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Kayaking In Minnesota – Best Spots to Kayak and Canoe in the North Star State

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in Minnesota can be a fantastic way to experience the great outdoors and check out some of the state’s natural landscapes.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also home to several scenic rivers, offering thousands of miles for you to explore.

With as many as 35 designated state paddling trails, trying to narrow down your search to just one or two may not be easy. But we’ve put together some of our favorites to help you get started.

10 Best Places To Kayak In Minnesota

1: Mississippi River

Kayak fishing on the Mississippi riverPin
Courtesy: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Mississippi River is one of the world’s longest rivers and has its beginnings in northern Minnesota. There are plenty of paddling miles, with options for one-day trips as well as extended trips.

The State Water Trail begins at the headwaters at Lake Itasca and ends at the Iowa border. A good spot to put-in is at Beaver Island Park in St. Cloud. From this point, you can avoid the rapids and paddle along the stretch which is designated as Wild and Scenic. It’s a 12-mile paddle from Beaver Island Park to the boat ramp in Clearwater.

There are several islands, bluffs, and places to stop along the way. The river can also be a good place to fish for walleye and smallmouth bass. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent in Clearwater.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Mostly Class I (easy) with up to Class III (moderate) near Sauk Rapids.

Where to launch & how to get there:

Beaver Island Park Canoe Access, St Cloud, MN 56301. Park is located just off 3rd Avenue South.

2: St. Croix River

The St. Croix River runs along the Minnesota/Wisconsin state line and is a designated Wild and Scenic River. It can be a relaxing place to paddle through beautiful scenery, with forests and cliffs lining the river.

There are many launches and landing areas along the paddling trail, so you can choose to paddle for a few hours or several days.

For a short trip, around 7 miles, you can put-in at the canoe launch at MN Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the launch.

The water is slow-moving and ideal for families and new paddlers. The take-out is at Osceola Landing but you can stop at Franconia Landing for a rest if you need it.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

307 Milltown Road, Taylors Falls, MN 55084. River access is next to the canoe rental office inside MN Interstate State Park, just off Highway 8, southwest of Taylors Falls.

3: Root River

Root River in MinnesotaPin
Courtesy: Navin Rajagopalan on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Root River flows from Chatfield into the Mississippi River. It can be a great place for fishing for catfish, smallmouth bass, and many others. It can also be an ideal location for wildlife viewing, with many birds to be found, including bald eagles and red-tailed hawks.

There are many access points and boat-in campsites along the paddling trail, making it ideal for trips of varying lengths. The trail is also well served by kayak outfitters, with several to be found between Lanesboro and Rushford.

A good location to launch is just east of Lanesboro, at the river access point just off Highway 16. A thirteen-mile paddle takes you to Peterson. There’s also a boat-in campsite at Raaen Creek, around eight miles from the launch.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Up to Class II (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Root River Access/Picnic Area, MN-16, Lanesboro, MN 55949. Just off Highway 16 between Lanesboro and Whalen.

4: Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun)

Two kayakers at Bde Maka Ska  (formerly Lake Calhoun)Pin
Courtesy: PunkToad on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Bde Maka Ska forms part of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and can be a great place to paddle with leafy surroundings, plus views of the Minneapolis skyline. The lake was formerly known as Lake Calhoun but recently had its name formally changed to its Native American name.

The lake has several canoe launches. You can also rent kayaks at the launch on the northeastern shores of the lake. Paddle around the Bde Maka Ska for views of the city and you can also head under the bridges at the northern end to paddle into Lake of the Isles.

From Lake of the Isles you can paddle through Kenilworth Lagoon, along Cedar Lake Canal and into Cedar Lake. From Cedar Lake you can paddle through the narrow bridge and channel into Brownie Lake.

Class of Rapids Rating:

N/A – flatwater lake

Where to launch & how to get there:

3000 East, W Bde Maka Ska Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55408.

5: Snake River

The Snake River can be a fun river to paddle, with a mixture of slow-moving water and Class I to II rapids. However, there are some stretches that can feature up to Class III and IV whitewater.

The Silver Star Launch just above Snake River State Forest is where to head if you’re after rapids.

A place to launch if you’re looking for less rapids and good scenery, you can put-in at the ramp just off County Road 11, south of Mora. You can paddle to Pine City (around 22 miles) but there’s a campsite 10 miles into the trip. You can take-out at Little Walleye Landing near Grasston if you don’t want to paddle as far.

Kayak rentals are available in Pine City.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I to II (easy). Up to Class IV (difficult) in the upper stretches and up to Class III (moderate to difficult) below Cross Lake.

Where to launch & how to get there:

County Road 11, Mora, MN 55051.

6: Cannon River

The Cannon River is a designated State Wild and Scenic River. It can be a great spot for all skill levels to experience the beauty of this natural river.

An easy place to launch is at Riverside Park in Cannon Falls. From there, you can paddle along the Cannon River State Water Trail to Miesville Ravine. This is an easy 7-mile paddle that can be great for a day trip, with picnic spots along the way.

Canoes and kayaks are available near the launch.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I – easy to moderate with some small rapids

Where to launch & how to get there:

Cannon Falls Canoe and Kayak Access, Cannon Falls, MN 55009

7: Kettle River

Whitewater kayaker at Kettle RiverPin
Courtesy: Paul VanDerWerf on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re looking for some excitement on your kayaking trip, Kettle River is the place to go for whitewater kayaking, particularly the stretch that flows through Banning State Park.

The river races through Precambrian sandstone cliffs on the stretch of rapids.

The sections above and below the rapids, however, are surprisingly calm, letting you enjoy the scenery at a more relaxed pace.

You can rent inflatable kayaks in nearby Sandstone.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I-IV – easy to difficult

Where to launch & how to get there:

5578+R5, Sandstone, MN 55704

8: Blue Earth River

The Blue Earth River is a State Water Trail with plenty of access points, campsites, and places to stop along the route. This historic river flows north through woodland and grassland, with good opportunities to spot wildlife.

A recommended section for more experienced kayakers is from the Rapidan Dam to the CR-90 bridge. This section is just over 12 miles and has a few tricky Class I rapids and several waterfalls. You might also spot a bald eagle.

Kayak rentals are available in Mankato.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I – easy with some small rapids

Where to launch & how to get there:

Glory Lane, Mankato, MN 56001. Launch is behind Rapidan Dam Cafe.

9: Grand Marais (near Lake Superior)

Two men canoeing at Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MinnesotaPin
Courtesy: Ben Stephenson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Grand Marais has a lot to offer when it comes to kayaking. You can paddle around the sheltered harbor on Lake Superior but I recommend heading north on the Gunflint Trail through the wild Superior National Forest to explore the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

The Boundary Waters covers an area over a million acres and stretches 150 miles along the US/Canadian border.

You’ll find lots of wildlife, with moose, wolves, bears, and even lynx calling the area home. There are several canoe and kayak outfitters on the Gunflint Trail.

Class of Rapids Rating:

Class I/II – easy to moderate, mostly flat water

Where to launch & how to get there:

East Bearskin Lake Public Access, Grand Marais, MN 55604

10: Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park is home to more than just the headwaters of the Mississippi. You can paddle around the 1,200-acre glacial lake and check out its floating bogs. Plus you can explore several other lakes in the park, including the adjacent Elk Lake.

This calm lake is ideal for beginners and families, with the surrounding forest offering a peaceful backdrop for a day trip. The park is also home to a wide variety of birds, so I recommend you pack your binoculars.

Kayaks and canoes are available for rent in the park.

Class of Rapids Rating:

N/A – flatwater lake

Where to launch & how to get there:

Bear Paw Public Water Access, N. Shore Lane, Shevlin, MN 56676

What Are The MN Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin

We’ve included some of the main kayak regulations to follow in Minnesota. However, this is just a guide and you may want to research the laws yourself.

  • PFD is required for each person on a kayak or canoe and it’s recommended that you wear it.
  • Children under 10 must wear a USCG approved PFD while on any kayak or canoe.
  • Registration is required for kayaks and canoes over 9 feet in length.
  • Boating While Impaired (BWI) is illegal in Minnesota. This applies with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher and can result in penalties, jail and loss of driving privileges.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around MN

Wrapping Up

Minnesota is home to thousands of miles of paddling trails on rivers and lakes, making it an ideal place for kayakers, whether you’re experienced or not. You’ll also find plenty of places to rent a boat if you don’t have your own.

Have you checked any of these places out yet? Tell us how it went. And if you want to encourage others, share this.

Kayaking In Minnesota - Pinterest ImagePin

1 thought on “Kayaking In Minnesota – Best Spots to Kayak and Canoe in the North Star State”

  1. I noticed you missed one of the most popular kayaking outfitters in the Twin Cities area. TwinCitiesKayaking.com

    They are a mobile run outfitter that will deliver kayaks and paddleboards to where you want to paddle.

    They do regular planned outings as well on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Rum River, Rice Creek and many other local lakes and Rivers.


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