Minnesota is a paddler's paradise with thousands of lakes and dozens of rivers waiting to be explored. Many of those waters are an easy exit from Route 90. Most of Minnesota's lakes and rivers were created 10,000 years ago when glaciers rolled over much of the state. However, the southeastern corner of the state remains relatively untouched by glaciers. Limestone cliffs are evidence of rivers carving their way through the region. The abundance of lakes and rivers means that Minnesota is a state where you will want to make a lot of kayaking stops.
Map of Route in Minnesota
Directions: Route 43 exit off Route 90, south to Rushford, then Route 16
After crossing the Mississippi River, I stayed on Route 43 South through Winona, Minnesota and went back to Route 90 for a few miles to pick up Route 43, Root River exit. I drove south to Rushford to pick up Route 16 to the Root River Valley. Route 16 is also called the Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway.
Route 16 - Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway
Route 16 runs approximately 88 miles and rejoins Route 90 after passing through the Root River Valley. The first thing I saw was a deer running across the road on Route 16 and some of the most prosperous working farms I'd ever seen. The Root River Valley is a great route for bird watching. Turkey vultures, hawks, herons and kingfishers can all be seen.
The Root River flows through the scenic Root River Valley and is surrounded at times by limestone bluffs. The river's name is derived from a Sioux name for tree roots which were exposed after floods. The Sioux word for "root" was hokah or hutkan. The nearby town of Hokah reflects this origin. This river can be a challenge depending upon the water levels and weather conditions. There are landings located all along the river making it easy to get on and off the water at many points. There are designated canoe campsites along the riverbank for overnight trips. There are two state parks in the Root watership – Beaver Creek Valley State Park near Caledonia and Forestville State Park near Preston. One of the highlights of the Forestville State Park is the old Forestville store, a stagecoach stop and post office which opened in the mid-1800s. The last proprietor, Thomas Meighen, closed the shop in 1910, leaving in pace an invtled medicines, dry goods and other items.
At Rushford I stopped at the Rushford Root River Canoe Access to assess the Root River. This is a perfect take-out spot. A small dam should be portaged just before reaching this access point.
Rushford Root River Canoe Access
There was an easy landing area at the Rushford Root River Canoe Access point. The river is bordered by large trees and vegetation. Floating downstream is very peaceful and affords a marvelous view of the wildflowers and wildlife along the shore.
The Root River near Rushford, Minnesota
The Root River flows through many gentle Class I waters. Most are simply fast-moving shallow water. There are not difficult to maneuver. There is one exception, the concrete remains of an old dam about 6 miles below the County 21 bridge. The area should be avoided or portaged.
The Root River
The Root River is not wide so floating or kayaking in a recreational kayak may be best. The gentle breezes and grassy banks help make a perfect summer day kayaking trip.
The railroad track that once paralleled much of the south branch of the river has been converted to a state trail and is used by hikers, cyclists, and in-line skaters. As you paddle from Preston, you'll cross under the bike trail several times.
Girls floating down the Root River on Tubes
I drove Route 16 West to County Road 36 to Whalan, Minnesota. After seeing these young ladies floating downstream in their tubes I wanted to float down the Root River on a raft or tube. I stopped off at Gator Greens Kayaks in Whalan, taking a left over a small bridge and followed the signs for Gator Greens mini-golf about two blocks from the bridge. Unfortunately, I arrived too early in the morning and they were not yet open. On my next trip I will definitely stop at Gator Greens Kayaks to float down the Root River.
Gator Greens Kayak rentals in Whalan, Minnesota
Gator Greens (website: http://www.gatorgreens.net/) is open from May to October and is a great place to rent a kayak, play miniature golf or ride a bicycle down the nearby Root River State Bicycle rail trail.
Kayaks at Gator Greens Kayak rentals in Whalan, Minnesota
The Whalen take-out is located midway between Lanesboro and Whalan on Minnesota Highway 16. It's worth crossing the small bridge to venture into the small town of Whalan. This sleepy little hamlet offers a view of life in the region including some abandoned shacks along the river.
Abandoned house in Whalan, Minnesota near Root River
I walked around Whalan a while and watched people biking on the Root River Bike Trail which runs along the Root River and Whalan. The popular Root River Trail follows the Root River for nearly 42 miles through the heart of the Bluff Country from Fountain all the way through Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford and Houston. The river and limestone bluffs are constant companions on one side of the Root River trail or the other for most of the ride. The trail provides a scenic ride through some of the nicest country and includes cows, corn and hogs for added authenticity.
Root River Bicycle Trail
Directions: Myre-Big Island State Park - 3 miles southeast of Albert Lea on County Highway 38
Myre-Big Island State Park
19499 780th Avenue
Albert Lea, MN 56007
Myre-Big Island State Park (known locally as Big Island), is located in Freeborn County in south-central Minnesota and is one of the best birding and kayaking spots in southern Minnesota. Albert Lea Lake, located 1,210 feet above sea level, has over 20 miles of shoreline. It is a natural lake located on the Shellrock River and is named after Albert Miller Lea, a lieutenant who led a topographical expedition to map the region in 1835. The lake itself was originally formed by a block of ice which broke off a glacier and melted in its own depression.
Albert Lea Lake
A mixture of woods, prairie and wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of animals within the park. Mammals include white-tailed deer, raccoon, red and grey fox, muskrat, opossum, squirrels, and bats. Birds and waterfowl include bald eagle, marsh hawk, egret, blue heron, Canada goose, mallard, wood duck and blue-winged teal, northern oriole, eastern bluebird, rose-breasted grosbeak, pileated woodpecker, and white pelican.
An interesting fact about the Myre-Big Island State Park is that an oak savanna restoration was initiated in 1995 on a 30-acre site. Myre-Big Island State Park encompasses 16,000 acres of oak savanna, prairie, deciduous forest, and wetlands primarily surrounded by agricultural areas. This particular restoration site is located on a unique geologic feature formed by glacial deposits known as an esker. The esker and oak savanna is at an elevation of 30-35 feet. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this restoration.
Albert Lea Lake
The Myre-Big Island State Park boat ramp is located on Big Island. Albert Lea Lake offers excellent kayaking with miles and miles of shoreline to explore. There were no changing rooms near the launch site and the boat ramp was a bit steep for kayak launching. However, an area next to the boat ramp worked pretty well for launching and landing.
Launch area at Albert Lea Lake
The launch area above is located at the Little Island Pioneer Camp which is a primitive group camp site.
The large shore area made for some great exploring by kayak and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the water. A visitor should plan to devote a lot of time to this area as there is much to see and do and lots of great kayaking. Myre-Big Island State Park offers 100 campsites, 4 remote backpack campsites, 1 cabin, 16 miles of hiking trails, and 7 miles of mountain bike trails.
Dock at Albert Lea Lake near boat ramp
The kids pictured above were waiting for their turn to canoe and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I drove back to I-90 on I-35 which was easily accessible by turning left coming out of the park.
Directions: Exit 12 off I-90, 3 miles North of Luverne, MN off US Highway 75.
Blue Mounds State Park
Blue Mounds State Park, just north of Luverne in southwestern Minnesota, is one of the largest prairie parks in Minnesota and has over 1,500 acres of prairie and grassland preserves. It gets its name from the blue color of the cliffs when viewed from the East in the late afternoon. Sioux hunting parties used to herd buffalo over these cliffs. Blue Mounds State Park features a 100-foot Sioux quartzite cliff which stands out against the surrounding plains. Sioux quartzite is a red, pink and violet colored stone. The color comes from iron compounds coating the sand grains that make up the Sioux quartzite. Varying amounts of iron cause the variety of colors seen.
At Blue Mounds State Park, I saw my first bison herd grazing on the prairie. Along with the prairie grasses and wildflowers there were prickly pear cacti blooming and numerous birds and butterflies. The tall prairie grass makes moving waves as the wind blows and the fragrance of wildflowers fills the air.
Lower Mound Lake at Blue Mounds State Park
Blue Mounds State Park has two small lakes, Upper Mound Lake and Lower Mound Lake. I kayaked on Lower Mound Lake which has a small sandy beach for launching. Lower Mound Lake is completely surrounded by prairie grass. When I visited a strong wind was blowing and a very hot sun was shining down on the prairie. There were extremely friendly staff at the visitor center who pointed out the Bison herd viewing area, and advised taking lots of water with me on the Bison herd trail.
Dock at Lower Mound Lake
Both lakes were surrounded by grasses and a few wind-blown trees. The heat was oppressive as the sun beat down on everything in sight. The breeze on the lake was more like a hot air vent but the paddle on Lower Mound Lake was stunning. I had the entire lake to myself and the contrast between the large clouds in the blue sky and the stunted growth of the prairie made me realize for the first time that I was heading west.
Grassy shoreline of Lower Mound Lake
This lovely picnic spot was a short paddle on Lower Mound Lake and possessed the only shade for miles. It was a real treat to eat my sandwich under this shade tree then head back into my kayak to explore more of the shoreline.
Dock at Lower Mound Lake
Lower Mound Lake has a long, narrow dock from which one can easily launch or land a kayak. However, the grassy shoreline provides several easy access points to the water.
Lower Mound Lake
This view from the western end of Lower Mound Lake shows the mixture of large clouds and small trees one sees while kayaking. The water is very clear and smooth. This is very easy paddling and spectaular scenery.
Blue Mounds State Park also offers camping, swimming, and 13 miles of hiking trails. Campsite facilities include 73 modern campsites, 40 electrical hook-up sites, 14 cart-in campsites and a primitive group camp.
All non-motorized watercraft must be licensed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Minnesota. Non-motorized watercraft is defined as kayaks, canoes, sailboards, paddleboats, rowboats and inflatable craft. Exceptions to this law are non-motorized watercraft nine feet in length or less. I registered my 16-foot Dagger Meridien kayak by mail at a total cost of $16.00. The turnaround time was very fast at around ten days from the time I sent my application in to the time I received my watercraft registration stickers. The only required information was the hull identification number and my address. The DNR also sent me the "Minnesota Boating Guide – a Summary of Laws & Rules 2003" which contains lots of useful information including a blank Float Plan, a 2003 Sunrise and Sunset Time Schedule, Internet Resources, and boat safety tips. Visit their website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/boating or call 1-888-665-4236 for the registration form or write to the address below:
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4046
Table of Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 - Part A | Chapter 13 - Part B | Appendices |
© 2015 Diana Schwartz
This book is copyrighted material.