Fall is a magical time of the year to get out and enjoy nature. And for me, I think it’s my favorite season to head out in a canoe to relish in the fleeting days of open water. The Boundary Waters are so special this time of year, and next week’s article will cover how to plan fall trips in the BW. But if you can’t quite sneak away for a weekend in the BWCA, our state has plenty of other opportunities no matter where you live. Many of our state parks have watercraft campsites where a person can paddle away from the traffic found in the campgrounds. The state forests too have plenty to see and do, often with lesser traffic than the parks. And our state’s water trails are always an incredible option to cover some ground tailor made for an enjoyable overnight canoe trip. Here are eight great options for getting out and enjoying the fall from the seat of your canoe or kayak:
Rice Lake State Park: For a quick and enjoyable weekend, head to Rice Lake in the southern portion of Minnesota. It’s a small state park, but still has plenty to do. There are five boat-in campsites on the southern shore to accommodate watercraft camping. Enjoy a peaceful weekend along the lake beneath the fall colors. This park is also a wonderful destination to watch migrating waterfowl as they begin to head south for the winter.
Glendalough State Park / Maplewood State Park: In Glendalough, along the shores of Annie Battle Lake are three watercraft campsites and a couple yurts for overnight rentals if a roof is more your taste than a tent and campsite. Paddle around Annie Battle or head to the wide variety of other local lakes on day trips. Fish for panfish in the area’s shallow water. Hike and explore the trails around the park and enjoy everything fall has to offer. And if you run out of new water at Glendalough, just 30 miles away sits Maplewood State Park with plenty more canoeable/kayakable water waiting to be explored.
Mississippi Headwaters State Forest/Mississippi State Water Trail: The very upper reaches of the Mississippi are narrow and fairly shallow. They may not be easily paddleable every fall. But if water levels allow, the semi-wild character of the upper Mississippi has the potential to really shine in the fall. Stay at any number of watercraft campsites along the way and enjoy the fall leaves floating by on the quaint upper stretches of the mighty Mississippi as it begins its long journey to the sea.
Chippewa National Forest: In and around Chippewa National Forest are nearly endless opportunities to fish, hunt, hike, explore, canoe, and kayak. Between the national forest and the connected state forest land, there are a plethora of lakes, streams, and rivers to explore as well as connected campsites and campgrounds to launch from. Fall is a wonderful season to check the area out as campsites and campground head towards their quiet season. With plenty of relatively easy access and yet enough variety to stay busy, the Chippewa can provide a great watercraft destination for however many days you can allow.
Banning State Park: The MN DNR maintains a small network of paddle in campsites just across the Kettle River from the busier parts of the park. If you would like to experience all of the beautiful sandstone ridges without the traffic, than take a paddle across the river and stay at one of these sites! These are a perfect place to stay for the night as a pitstop on a trip downriver or as part of a longer stay.
Savannah Portage State Park: There’s only one canoe in campsite here which is also shared with the backpacking trails. That said, no matter where you spend the night, this large state park is full of portage-in access lakes for all sorts of fishing, exploring, and paddling opportunities. This park also has canoeing history as it preserved the historic Savannah Portage which allowed passage between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds.
Scenic State Park: With five watercraft campsites spread across three interconnected lakes, Scenic State Park is a perfect place to spend a weekend. If the name doesn’t give it away, this park is quite beautiful especially as fall begins to change the colors of the hilltop forests. There’s also wonderful fishing to be had and hiking trails to be explored. Check this park out if you’re looking for a weekend destination.
St Croix: The St Croix is one of the premier paddling destinations in our state with hundreds of miles of open paddling and plenty of public land with a wide array of camping opportunities. Fall can be a challenging time to access the water trails system as low water can reduce navigability. Always check conditions before attempting to paddle a river route. The southern section is the best bet for paddleable water if fall water levels are low. In any case, brilliant fall colors combined with the high ridges outlining the St Croix Valley is an experience not to be missed.