MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Planning a paddle trip

If you'd like to hit the waterways this summer, you'll find lots of encouragement.

Paddling on a water trail.

© Beth Gauper

Canoeists paddle on the Rice Creek Water Trail in the northern suburbs of St. Paul.

Early spring is not too soon to start planning a summer on the water.

Outdoors and paddle clubs are happy to show the ropes to new members.

Outdoors stores offer boat demos and free classes on trip planning. Rangers at federal wildlife reserves offer guided trips.

Paddling guides offer lots of ideas, and many water trails are being developed, some right in cities.

Here are some of the best ways to get your feet wet.

Planning a trip

Outdoors stores offer many trip-planning classes, especially on Boundary Waters trips. If you're interested, get on the email list of your local store.

Paddling classes

In Madison, Rutabaga Paddlesports offers canoeing classes and kayaking classes. It also offers group paddles and trips and outings.

In the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Three Rivers Parks District offers many paddling classes, boat demos and day trips

Minnesota state parks offer an I Can Paddle! program on lakes for ages 5 and older, $10 per canoe and kayak; on rivers, for ages 8 and older, $25 per canoe; and on Lake Superior from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park for ages 12 and older, $35 per person in a sea kayak. All equipment is provided.

On lakes Superior and Michigan, sea-kayaking symposiums offer lots of classes. For more, see Kayak klatch.

Guided paddle trips

For a list of some of the best river trips guided by naturalists and park rangers, see Along for the glide.

Guidebooks and maps

Mike Svob's "Paddling Northern Wisconsin'' includes 82 routes, and his "Paddling Southern Wisconsin'' describes 83 routes.

Paddlers on the Cannon River.

© Ron Heck

The Minnesota Rovers pull up to a lunch spot on the Cannon River in southern Minnesota.

The Wisconsin DNR describes water trails in state parks, rivers and flowages.

Lynne Diebel's book "Paddling Northern Minnesota'' includes 86 routes, and her book "Paddling Southern Minnesota,'' which she wrote with her husband, Bob, includes 85 routes.

The Minnesota DNR sends out free canoe-river guides that include maps and descriptions of public access points, campsites and navigational features, and its website describes 30 designated water trails.

Nate Hoogeveen's book "Paddling Iowa'' includes 96 routes.

At the Iowa DNR website, you can download maps and brochures for nearly 900 miles of water trails

For more, see 15 great rivers for paddling.

Paddling with a club

Outdoors clubs are filled with experienced people who are happy to help new members. Often, they have extra boats to lend. 

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Canoe Association promotes kayaking as well as canoeing, flat and whitewater.

From the Twin Cities, the River Ramblers offer leisurely paced day and weekend trips in Minnesota and Wisconsin from April through September, $2 per trip or $5 per year.

The Minneapolis-based Inland Sea Kayakers offer day and overnight trips for paddlers of all skill levels on Lake Superior and Voyageurs National Park as well as the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. Membership is $15.

The Twin Cities-based Rapids Riders is a whitewater paddling group and sponsors Canoe U whitewater classes on the St. Croix River in spring.

The Twin Cities-based Superior Kayak and Outdoor Adventure Club offers kayaking trips to Lake Superior as well as hiking on the North Shore and winter camping in the Boundary Waters. Membership is $20.

In Madison, the MadCity Paddlers hold day and weekend trips around Wisconsin.

Canoeists paddle on the Chicago River.

© Beth Gauper

The Friends of the Chicago River paddle through the middle of downtown Chicago.

The North East Wisconsin Paddlers offer Heritage Paddles on the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, some with shuttles, as well as classes and other events. Membership fee is $30.

The Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association holds day and weekend trips on Lake Michigan and on waterways in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Membership is $12.50.

Also in the Chicago area, Prairie State Canoeists offers dozens of day and weekend trips on rivers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, plus northern Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana. A family membership is $20.

Rutabaga.com lists other paddling clubs in the Upper Midwest, and even more are listed at Paddling.net.

City paddling

In Chicago, the Friends of the Chicago River offer Urban Canoe Expeditions. For more, see Paddling the Chicago River.

In Milwaukee, Milwaukee Riverkeeper offers events on the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail. One of the most popular is the Milky Moonlight Paddle on the Milwaukee River; reserve early.

In the Twin Cities, Wilderness Inquiry offers day trips on the Mississippi River through Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Trying a boat

Many outdoors stores hold free demos on lakes throughout the summer, starting in late April. Just show up and take some boats out for a spin. The more you try, the better sense you'll get of what you want.

Then, take a low-key class from a parks district or environmental center. Many outfitters and outdoors stores also offer inexpensive day paddles.

Next, rent a boat for a weekend. It's always cheaper to rent for a weekend or week. Rates include life vests, paddles, spray skirts and vehicle pads and straps.

In the Twin Cities, Midwest Mountaineering holds kayak demos all summer, many on Lake Nokomis. It sells and rents a wide variety of kayaks. It often offers a Kayaking 101 class at the Minneapolis store.

Canoeists on the Upper Iowa River.

© Beth Gauper

The Upper Iowa River in northeast Iowa is lined by limestone chimneys and palisades.

In the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Hoigaard's holds many canoe and kayak demos at Three Rivers Parks reserves.

The University of Minnesota's Outdoor Center rents canoes for $25, $40 for two or three days, including accessories.

In the east Madison suburb of Monona, Rutabaga Paddlesport Shop rents kayaks and offers classes, youth and family programs, group paddles and day trips. It's on an inlet of the Yahara River, between Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa, so prospective buyers can try out boats right from the store.

In the northern Chicago suburb of Lake Bluff, on Lake Michigan, Great Lakes Kayak offers classes and demos by appointment.

In the Rockford, Ill., suburb of Loves Park, Paddle and Trail offers classes, day trips and tours. Both stores are on lakes, so customers can try boats any time.

In Marquette and Houghton on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Downwind Sports holds many kayak demos.

In the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, Crawdaddy Outdoors in Waverly holds Demo Days on Thursday evenings and Saturdays through the summer, beginning in mid-April.

It rents boats for use on many good kayaking rivers the Upper Iowa, Cedar, Shell Rock, Turkey, Volga, Wapsipinicon and Macquoketa.

REI requires reservations and a fee to attend its demos; the fee is waived for people who buy a boat. The policy does allow potential buyers to request specific boats to try, and REI staff are able to work more closely with customers.


  Last updated on June 2, 2016