending out search and rescue for someone that’s already back at the hotel.
Minnesota park guidelines
State Parks and Forests are a wonderful resource for canoeing Minnesota, and a large portion of your options will fall into their jurisdiction. Minnesota has notoriously stringent protocols and guidelines for visiting their protected wildernesses, and the rangers will have no qualms kicking you out of the park or arresting you if you don’t follow them. Actionable offenses include:
Lighting large fires without proper permits
Being destructive or disorderly.
Drinking too much
Fishing without a license.
Poaching. Do not do that. There are plenty of hunting grounds in the state. Go there.
Illegal activity. It’s still illegal in the woods.
For a complete list of rules www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Canoeing Minnesota in the cold season
Minnesota wilderness is absolutely gorgeous year round, but the winter months definitely add an edge to nature outings that the spring and summer don’t have.
Notoriously unpredictable weather and fierce winds can make a sunny november day into a dangerous, freezing ordeal.
So when canoeing between summer and spring, especially someplace isolated, take these measures.
Warm clothes (jacket, gloves, hat, etc.).
Emergency Heat Blankets.
An emergency radio.
A hammer or hatchet in case of freezing waters.
dry clothes in a waterproof container.
If you start a campfire, make sure that you have enough fuel to keep it burning through the night. It sounds scary, yes, but it’s a very unlikely scenario that anything will happen to you if you come prepared.
Minnesota alcohol restrictions
While Minnesota doesn’t have any heavy restrictions on drinking as long as you’re 21 and don’t litter or become a nuisance to other nature lovers, we definitely have to urge against canoeing intoxicated. It’s just dangerous.
The very essence of traveling in unrestricted wilderness is the element of unpredictability and self reliance, and you’re not going to be particularly great at building a fire with wet wood or re-navigating a river too swollen to get through safely if you’re in the bag. Please be responsible.
The Best Canoeing in Minnesota.
We picked some choice locations from all around Minnesota, all of which are worth visiting. The diverse geology and endless choices make it impossible to pick one canoeing experience, but we went out of our way to find what we considered the most memorable.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Located within the Superior National Forest in Northeast Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is over 1,000,000 acres of primitive forests, glacial lakes and rivers. Stretching along the Canadian border and running along Lake Superior, the BWCAW is the largest remaining uncut forest in the eastern United States.
The National Bird Conservancy has named the BWCAW as a globally important bird habitat, and it’s very common to see birds ranging from loons and swans to bald eagles and peregrine falcons, as well as moose, beaver, otters, deer and otter.
Native Americans inhabited this area as far back as 8000 B.C., and as a protected old growth forest you’ll see the world they lived in almost exactly as they did minus a mammoth cave bear or two.
Permits are required for overnight stays, but the large number of primitive campsites dotted throughout the wilderness give an almost limitless number of possible travel routes.
Though thousands of visitors come to the BWCAW every year, it remains one of the few places in the country so vast that you might be able to paddle in, spend the day exploring and fishing, pull up at a campsite, stay for the night and paddle out without encountering another person. Just you and the echoes of the past.
Voyageurs National Park
To the west of the BWCAW lies another gem or the northern border. Voyageurs National park is named after the trappers and fur traders that traveled through the areas during the french colonization of the area.
It sits on a geographical area known as The Canadian Shield, an ancient petrified lava field with some of the oldest rocks on the plant, between 1 and 3 billion years old. This makes for some of the states most unique natural formations, from high plateaus to cascading river steppes.
The central focus of the park is the Kabetogama Peninsula, essentially and island surrounded by the three major lakes that make up the parks borders. Not having any roads accessing the peninsula, it is only visitable by water and as such has become a de facto nature preserve, as there is no hunting in the park and very few humans take the time to venture through the fifty miles of hiking trails it offers.
This is somewhere to see nature unbothered by civilization and untouched by deforestation and hunting.
The Headwaters at Lake Itasca
In northern central Minnesota there is a small lake, roughly 2 miles in area. It’s quite lovely. Lake Itasca is especially noteworthy for being one of the few places that show examples of the three great North American Habitats:
The Deciduous Forest of the south, the Coniferous Northern Forests, and the Great Western Plains. It truly is a sight to behold, these epic staples of America all brought together around a small isolated lake.
What makes this particular lake good for canoeing, however, has less to do with the land around it than what the water itself leads into. You see, Lake Itasca is the beginning headwaters of the great Mississippi River.
From this humble seat springs the lifeblood of the nation, and it travels 2,300 miles across the continent to the Gulf of Mexico. There is a kinetic feeling to looking down the river leading away from Lake Itasca, a kind of magnetic draw pulling you southward. A little call to adventure in your ear, urging you to take the current as far as it will take you.
Well, we wouldn’t be doing the thrill seekers reading this any justice if we didn’t mention our favorite whitewater experience of Minnesota.
With a name like Devil Track, you can be pretty sure you’re in for some challenging breakers. A five mile run that takes you through multiple hefty drops and into a long, scenic canyon before throwing you out suddenly onto the serene shores of Lake Superior.
Depending on how you take it, Devil Track has been rated from a level 2 difficulty to a level 5, so even less experienced whitewater canoers can give it a shot. A word of warning though- if you don’t have a guide that knows their course already, the level 2 you’re shooting for can turn into a level 5 without you even knowing.
Be prepared and hire a guide, because you really don’t want to go over the final pitch (nicknamed “The Admiral”) without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.
The Minnesota River
We would be remiss in our duties when speaking of canoeing Minnesota without mentioning its namesake: The Minnesota River.
Named “The River of Cloud Tinted Water” by the native Dakota, the Minnesota travels a 318 mile course along a path carved out by a glacier some 11,000 years ago. Bisecting the southwestern quarter of the state, the blue-green river snakes its way through granite cliffs, pine forests and beautiful wetland marshes.
While perhaps not the most exciting trip, you could spend a week or more traveling the river end to end, stopping at the many campsites along the way and replenishing food and water at available rest stops. If you’re looking for a good way to get away from it all and clear your head, nothing beats this all American excursion.
Tips to make trip more fun
Pack Your Canoe Close to Water
If you have a heavy canoe, you can’t carry it to the launching point. That’s why it is crucial to pack it close to the water. Experts recommend putting lighter items in the front and back of the boat. At the same time, you have to pack heavy items at the center of the boat.
Make sure you pack everything securely so that the items do not move or shift while you are canoeing. We recommend you to pack your things tightly under the seat to avoid them from shifting once you are on the water.
Decide a Bowman
A canoe is usually run by two canoers. One is the bowman and the other one is the sternman. The bowman will sit in the front and the sternman will sit in the back of the boat. It is up to you and your partner to decide who will sit in the front and the back. Typically, the bowman is the guide who instructs the sternman to steer the canoe in the right direction.
The bowman performs a kind of surveillance duty and alerts the sternman of any obstacles in the river or stream so that he or she can steer the canoe around them. Otherwise, obstacles such as stones, wood, or any other object will damage the boat. Likewise, if you are a sternman, you will guide your bowman on switching sides with the paddle.
Wear Your PFD
As mentioned earlier, it is essential to wear your personal flotation device. In simple words, it is a lifejacket that you need to wear for safety purposes. Research shows that many canoers have lost their lives wearing an inappropriate life jacket. Therefore, it is crucial to wear a lifejacket approved by the U.S Coastal Guard.
Your lifejacket must fit you properly. When you wear it, it should feel snug and comfortable. If your lifejacket is not comfortable, you will feel irritated and thus won’t enjoy the activity. If you are canoeing with a child, make sure you purchase one specifically designed for kids. In general, we don’t recommend canoe with children.
Secure Your Canoe Before You Get in
Before you get into the canoe and start canoeing, tie both ends of the boat to the dock. For this, you have to use a strong rope that can securely hold the canoe. Beginners need to carry out the process carefully because things can go wrong.
If you are about to launch your canoe off the shoreline, ask your partner to hold the boat so that you can get into the canoe safely. Remember, your safety is very important and you have to take steps accordingly.
While getting into the canoe, it is wise to bend your knees so that you can properly grab onto the side of the boat. Make sure your place one of your legs into the center while grabbing the far side of the canoe with your hand.
Once you have grabbed the canoe and properly placed your leg in the center, it is time to bring your other leg into the boat. If you are a sternman, you must sit in the back of the boat. On the other hand, if you are a bowman, you will sit on the bench at the canoe’s front.
Hold the Paddle Properly
Your inside hand should be on top of the paddle. Make sure you position your other hand around 2 to 3 feet down from the top of the paddle. For instance, if you are paddling on the right side of the canoe, your left hand is the inside hand.
It means you will hold the top side of the paddle with your left hand and your right hand will stay on the lower part of the paddle. Holding the paddle properly is essential to canoeing accurately in the water.
Once you have secured the paddle with your hands, put the paddle into the water. Make sure the end of the paddle is in front of you. Otherwise, you would stand up from your seat to adjust the paddle. If you are paddling on the right side of the boat, you would put the paddle into the water and ensure that it stays in front of you.
Move the Paddle Smoothly
Canoeing requires you to move the paddle properly. Experts recommend that beginners should move it in a smooth and sweeping motion. Remember, you must keep the end of the paddle under the water to achieve smooth, sweeping movements. Use your top hand to push the paddle in the water and your bottom hand to pull back the paddle.
Moving your hands properly to push the paddle forward and pull it backward will move your canoe in the water. Keep in mind that you can’t go back further when the paddle is behind you.
In simple words, it is difficult to move the paddle underwater when it is backward. That’s why you have to lift the paddle out of the water and insert it again in the water in a gentle manner. Repeat the push and pull process to move your boat forward.
Remember, the bowman and sternman must paddle on the opposite side of the boat. For example, if your partner is paddling on the right side, you will push and pull your paddle on the left side of the canoe in the water.
The purpose of paddling on the opposite side is to maintain a steady course and avoid your boat from moving in circles. Again, if you are a bowman and your partner is a sternman, you should paddle either to the right side or left side and your partner in the opposite direction respectively.
You must do paddling in synchronization with your partner to balance the boat in the water. Keep in mind that the bowman and sternman’s paddles should go in and out of the water at the same time. Although it requires both of you to get training, you can master these moves by practicing it regularly.
If you are a bowman, it is your responsibility to set the pace. Likewise, if you are a sternman, you are responsible for adjusting the paddle. As a sternman, you must match your paddle movement with that of the bowman’s paddle.
Moreover, steering the canoe requires you to use a “J” stroke. Generally, a “J” stroke refers to a small backward stroke, which is used through the water to steer the canoe. For example, if you want the boat to steer or go right, you (as a sternman) should perform a “J” stroke on the right side of the boat.
In contrast, you are required to do a “J” stroke on the right side of the boat to make it go right. If you want to steer the canoe correctly, it is essential to make a large “J” stroke. Doing it the right way will give you a smooth canoeing experience.
Steer towards the shore for landing
Once you have enjoyed canoeing and want to land, tell your partner that it is time to move towards the shore. In this regard, you should steer the boat and make the front side of the boat pointing at the shoreline.
On the other hand, landing at the dock requires you to turn your boat properly and make it parallel with the side of the dock. As you approach the dock, you must slow down paddling so that you can land safely at the dock.
When you get close to the shore, land the boat gently on the shore. While landing your canoe on the shore, your canoe’s front should go up onto the land. At the same time, the backside of your boat should stay in the water.
In contrast, if you want to land at the dock, steer your canoe in such a manner that you get close to the side of the dock. In this regard, you and your partner should work collaboratively and ensure your canoe lands parallel with the side of the dock.
Don’t get out until have secured your canoe on the shore or at the dock. To do this, use a rope to tie the front and back ends of your canoe to the dock. Moreover, if you are landing on the shore, it is essential to ask your partner (bowman) to hold the boat steady. Remember, both of you should decide who will get out of the canoe first. Don’t get out together because it is unsafe.
Canoeing Minnesota is an adventure
Minnesota is beautiful in ways that we couldn’t begin to describe. The majesty of nature surrounds you at every turn. The Old Growth Forests, the endless languishing rivers, the thousands upon thousands of lakes teeming with life, the unique and ancient rock formations, the valleys and streams carved by glaciers millenia ago.
It takes 3 months to float down the Mississippi. It can take longer if you do not paddle, hit bad weather, or have wildlife issues.
You can float down in raft, canoe, kayak, or boat.
The Mississippi River is ranked as the second-longest river in Northern America with an overall distance of 2350 miles between its source and the Gulf of Mexico. So many communities are living beside this river and they find river water very useful for their living. It starts in Minnesota and ends in Louisiana.
Millions of people come to enjoy camping at the Mississippi River every year and they are known to have incredible experiences. There are so many places where you can set up your camp and explore the beauty of nature around.
Some of you might be interested to know how much time it may take to float down the Mississippi River. Well, at an average, it may take almost three months to cover the entire area. However, the total time is greatly affected by a few essential factors.
The most important factor is your fitness level as it will decide how long you can paddle every day. Other than this, the journey will be highly dependent on weather conditions as well. At the same time, you may need to consider seasonal changes for the area.
People that are planning to move out for camping in the Mississippi River are advised to go through the list of challenges that you may have to face during the journey. How well you face these challenges will also affect the number of days you may need to float down the river.
Below we have listed a few such challenges that demand your attention for the journey:
There is no doubt to say that safety is the prime challenge that people may face while navigating through the entire length of the Mississippi River. In order to deal with these situations, you may need to do proper team planning. The poorly designed program may lead to failure. The inexperienced canoers are advised to follow tips from experts to make a successful attempt.
Locks and Dams:
The United States Army Corps of Engineers in the year 1930s designed several dams and locks over the Mississippi River. The main goal behind this project was to maintain a minimum water range up to nine feet so that the navigation channel can be convenient for canoers.
But these dams and locks can be a challenging hazard for the inexperienced handlers and smart craft. As per local regulations, it is not allowed to enter the water with 600 feet upstream condition and 150 feet downstream. The water in these areas can be dangerous.
It is important to mention that the Mississippi River flows through urban areas and the riverside may sometime appear a very dangerous place. Be sure to bring some defensive weapons like arrows or pepper spray.
Along with other safety concerns, you have to be very careful about the wildlife threat in the area. There are a variety of creatures that may attack you anywhere during this trip. Some of the most commonly found wildlife creatures in these areas are alligators, sharks, bears, and snakes.
When you are planning a journey to the Mississippi river, it is good to get some tips from experts to make your trip safe and memorable.
The Mississippi River flows from its traditional source of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and stands as the second-longest river, after the Nile. The river also forms the primary river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, after the Hudson Bay drainage system.
Flowing 2,320 miles towards south to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, the river forms several tributaries, along which several Native Americans have found their shelter. The river’s watershed borders and drains all or some parts of 32 states of the U.S. along with two Canadian provinces located between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.
The Mississippi not only ranks as the fourth-longest river but also positions as the fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river also borders around or passes through the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Louisiana.
Early Natives and Explorations
The Native Americans have created a home and lived peacefully around the banks of the Mississippi River and its tributaries for numerous years. They were mostly hunters and food gatherers; however, few indulged in productive agricultural work and few shifted to urban civilizations. In the 16th century, when the Europeans arrived, the Mississippi River started to serve as a link of communication and became a vivacious form of transportation artery among New Spain, the early United States, and New France.
Significance of the Mississippi River in the 19th Century
It is interesting to note that the embayment of the Mississippi River forms one of the most fertile regions of the United States. This is mainly due to the thick layers of silt that are being deposited by the river. This fertility had increased the use of steamboats during the 19th and early 20th centuries to ship agricultural and industrial goods. The river also highlights its strategic importance during the American Civil War when the Union forces captured the river area, marking it a turning point towards victory. During the first decades of the 20th century, with the growth of cities, barges and larger ships developed, replacing steamboats. It was during this time that witnessed the construction of remarkable engineering workings such as locks, levees, and dams. In a major way, these works were carried out mainly to focus on the prevention of the shifting of lower Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River channel.
State Boundaries and Cultural Geography Associated with the River
Starting from Minnesota to Louisiana, the Mississippi River runs through or passes along 10 states. In addition to it, the river also defines the portions of the state borders- along the east part, the river margins Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and along the west Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri is bordered. Although the Mississippi outlines the part of each of the states, considerable portions of both Louisiana and Minnesota can be found on either side of the river.
However, as years passed by, the shifting of the river has been witnessed in several areas, yet no change is observed on the state borders. The river is still following the former bed of the Mississippi River as it did in the times of establishment, and hence, it has left various tiny portions of a state across the new river channel isolated. These secluded parts of land remain contiguous with the adjacent state.
Divisions of the Mississippi River
Based on physical characteristics, the Mississippi River can be divided into four distinct different sections. Rising from the source of navigation at St. Paul, Minnesota, the Mississippi flows as a clear and fresh stream. The river wounds its unassuming ways through the valleys and lowlands which are dotted with lakes and marshes.
1,475 feet above sea level, the Upper Mississippi runs from its traditional source of Lake Itasca, Minnesota. The name Itasca itself illustrates the meaning of “true head”, and hence plays a vital role in being the source of the Mississippi River. The flow of the river is controlled and moderated by 43 dams starting from the source. These dams, however, severe a diverse range of purposes, ranging from recreation to generation of power and electricity. The only true waterfall on the Mississippi is the Saint Anthony Falls. As the Mississippi passes through the gorge carved out by this waterfall, the water elevation continues to drop steeply.
The river further flows past the steep limestone bluffs and receives water from tributaries in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. In this position, the river assumes the character that made the Algonquian-speaking Indians to name the river as the “Father of Waters”.
As the Upper Mississippi forms the confluence with the Missouri River at St. Louis, Missouri, the Middle Mississippi takes its form. This part of the river is comparatively free-flowing, devoid of any turbulence. Besides the Meramec River of Missouri and the Kaskaskia River of Illinois, there is no major tributary that enters the Middle Mississippi River.
The lower part of the Mississippi River is formed when the river forms a confluence with the Ohio River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. The distance measures about 1,000 miles
In addition to the Ohio River, the White River at the White River National Wildlife Refuge, the Arkansas River at Arkansas post, the Big Black River, and the Yazoo River, at Vicksburg, form the major tributaries of the Lower Mississippi River. The widest point of the Mississippi can be found in the Lower Mississippi section. The width exceeds 1 mile, that is, 1.6 km in several places.
The Mississippi watershed forms the world’s fourth-largest drainage basin, covering more than 3,220,000 square kilometres, which include various parts of the U.S. and two Canadian provinces. The river forms the drainage basin which empties itself into the Gulf of Mexico, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately 40% of the continental landmass of the United States form the total watershed of the Mississippi River. It is interesting to note that the highest point within the watershed, Mount Elbert (at the height of 14,440 feet), also ranks as the highest point of the Rocky Mountains.
Water Supply from the Mississippi River
The Mississippi has been used for commercial and municipal water supply even before the 18th century. The river has been used to obtain freshwater along with discharging the industrial and municipal waste of the community. According to a study by the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee published in January 2000, it has been observed that nearly 15 million people of the States depend on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency has also researched and claimed that more than 50 cities rely on the Mississippi River for their daily water supply and other purposes.
Things to Know about the Commerce Associated with the River
The river makes one of the most fertile basins and agriculture forms dominant land use for nearly two centuries in the Mississippi basin. The Mississippi played a huge role in altering the hydrologic cycle of the region. The lush agricultural products that are cultivated in this river basin has contributed around ninety-two percent of the nation’s total agricultural exports.
Besides, seventy-eight percent of the world’s exports that include feed grains, livestock, hogs, and soybeans are cultivated in this fertile valley. Nearly sixty percent of all grains that are exported from the United States are shipped on the Mississippi River through the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of New Orleans.
The commercial activities around the river also includes shipping, which is mostly done in the Lower Mississippi. The shipping is mostly concentrated on petroleum and its products. Nevertheless, grain, iron and steel, wood, coal, chemicals, rubber, paper, coffee, and edible oils, also stand as significant shipping items.
According to the tonnage measure, the largest port district in the world is also located along the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana. The Port of South Louisiana also forms one of the largest ports based on volume in the United States.
A 9-foot channel of shipping is maintained and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to regulate the movement of the goods across the Mississippi River. This shipping channel extends from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis.
Interesting Facts about River’s Fauna
- The Upper Mississippi houses about 50 mammal species and 120 fish species. Also, just within the subtropical region of the Mississippi basin, nearly 370 fish species are known. It includes endemics, relicts such as paddlefish, gar, and bowfin.
- Besides fish species, we can find several turtle species, which range from musk, map, snapping, mud, cooter, to softshell turtles.
- Approximately 150 species of aquatic amphibians and reptiles are native to the Mississippi basin.
- The river corridor is used by nearly forty percent of the Nation’s migratory waterfowl, especially during their migration in spring and fall.