On the Mississippi River near St. Francisville, LA

On the Mississippi River near St. Francisville, LA

Paddling may never have been more popular than it is now. Millions of people are getting outside and paddling by canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board (SUP), or whatever else is invented after this blog is posted. I suspect, though, that many paddlers are still not aware that the Mississippi River offers a variety of great paddling experiences. Each part of the river offers something different.

In northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River is a small country stream; you can paddle a long time without seeing another person or a city. The Mississippi River through the Twin Cities is a contrast in urban development and wilderness; some parts of the river are busy with industry while in other areas you may forget there’s a big city all around you. South from the Twin Cities, the river has lush backwaters and dozens of islands where you can lose yourself (or get lost). Around St. Louis paddlers can enjoy an 11-mile section of the river where they don’t have to share it with commercial barge traffic, thanks to the rapids known as the Chain of Rocks. As the Mississippi swells in size south of the Ohio River, paddlers can experience the power of the bigger river and its bayous and swamps as it enters warmer climes.

Regardless of where you live or plan to visit on the river, there’s almost certainly an outfitter nearby who can set you up to paddle, whether for a few hours or a few days. Besides offering equipment for rent, a few can also take you out and guide you around, if that’s what you prefer.

If you want to rent, you can figure $30 to $60 a day, depending upon the outfitter and type of canoe or kayak you want to paddle. Check the outfitter websites for current prices. If you want someone to drop you off and pick you up, shuttle service will cost extra, often based on a per-mile rate.

Stand-up paddle boarding at Minneapolis

Stand-up paddle boarding at Minneapolis

Don’t rule out buying your own boat. If you are interested in becoming the owner of a canoe, kayak, or SUP, check out the range of boats crafted by two companies located along the river: Winona-based We-no-nah Canoes and Rock Island’s Navarro Canoes.

Here’s the list of outfitters, from north to south:

Itasca State Park (MN)
Itasca Sports Rentals can set you up with a canoe or kayak to paddle around Lake Itasca.

Bemidji (MN)
The Outdoor Program Center at Bemidji State University rents canoes, kayaks, and SUPs that you can take out on Lake Bemidji or arrange to paddle on the Mississippi, either by transporting the canoe yourself (car top racks are available to rent) or arranging for a shuttle (scheduled in advance). You don’t have to be a student or affiliated with BSU to rent.

Lake Bemidji State Park
The park rents canoes and kayaks for paddling around Lake Bemidji.

Lake Itasca to Cass Lake (MN)
Terry Larson/Northern Adventures can set you up with a canoe or kayak to explore the Mississippi River between Lake Itasca and Cass Lake, or, if you prefer, he can guide you around. Shuttle service available.

Grand Rapids (MN)
Paddlehoppers rents canoes, kayaks, and SUPs for a few hours or multiple days on the Mississippi River or on an area lake; shuttle service is available.

Crosby (MN)
Most of the customers of Cycle Path & Paddle want to paddle in the Cuyuna Country Recreation Area, but CP&P can arrange trips on the Mississippi River, too, like they did for me; shuttle service available.

Brainerd (MN)
Easy Rider in Brainerd rents canoes and kayaks; a shuttle service is available but they request that you schedule it several days in advance.

Clearwater (MN)
Clear Waters Outfitting Company offers rental for canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards from their riverside store in Clearwater; shuttle service available.

Twin Cities (MN)
Above the Falls Sports can arrange guided group tours in Minneapolis from 2 ½ hours long to a full day experience on the Mississippi between May and October; tours can include stories about local and regional history.

Wabasha (MN)
Broken Paddling Guiding Company leads guided kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours (day trips) along the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Winona; trips can be geared to paddlers of any experience (or lack of) and can emphasize ecological issues through the backwaters or a relaxed paddle to watch the sun set.

Winona (MN)

On the Mississippi near Brainerd

On the Mississippi near Brainerd

It’s not the Mississippi, but you can paddle around Lake Park in a canoe or kayak from early June to late August; get them at the Lake Lodge (free).

Prairie Island Campground has a few canoes for rent that you can paddle around the adjacent backwater slough; you don’t need to be a registered camper to use them.

Winona-based Driftless Adventure Company leads guided kayak tours on the Mississippi River and tributaries between Red Wing and La Crosse.

Alma (WI)
Riverland Outfitters rents kayaks and canoes to explore the Mississippi River around Alma; shuttle service available.

Fountain City (WI)
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Merrick State Park has canoes for rent to explore the backwaters around Fountain City; no shuttle The park has an admission fee.

Trempealeau (WI)
At Perrot State Park you can rent canoes from Memorial Day to Labor Day to explore the 3.4 mile canoe trail through Trempealeau Bay or adjacent backwaters; make arrangements through the park office; no shuttle. The park has an admission fee.

Brice Prairie (WI)
Schafer’s Boats and Bait rents canoes, rowboats, and kayaks to explore Lake Onalaska and the backwaters after the ice melts (and until the ice returns); no shuttle.

La Crosse (WI)

On the Mississippi near Cass Lake

On the Mississippi near Cass Lake

Outdoor Connections at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse rents canoes, kayaks, and SUPs; you don’t have to be a student or affiliated with the university to rent from them; no shuttle service. They also arrange guided outdoor experiences throughout the year; check the calendar on their website for listings.

Wyalusing State Park (WI)
You can rent a canoe or kayak at Wyalusing State Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day to paddle around the adjacent backwaters; no shuttle. The park has an admission fee.

Dubuque (IA)
NEW (Aug 2015): Big River SUP arranges guided stand-up paddleboard tours of the Upper Mississippi River and backwaters from its base in Dubuque.

Galena (IL)
Fever River Outfitters specializes mostly in trips along the Galena River and adjacent backwaters of the Mississippi. You can rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP; shuttle service available for some trip routes.

Princeton (IL)
Princeton Outdoor Adventures rents canoes and kayaks from Princeton Beach Marina; shuttle service available.

Burlington (IA)
River Basin Canoe & Kayak can set you up with a canoe or kayak to paddle on area waterways, including the Odessa Water Trail that is part of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge and other backwater sections of the Mississippi; shuttle service available.

St. Louis (MO)
Big Muddy Adventures offers a range of canoeing options, including guided paddles during full moons, day trips along the middle Mississippi (from the Missouri River confluence to the Ohio River confluence), and overnight trips. They also have canoes to rent.

Clarksdale (MS)

On the Mississippi at Fancy Point Towhead (LA)

On the Mississippi at Fancy Point Towhead (LA)

The home base for the sages of the lower Mississippi, the Quapaw Canoe Company can set you up with canoes or kayaks to rent or take you out on the river for a day trip or several days of paddling and camping; shuttle service available. They also sell equipment, including canoes and kayaks.

Helena (AR)
At the Quapaw Canoe Company Outpost in Helena you can rent canoes or kayaks within easy reach of the Mississippi River for day trips to nearby places like Buck Island or for longer expeditions; shuttle service available but not needed for day trips at Helena.

Natchez (MS)
Another Quapaw Canoe Company Outpost, in Natchez you can rent canoes or kayaks to explore the lower Mississippi from Vicksburg downriver toward St. Francisville, Louisiana. At the Natchez outpost you can set up a day trip on the river or arrange a longer experience either on your own or with a guide; shuttle service available.

© Dean Klinkenberg, 2014