If I can canoe the Mississippi River, you can too.
I’m not an expert by any means. I just love being out on the water. Water puts me in a mellow, almost trance-like state, whether I’m swimming or paddling or just sitting on the shore. And if you know me in real life, you’ll know that I’m not often like that. So when we had a chance to get on the Mississippi River with Clear Waters Outfitting Company in Clearwater, Minnesota, I was all in.
I was in, even though Derrick and I hadn’t actually canoed together before. (We’ve kayaked in Puerto Rico and I’ve canoed a few times with other people, at least.) Even though we weren’t entirely sure if E would — or even could — sit still for that long. Even though the day dawned so windy that the trees bent back and my braids kept whipping me in the face.
We grabbed a quick breakfast at our hotel, where E discovered his newest obsession — the wafflemaker and set out early. We stayed at the AmericInn just off I-94 on Exit 171 (I’m helping them promote their very cool Fill-Inn-To-Win free night stay giveaway on a series of road trips this summer), so it was a very quick drive down to Clearwater off of exit 178.
The staff at Clear Waters Outfitting was great. They were patient with us as they showed us our route on a map and got us set up with life jackets. We watched a short safety video and then we were off. We got on the water just a few feet below the office and store.
We paddled about eight river miles south from Clearwater. This is a beginner/intermediate stretch of water, so it’s wide open with no major obstacles and no strong current to deal with. You just basically stick to the left and you’re off.
“It’s a great stretch of river for beginners, because there are no rapids and lots of sandbars to swim,” says Dan Meer, who has run CW Outfitting with his wife Sandra since 2009. “And the avid paddlers like the stretch because it’s very secluded and there’s not a lot of people on the river, especially during the week.”
“It’s also the only stretch of the Mississippi that’s designed wild and scenic,” Dan continues. “It’s kind of a unique stretch between St. Cloud and just past Anoka. There’s really no commercial traffic. Because of its designation, it’s protected, so people aren’t allowed to build close to the river or clear cut tress. It keeps it in a pretty natural state.”
The Mississippi River runs south, wide and mellow and protected, for 62 miles. Clear Waters Outfitting sets paddlers up on several different trips downriver in canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Rentals include life jackets and shuttle service back to your vehicle in 15 passenger vans. (Be sure to leave kids’ car seats with the driver.) You can also bring your own kayak and canoe and hitch a ride on the shuttle, as the woman who road back with us did.
On the day we set out, the wind turned out to be much more of a factor than it usually is. The toughest part was actually right at the beginning. A new bridge is being built near Clearwater, just a few feet away from the landing. The wind was blowing at exactly the wrong angle, so we had to battle the wind, remind a wiggly 3 year-old to sit still, figure out our rhythm and steer around debris in the water. We ended up paddling in tandem, like you would on a kayak, since that seemed to keep us straighter than the traditional, opposite-sides-of-the-canoe stoke did.
Once we got settled in, it was pretty smooth sailing. When the wind let up every few minutes, we made up a ton of time. If that’s how paddling this stretch normally is, beginners really have nothing to worry about.
We took a break on a large sandbar about a third of the way through the route and let our little guy run around. We waded in the river and waved to the fishermen across the way. You can easily swim here a little too, if you wanted to. We looked for rocks and shells and ate a snack I’d packed.
I’d recommend bringing food along, either to eat on a sandbar or on the water. Dan says a lot of people order food from Nelson Bros. in Clearwater and have a picnic on the sandbar. We’ll totally try this next time. It was beautiful the day we were on the water, but it’s Minnesota and the weather can turn hot pretty quickly, so bring some water and wear plenty of sunscreen, too.
Our busy little guy had no trouble sitting still at all. There’s a lot more to look at from the canoe than he’d see sitting in a vehicle and as long as we kept talking (and feeding him snacks!), it was all good. He pointed out uprooted trees and rambling bushes of wildflowers. And we saw a ton of wildlife, including jumping fish, ducks, geese, a soaring hawk and half a dozen turtles contentedly sunning themselves on rocks.
Once you see a series of islands in the middle of the river (and the not so terribly scenic power plant behind them) it’s time to hang to the left, call the crew at Clear Waters Outfitting for a ride back and pull the canoe up on the shore. Canoeing against the wind (and our leisurely break) meant we were out a little longer than the 2 to 3 hours it usually takes to complete this stretch, but we were more than okay with that.
It was a great time, the perfect mix of activity and relaxation in a naturally beautiful place. We’ll definitely do it again. But faster next time. And with that, an addiction was born.
Clear Waters Outfitting Company
100 Pine Street
What about you? What’s your favorite way to explore a river? Have you paddled or put your feet in the Mississippi River? Have you been canoeing or paddling this summer? Where did you go? Where should I paddle next?
I was a guest of AmericInn and Clear Waters Outfitting Company on this trip. As always, all opinions are my own. I only partner with businesses I like and you should definitely check both of these places out.
You won’t miss a single post when you subscribe to Prairie Style File. Just look for the “Follow Prairie Style File” sign-up on the right side of the homepage or the bottom of the screen if you’re on a mobile device. Or follow Prairie Style File on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved