Guide to Kayaking in Minneapolis and St. Paul

best kayaking in minneapolis and st. paul

Even though Minneapolis-St. Paul might not compete with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the best kayaking in Minnesota, we still have some pretty spectacular places to get on the water here.

Check out these top kayaking routes in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Best Kayaking in Minneapolis

Bde Mka Ska & Chain of Lakes

If you ask a local where to launch your first kayaking adventure in Minneapolis, chances are they’ll send you somewhere on the Chain of Lakes.  One of the most popular destinations in the city, the five lakes here offer dedicated canoe/kayak launch points, quiet paddling, and plenty of hidden corners to explore.  In addition, kayak rentals are available at Bde Maka Ska, where you can launch and travel through the channels to three other lakes.

Lake Nokomis

City Pages (R.I.P.) once named Lake Nokomis the best place for a canoe getaway without going North.  Lake Nokomis is a favorite for tandem kayaks, offering more space and more challenging paddling during windy days.  Rentals are available at the beach, with a shared kayak/boat launch just to the south of the beach house.

Minnehaha Creek

For the most adventurous kayaking in Minneapolis, during the spring run-off, try out Minnehaha Creek.  Flowing 22 miles from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Nokomis, the creek offers full-day, half-day, and hour-long adventures for anyone with a couple of cars and an adventurous spirit. Along the paddling route, you’ll be treated to some of the best parks in Minneapolis and some gorgeous residential areas.

Timing is everything, though, as it’s essential to watch water flow in Minnehaha Creek before planning your kayak trip.  Too high of water in the spring, and you risk not navigating under the city bridges.  Too low of water in mid to late summer, and the route becomes unpassable in many places.

  • Address: Various launch locations between Gray’s Bay in Minnetonka and Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis.
  • Website: Paddle Minnehaha Creek

Mississippi River

Seeing the downtown Minneapolis skyline from the Mississippi River should be on every Minnesotan’s bucket list.  Rent a self-serve kayak from Mississippi River Paddle Share at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park near Coon Rapids and paddle to Boom Island Park in downtown Minneapolis for an afternoon of fun.  Or, for a full-day adventure with your own boat, launch from Mississippi River Flats near the University of Minnesota boathouse and paddle south through the lock and dam system to St. Paul.  En route, you’ll pass through two of the featured St. Paul kayaking destinations below.

Best Kayaking in St. Paul

Lilydale Regional Park

For one of the best chances to spot nesting bald eagles, turkeys, and other wildlife in St. Paul, paddle through Lilydale Regional Park near downtown. The 600+ acre park features one of the best examples of a Mississippi River floodplain forest in Minnesota, with terrific spots to drop in a kayak and paddle through nooks and crannies for the afternoon.  We almost always spot wildlife here, especially near Pickerel Lake and the Paddleshare rental station.

  • Address: Parking/Boat Launches on the Mississippi River and at Pickerel Lake
  • Website: Lilydale Regional Park

Mississippi River at Harriet Island

If paddling past antique riverboats and the St. Paul skyline sounds like the best way to spend an afternoon, drop your boat just down the river from Lilydale at St. Paul’s Harriet Island Regional Park.  From here, it’s possible to paddle to the next lock and dam site in Hastings.  You’ll travel past the vibrant barge and rail industries in St. Paul, as well as Pig’s Eye Regional Park, one of the city’s hidden gems along the river.

Lake Phalen & Keller Lake

Did you know St. Paul has its own chain of lakes to paddle your kayak?  Lake Phalen and Keller Lake have become one of the top kayaking destinations in the city, with more and more boats on the water every year.  Popular among bird watchers and fishing enthusiasts, the paddling route between the two lakes takes several hours, with an option to extend into a tributary to the tiny outlet of Spoon Lake.  Kayak rentals are available out of the Beach House.

Como Park

Are you researching options for your very first kayaking experience?  Looking for a fun and easy date without hours of kayaking commitment?  Try the kayak rental at Lake Como in St. Paul’s favorite Como Park.  The lake is smaller than others on this list–which means a paddling trip around will take under an hour.  No need to worry about waves or other watercraft either. The lake here stays quiet enough to see ducks, herons, and the occasional loon.

Where to Kayak around the Twin Cities Metro

Once you’ve crossed off the Minneapolis and St. Paul locations, check out these kayaking routes around the Twin Cities metro.  These are some of our favorite options for a kayaking day trip:

Cannon Falls River Route

Located about 45 minutes south of St. Paul, the Cannon Falls River Route is another state water trail at the top of the must-paddle list.  The route features gentle paddling through rolling farm hills and woods until just after the city of Cannon Falls, where the bluffs on either side of the river top 300 feet.

  • Address: Launch from Riverside Park in Cannon Falls, MN – paddle 4-6 hours to the parking area in the town of Welch
  • Website: Cannon Falls State Water Trail

Lebanon Hills Portage Route

If you’re training for an upcoming Boundary Waters trip or want to try out portaging your kayak, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan is one of the few places in the Twin Cities metro with a developed portaging system. The route travels one way, 2.6 miles, and can connect across seven different lakes.  Canoe and kayak rentals are available daily from the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center, where the portage route begins.

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

At any point during the summer, when crossing the Wisconsin-Minnesota border over the St. Croix River, you’re likely to spot a few kayakers out enjoying one of two rivers managed by the National Park Service in Minnesota.  Paddling options in St. Croix National Scenic Riverway include routes on the Upper and Lower St. Croix or the Namekagon River (a tributary).  The Park Service maintains terrific maps and paddle route options for all different experience levels. Kayak rentals and guided trips are available in multiple locations on the river as well.

Rum River Paddle Route

While the most ambitious multi-day paddlers can follow the Rum River from its headwaters in Mille Lacs Lake, we recommend a closer option. Check out the last 11 miles of the Rum right as it empties into the Mississippi River.  The final section ends in Anoka, MN, just 40 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.  At about 4-5 hours, it’s one of the few places to catch Class I and Class II rapids in the Metro.

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