Barbecue, Boats and Water Lilies: Kayaking White Bear Lake

I’m addicted to paddling. I’ve away from the water for a bit. But I think I’m back for good this time.

I learned how to canoe in the murky waters of the Sheyenne River at camp near Cooperstown, North Dakota. My first real wilderness experience was a multi-day camping excursion to The Boundary Waters in Minnesota, where beginners like me just hopped into canoes with the experienced paddlers and we spent all day on the water.

I remember swimming in icy lakes and wood smoke in my hair. I ate better on that trip than I had in my entire life up until that point (think steak and potatoes and scrambled eggs for breakfast) and collapsed each night into my sleeping bag, exhausted and content. That experience changed the way I saw my home state and taught me to trust my friends and my own abilities. It hadn’t occurred to them that I couldn’t do it, so it didn’t occur to me either. It was incredibly empowering.


Lately, I’ve made a conscious choice to get back on the water in any way that I can. Last summer I canoed White Earth Lake in Minnesota with my sister until we were tired and tanned and giddy. I kayaked the  breathtaking bio bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico with Derrick, tried to keep up with my friend and fellow travel writer Joe Baur on the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis and crossed an item off of my bucket list when I canoed the Mississippi Rive with Derrick and E earlier this summer.

So when I went to White Bear Lake for AmericInn’s Fill In To Win contest and road trip, I was happy to get on the water any way that I could. It was a little cool and windy for swimming, so kayaking was perfect. And since my dad was the man who taught me to be fearless, I knew he’d be up for an adventure.


We rented kayaks from Tally’s Dockside, a combination restaurant, bar and rental place on the south shore of White Bear Lake. (They rent fishing boats, pontoons, canoes and stand up paddleboards as well.) It’s a mellow establishment with a waterfront bar and patio that does a brisk business in the afternoons and evenings, even mid-week.

We launched from the long dock in front of Tally’s, waving the other boats and Jet Skis on ahead. (I know I’m supposed to call them personalized watercraft or something accurate but generic, but old habits die hard. I just can’t do it.)


White Bear Lake is broad and mostly residential, with waterlilies and rushes along the south and northwest reaches and stately homes along the much of the shoreline. There was a lot of motorized boat traffic as fishermen and pleasure cruisers found their favorite spots, but everyone was cordial and we never felt crowded.

The lake is clear and quite shallow (only 3-4 feet deep at some points), which makes it reassuring if you’re nervous about being in deep water. We were practically in the middle of the lake and still came across the shallow water buoys that neatly mark sandbars and rocks. These spots were especially popular with fishermen so we tried to give them a little room.


The shallow depth also means homeowners have to have some seriously long docks if they want to get their boats out. White Bear Lake had the longest non-commercial docks I’ve ever seen on a Minnesota lake, and I’ve seen a few.

The long docks meant we didn’t hug the shoreline too closely and paddled an easy, ambling route around the lake. My dad had never kayaked and every time I asked if he needed a break, he’d smile and say “Let’s keep going.”

We’d hoped to head north to the top reaches of White Bear Lake, since there were some sweet sailboats up there, but the wakes from boat traffic made that difficult. So we went exploring in the more remote northwestern stretches of the lake instead.


That was a wonderful choice. We just drifted through the shallow waters, carefully avoiding the lily pads and their delicate water lilies. We heard nothing but the splash of our paddles and the soft murmur of ducks and geese calling softly to each other from the rushes. It was peaceful and quiet, a world away from the bustling lake scene we’d just paddled away from.

I don’t know how long we stayed there or even what I thought about. I do know that at some point I put my feet up, leaned my head back and stretched out in a state of absolute bliss.

I can tell you that we kayaked 6 1/2 miles in just over 2 hours. And that was at a very leisurely pace. The staff at Tally’s said it’s entirely possible to do the entire lake in two hours if you’re focused about it.


After all that paddling, a beer and some barbecue sound like a pretty fantastic idea. I can see why this place is busy. The food is actually from CG Hooks, a Memphis-style barbecue place just across the road. Both establishments are owned by Keith and Jan Dehnert and you can order at either place.

I tried the pulled pork sandwich (yum), topped with sweet KC molasses barbecue sauce, one of four signature sauces available tableside. My dad tried some deliciously jacked-up Mac and Cheese.

As we surveyed the water, my dad gestured to the kayaks. “I think I’m gonna get one of those,” he grinned.

I want one too.


Tally’s Dockside
4440 Lake Ave South
White Bear Lake, MN

What about you? What’s your favorite thing to do on the water? What was your first outdoor experience? What do you like to do in White Bear Lake? Where is the best place you’ve ever paddled?


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I was an AmericInn guest during my stay in White Bear Lake as part of their Fill Inn to Win giveaway and I received a discount on one canoe at Tally’s Dockside. That said, all opinions expressed here are my own. I only partner with businesses I like and that I think you’ll like too.

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