By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Ann Bancroft’s My North
Ann Bancroft might be best known for her polar expeditions, but one of her favorite to-dos involves open, not frozen, water. Yep, come summertime, Ann Bancroft prefers paddling a canoe to just about anything else. Not only does she live on the St. Croix river, but her next official expedition is a canoe trip from the headwaters of the Mississippi clear down to the Gulf of Mexico. And while that might be Minnesota’s grandest river paddle, here are a handful of the state’s best river day trips.
Minnesota River, Cedar Avenue Bridge to Pike Island
Minneapolis has the well-deserved reputation as a "City by Nature", which speaks to the region's unique blend of urban and natural spaces. For a crystal-clear look at this famous dichotomy, paddle the Minnesota River through the Twin Cities, starting at Cedar Avenue through to its confluence with the Mississippi at Pike Island. On the one hand, the river is surrounded by civilization: both the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns are within earshot, and there's a major international airport less than a mile off its banks. But on the other, the waterway itself is buffered by nature, passing through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Snelling State Park.
St. Croix River, Taylors Falls to Osceola
If you’re craving the big water, then a trip down the St. Croix River is for you. To do it right, drop your bikes off on the Minnesota side of the river across from Osceola, Wisconsin and then drive up Highway 95 to put your canoes in the water at Taylors Falls. Bring your own equipment, or get outfitted by Taylors Falls Canoe & Kayak Rental. The float is fast, but full of perfect-for-swimming sandbars, and the bike back up 95 at the end is equally scenic.
Cannon River, Cannon Falls to Welch
One of the most bucolic rivers in Minnesota, the Cannon flows through beautiful hardwood forests which disguise the southern Minnesota agriculture that’s often just beyond them. On the way to your starting point in Welch, grab a burger at King's Place in Miesville - even the pickiest eaters will find something to love among their 50 burger choices. Celebrate a successful paddle to Cannon Falls with a Cycology Red IPA at the Tilion Brewing Company.
Sunrise River, Sunrise Dam to the St. Croix River
About an hour north of the Cities, near North Branch, is a small yet mighty paddle on the Sunrise River into the St. Croix. What the meandering river lacks in size, it makes up for in speed and obstacles. When you’re done, celebrate with a burger and beer at the Sunrise River Bar & Grill in North Branch.
Mississippi River, Lake Itasca to Coffee Pot Landing
Although the Mississippi’s ultimate destination, the Gulf of Mexico, is more than 2,000 miles south, a paddle from its headwaters in Itasca State Park actually starts by going north. The river that eventually will become “mighty” is, at points, narrow enough to step across. But that’s why it’s worth the trip. It’s perfectly remote; seemingly untouched by the civilization that the fourth longest river on the planet will eventually encounter...and power.