Minnesota may be known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but its slew of rivers deserves just as much attention. And while the arrival of fall brings many wonderful things to the states (Honeycrisps and bonfires come to mind), an ever-changing outdoor color scheme is perhaps what makes us swoon the most. Leaves turn while sparkling under what’s left of the summer sun, filling the vast shorelines of Minnesota rivers with vibrant flurries of red, yellow, and orange. This type of scene is best enjoyed from the water’s edge, so make your way to these top flatwater trails for fantastic sightseeing in the weeks to come.
This 26 mile route sits a couple hours southeast from the Twin Cities, but its picturesque limestone bluffs make every moment spent on the water worth the trek. Rent a kayak or canoe from Root River Outfitters for no more than $45 for 6 hours. Look for the abandoned power plant about 12 miles south from Moen’s Bridge, and keep your eyes peeled for eagles and herons abound. If you throw your boat in at Moen’s Bridge, plan to paddle about 16 miles to Whalan, where the North and South Branch meet. For those who want to continue along the flatwater trails, the South Branch runs for about 14 miles before its final end point in Rushford. You may also want to grab your fishing pole—Minnesota DNR Water Trails Coordinator Erik Wrede says the Root is home to a heavy trout stream.
Lake Superior Water Trail
With 10 percent of our world’s freshwater supply and almost 3,000 miles of shoreline, Lake Superior is the hallmark of northern Minnesota beauty. Its waters hold everything from sunken ships to more than 80 species of fish, and its geological history lends to a landscape perfectly fit for outdoor adventure. For those who choose to go the 45-mile stretch between Two Harbors and Caribou River, be sure to check the weather beforehand and pack accordingly, since some areas don’t have resting stops for several miles at a time. The route passes Silver Cliff before hitting Gooseberry River and Split Rock Lighthouse. Choose from a bunch of different campsites along the way, if you want to spend a longer weekend up north. Or check out Grand Superior Lodge and Superior Shores, both located near Two Harbors.
For those living in the heart of the Twin Cities, one of this river’s greatest assets is its proximity to the metro area. The Rum is fed by Mille Lacs, so its stream is almost entirely immune to any shower shortages during low-water season. And its upper banks, once home to prehistoric Native American tribes, now feature extensive infrastructure, public water accesses, and a variety of campsites. The Rum also boasts one of the easiest shuttle runs of all Minnesota water trails, which means more time spent on your boat and less time spent on logistics. Wrede recommends putting in at Walbo landing (mile 56.8, just off Highway 95) and taking out as soon as you hit Cambridge (mile 42.4).
Cannon and Straight Rivers
These connecting streams offer great routes for the whole family to enjoy. The Cannon gets more traffic than the Straight, especially on the weekends, so plan a weekday trip if you want to beat the crowds. Wrede recommends two different stretches. The first is Cannon to Welch, which includes a regional bike trail along the river. With rental outfitters in both family-friendly towns, the Cannon Falls to Welch run is a top choice for those who don’t have their own boat. The second stretch, from Faribault to Northfield, passes marshes, farmland, and gorgeous sandstone cliffs, among other scenery.
This route’s surrounding forestry is what sets it apart from other water trails nearby. You’ll find almost every tree (red and white pines, birch, aspen, oak maple, black spruce, and elm, among others) in the landscape of its upper and lower banks. The northern stretch of boundary waters up near McGrath is more pristine and remote, with longer portages around bigger rapids. If you’re more experienced and willing to portage about 900 yards at a time, the upper banks of the Snake are your place. The river overlooks waterfalls at mile 71.5 before hitting the Mora stretch of private land near mile 40. For those who want an easier ride, there’s a notable 10-mile stretch from Pine City to the St. Croix River as well.
Visit the Minnesota DNR’s site for more info on notable routes and detailed trip guides.