As seasons change here in the heartland, so do the outdoor activities of active Minnesotans. Frozen-water sports like skating, skiing and ice fishing give way to running-water sports like canoeing. If you’re interested in a canoe experience rich in Minnesota history, consider dipping your paddle in Minnehaha Creek. We’ve gathered information from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) and Three Rivers Park District that will help you traverse the creek by canoe this spring or summer.
WHAT YOU’LL SEE
A Minnehaha Creek canoe route map is available on the MCWD website. The map provides location information for 16 boat launches, portage spots and historical landmarks such as the Minnetonka Mill. The creek’s headwaters at Gray’s Bay in Minnetonka offers a mostly natural and park-like setting.
From there, your canoe trip becomes more urban as you paddle your way through some industrial and residential areas of St. Louis Park and Edina. Improved green space and restoration efforts near creek banks enhance the experience and increase chances of sighting wildlife during your trip. This variety of scenery accompanies the creek’s 22 miles of meandering stretches until reaching a grand finale at legendary Minnehaha Falls.
“Being on the creek is a serene experience,” says Telly Mamayek, communications director for MCWD. “There are egrets and plant life that make canoers feel up close to nature without ever leaving the metropolitan area.”
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Three Rivers Park District offers a guided Minnehaha Creek canoe outing May 19. The excursion puts in at Gray’s Bay and ends at Hopkins Crossroads. Participants learn about the history of the creek, how to properly paddle a canoe and how to read rivers and streams. A snack break and return shuttle are provided. threeriversparks.org
Three Rivers Park District outdoor recreation specialist Dan Fjell says, “The creek is narrow and lots of water moves through there. Bridges and high water can make things hairy in a hurry. We stress safety. Our outing helps canoers properly navigate swift moving water and avoid obstacles.”
Many organizations like Three Rivers Park District also offer canoe lessons. “Lessons help people learn how to maneuver a boat, paddle efficiently and rescue a canoe if necessary,” Fjell says.
Once you’re ready to set out, check the creek’s flow rate. The MCWD’s website features daily updated flow rate information for Minnehaha Creek. Water tends to run higher and faster during the first few months after ice-out. It is not recommended for anyone to traverse the creek when the flow rate is greater than 150 cubic feet per second. A flow rate of less than 75 cubic feet per second indicates low water levels, which can mean more portaging. A decent flow rate to help propel your canoe down the creek is between 75 and 150 cubic feet per second.
Mamayek says, “My husband and I didn’t know to check the website the first time we canoed the creek. It was a wonderful experience but a faster ride than we were expecting.”
Fjell recommends always checking conditions before setting out. Canoeing with a guide is best when first learning—and it also might be a good idea not to tackle the entire 22 miles on your maiden voyage. Instead, do it in sections. If you have time, scout out your route to see exactly what you’re getting into.
“Be cautious of high water, which can create a rip-roaring adventure,” Fjell says. “Having to lie down [in the canoe] under bridges [to avoid hitting your head] can be dangerous. Check weather conditions, too. There’s nothing worse than having to drag your canoe into somebody’s backyard during a thunderstorm.”
Many people think canoeing the creek is a simple trip, but Minnehaha Creek is not your everyday float. “It’s a pretty trip,” Fjell says, “but it can be challenging, and paddlers need to be on their game.”
WHAT TO BRING
- A lifejacket: Most guided trips and classes provide necessary safety equipment, but if you’re setting out on your own, never forget your lifejacket. The creek doesn’t flow in a straight line. Even experienced canoers can flip a canoe when negotiating turns in a fast current. And it doesn’t take deep water to get into trouble.
- A canoe: Three Rivers Park District has canoe rentals for day use at many parks from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Canoes are provided for trips and outings booked through Three Rivers Outdoor Recreation School for a longer canoe season. Additional canoe and kayak rental locations can be found on the MCWD canoe route map.
- Drinking water and sunscreen: It can get hot quickly in an aluminum canoe on a sunny day. The extra exertion of paddling will require proper hydration. A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses will help protect you from the sun.
- Proper clothing: Fjell says synthetic materials or wool work well. “Never wear cotton, especially early in the season,” he says. “When cotton gets wet, it stays wet, and wet clothes will make you cold.”
- A waterproof case: You’ll want this for your phone, wallet and camera. Three Rivers Park District guides try to provide places to store phones, but investing in waterproof cases for electrical equipment can better ensure you won’t fry your phone.
WHAT TO LEAVE AT HOME
- Pets: Pets are not allowed on Three Rivers Park District canoe outings. If you’re venturing out on your own, be warned that you’ll be traveling on a narrow creek. A dog can flip your boat if it bolts after a squirrel sitting four feet away on the creek bank.
- Anything you don’t want to get wet or can’t afford to lose: There is always the possibility of flipping a canoe. Items could wash away or be ruined by water. Only bring what you need.
BE A GOOD STEWARD
Avoid tramping on plants or exposed earth along creek banks. This causes erosion that harms water quality. Use designated canoe launches to ensure public safety and keep the surrounding eco-system from being damaged. Don’t litter, and pack out whatever you bring in. “It’s amazing what people dump,” Mamayek says, “so if canoers are able to retrieve any litter found lodged in the weeds along the creek and dispose of it properly, that would be great.”
Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
Three Rivers Park District
Canoe and Kayak Rentals
- City of Minnetonka provides rental and shuttle service during some spring weekends // 952.939.8200 // eminnetonka.com
- Hoigaard’s, St. Louis Park // 952.929.1351 // hoigaards.com
- Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has rentals at Lakes Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis // 612.230.6400 // minneapolisparks.org
- REI has three Twin Cities locations // rei.com
- University of Minnesota Outdoor Rentals // recsports.umn.edu/coa/rental.html