A woman canoeing in the Boundary Waters as the sun goes down

Where to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Minnesota

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Canoeing the Boundary Waters at dusk  / Paul Vincent

Where to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Minnesota

By Sara Lynch

One of the best parts of living in Minnesota is exploring its many beautiful lakes with a canoe or kayak. Here are some of our favorite places to paddle, from relaxing sunset routes to exhilarating whitewater adventures.

  1. Blue Earth River
    Kayaks on the Blue Earth River

    Kayaks on the Blue Earth River / Bent River Outfitters

    Blue Earth River

    Bent River Outfitter offers guided kayak tours that go through a series of small rapids (suitable even for beginners) and near waterfalls in Blue Earth River, a fun adventure in Mankato. If you’d rather paddle without a tour, you can also rent kayaks and use the company's shuttle service. 

  2. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
    A woman portages a canoe in the Boundary Waters

    Portaging a canoe in the Boundary Waters  / Paul Vincent

    Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

    The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of America's most beautiful and remote places, but it still manages to attract more than 150,000 annual visitors. Its vast wilderness extends 150 miles along the U.S.-Canada border, covering approximately 1,098,000 acres with more than 1,100 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes.

    To truly understand this incredible destination, you have to come experience it for yourself — either completely on your own or with the help of a local company like Boundary Waters Outfitters. Check out our four-day Boundary Waters for Beginners itinerary here.

  3. Chain of Lakes Regional Park
    Sara kayaking near a small bridge

    Kayaking on Lake of the Isles towards Cedar Lake / Sara Lynch

    Chain of Lakes Regional Park

    One of the most classic spots to canoe or kayak is the Chain of Lakes Regional Park that connects Bde Maka Ska, Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. Along the route are views of downtown Minneapolis, islands, old bridges and a canal that links Cedar Lake to Lake of the Isles.

    This location is also a great option for beginners and those without kayaks, because you can rent from Wheel Fun Rentals on the Northeast corner of Bde Maka Ska.

  4. Lake Itasca
    Family kayaking on Lake Itasca

    Family kayaking on Lake Itasca / Itasca Sports

    Lake Itasca

    At the headwaters of the Mississippi River is Lake Itasca in Park Rapids. This glacial lake is a scenic spot to spend an afternoon kayaking, and rentals are available from Itasca Sports in Itasca State Park

  5. Lake Superior
    Two kayaks on Lake Superior

    Sea kayaking on Lake Superior at Palisade Head

    Lake Superior

    The world’s largest freshwater lake delivers some of the state’s most dramatic scenery, along with beloved state parks, roaring rivers and water so clear that a calm day can feel like paddling across glass.

    Resorts and outfitters along this water trail stretching from the St. Louis River near Duluth to the Pigeon River on the Canadian border can help you pick the best segments and safest conditions. If Lake Superior is acting moody or it’s too windy to paddle, inland lakes can offer an alternative.

  6. Mississippi River
    Kayaking on the  Mississippi River in Minneapolis

    Kayaking on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis

    Mississippi River

    Whether you’re looking for a city or nature route, the Mississippi River has multiple scenic options. Paddle Share makes it easy to reserve a kayak rental in Minneapolis and pick it up from a locker with a provided code for the trip. Just leave a car where you plan to finish, or plan some other way to get back once the journey is over.  

  7. St. Croix River | Taylors Falls
    St. Croix River and surrounding area from Taylors Falls to Stillwater

    The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway encompasses some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest

    St. Croix River | Taylors Falls

    Scenic is an understatement when describing the views within the Taylors Falls area. The St. Croix River runs between foliage-covered rocky cliffs, which makes it spectacular in both summer and fall.

    Since it’s easier to paddle in one direction on a river, a great option is to rent your watercraft from Taylors Falls Canoe & Kayak Rental and flow with the river downstream to Osceola Landing (7 miles) or William O’Brien State Park (17 miles), then take their shuttle back to your car. 

  8. St. Louis River
    Trip leader and instructor Ryan Zimny on Electric Ledge Rapid on Upper St. Louis River

    Trip leader and instructor Ryan Zimny (red kayak) on Electric Ledge Rapid on the Upper St. Louis River / Swiftwater Adventures

    St. Louis River

    For a truly exhilarating kayak experience, try whitewater kayaking on the St. Louis River. If you haven’t gone before, start with an introductory course from Swiftwater Adventures in Carlton – just 15 minutes from Duluth. If water levels are too low (which can result in unsafe conditions), they also offer the option of whitewater rafting, which is fun for the whole family.

  9. Voyageurs National Park
    Canoeing Kabetogama Lake Voyageurs National Park

    Canoeing on Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park

    Voyageurs National Park

    Voyageurs National Park calls to adventurous travelers with breathtaking landscapes and some of the darkest skies in the world. Water makes up more than one-third of the park's 218,000 acres, and for most of the year, the park's interior — including lots of lakes and 52 miles of hiking trails — is accessible only by boat. For the latest alerts and information about fees, passes, reservations and permits, head over to nps.gov.

For additional kayak ideas around Minnesota’s many state parks, check out rental options here. From June through August, many state parks also offer I Can Paddle! programs, which provide an introduction to kayaking for beginners.

Sara Lynch

Sara Lynch is a Minneapolis based corporate professional and travel content creator. She spends her free time exploring all over Minnesota by biking, paddling, hiking, skiing, attending local events and trying new cideries and restaurants. After traveling the world and living abroad, she knows there’s no place like Minnesota. Read her blog at www.PlanetwithSara.com for more adventure ideas.