Home Trips Destinations Your Guide To The 9 Most Magnificent Kayaking Destinations In Minnesota

Your Guide To The 9 Most Magnificent Kayaking Destinations In Minnesota

Where and how to enjoy the best paddling in the Star of the North

Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it makes sense there’s a lifetime’s worth of incredible kayaking in Minnesota. From the vast horizon of Lake Superior to storied rivers and immense networks of interior lakes, there’s something to suit every kayaker.

The world’s largest freshwater lake is an unparalleled destination for sea kayaking, with the Lake Superior Water Trail boasting 150 miles of rugged bedrock coastline and hidden agate beaches. Paddling the beginnings of the Mississippi on its visually stunning tributaries such as the iconic St. Croix River. Pushing up against the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness feature sprawling, interconnected lakes and idyllic campsites for overnight kayak excursions. Finally, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul offer some of America’s best urban kayaking.

From easy day trips to challenging weeklong sojourns, we’ve just scratched the surface of all the beautiful kayaking you’ll find in Minnesota, which boasts more than 13 million acres of waterways.

9 magnificent kayaking destinations in Minnesota

Kayaking Minnesota water trails

Whether you are searching for a relaxing family float or exciting rapids to get your adrenaline pumping, Minnesota’s countless rivers promise a memorable kayaking experience for everyone. State water trails offer easy access to over 4,500 miles of exceptional paddling.

Photo: Twin Cities Kayaking

Rum River

The picturesque Rum River State Water Trail is perfect for a kayak trip that feels remote but is less than an hour’s drive from Minneapolis-St. Paul. With a significant current, the river’s final 11 miles offer an exhilarating day trip with easy class I and II rapids, wonderful natural scenery and great fishing. The water is clear and clean, making for great swimming and picnicking spots en route.

Twin Cities Kayaking offers kayak rentals with free delivery and pick-up, as well as guided Rum River fishing excursions.

Photo: Paul Vincent

St. Croix River

One of the first National Scenic Rivers protected by U.S. Congress, the wild St. Croix River is also a state water trail capturing all that paddling in Minnesota has to offer. Kayak the lower St. Croix near Taylors Falls for quiet, wildlife-filled waters flowing through a heavily wooded, steep-sided valley with sandstone and limestone bluffs. Spend a full day meandering 15 miles down to William O’Brien State Park Landing. Or turn your outing into a weekend escape with one of the dozen free watercraft campsites along this route available for camping on a first-come, first-served basis.

Located in Taylors Falls, Eric’s Canoe & Kayak Rental and Taylors Falls Canoe & Kayak Rental offer kayak rentals with shuttle service for day and overnight trips on the St. Croix.

Root River

The Root River State Water Trail flows 85 miles through the rocky landscape of southeastern Minnesota’s Driftless Area, before draining into the Mississippi River. This unique area escaped the scouring effects of the last Ice Age and features massive limestone bluffs and cold-water springs, which create perfect conditions for trout species. Flows along most of the river are gentle to moderate, making it ideal for families.

Charming Lanesboro serves as the epicenter for Root River adventures. Stay at Root River Inn & Suites. Nearby, River Rat Outfitters and Root River Outfitters offer kayak rentals and shuttle packages.

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Kayaking Minnesota lakes

With nearly 12,000 to choose from, it’s little wonder the word “lake” conjures many different images in Minnesota. Lakes here range from tranquil interior gems perfect for a quiet day of kayak exploration to the wave-tossed bedrock shores of Lake Superior—the world’s largest freshwater expanse.

Lake Itasca

The serene birthplace of the mighty Mississippi, paddling on Lake Itasca feels both peaceful and momentous. Nestled within Itasca State Park, this small glacial lake marks the beginning of the great river’s 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Kayak beneath old-growth pines and watch for abundant bald eagles while exploring the Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary located along the western shore of the lake.

Kayak rentals are available from Itasca Sports at Itasca State Park, where you’ll also find more than 200 campsites and the historic Douglas Lodge, should you wish to extend your stay.

Photo: Paul Vincent

Chain of Lakes

In a city spoiled for blissful paddling opportunities, Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes stands out as some of the best beginner-friendly kayaking in the state. Five sapphire gems—Bde Maka Ska, Harriet, Lake of the Isles, Cedar and Brownie—stretch 13 miles across Minnesota’s largest city. Three of the five are connected and can be paddled as one. From your kayak, downtown skyline vistas alternate with areas of serene natural beauty as you paddle through protected wildlife refuges and explore small beaches.

Launches and free parking are found around many of the lakes. Rent kayaks from Wheel Fun Rentals at Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet.

Photo: Ryan Taylor

Lake Superior

Crystal clear and famously frigid, Lake Superior offers a plethora of exciting day trips for more seasoned kayakers. Popular destinations include paddling out of Grand Marais to the Fall River, where you can swim beneath a 25-foot waterfall. View a shipwreck and explore maritime history at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Or try Tettegouche State Park, where you can kayak around ancient rhyolite lava flows, paddle through sea caves and view the spectacular 200-foot cliffs of Palisade Head.

You’ll need a calm day to enjoy these coastlines safely. Lake Superior is a veritable inland sea, meaning it behaves more like an ocean environment than a regular lake. Conditions can change quickly—so come prepared and always get a forecast before heading out.

Day Tripper of Duluth offers a wide range of guided kayaking tours, including day trips to the locations mentioned here. Grand Marais-based Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply and Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte rent kayaks and lead guided half-day and day trips on Lake Superior.

Overnight kayaking trips in Minnesota

For kayakers looking for a more immersive escape, overnight paddling trips in Minnesota offer the best of everything this beautiful state has to offer. You can awaken to a spectacular Lake Superior sunrise, and end your day with superlative stargazing from a wilderness campsite, before falling asleep to the soothing rhythm of lapping waves.

Photo: Erik Fremstad

Voyageurs National Park

Comprising four vast, interconnected lakes sprawling 56 miles along the Canadian border, the interior of this unique national park is best explored by kayak. In fact, most of the park is only accessible from the water, including its hidden waterfalls, scenic trails and some 500 rocky islands. Even better, 150 well-appointed paddle-in campsites invite you to linger as long as you like.

On lovely Lake Kabetogama, Northern Lights Resort and Outfitting rents out single and tandem sea kayaks. Nearby Arrowhead Lodge also offers sea kayak rentals for trips departing from the resort, and the owners are able to assist with trip planning.

Photo: Paul Vincent

Boundary Waters

Boasting 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 2,200 wilderness campsites, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the most popular tripping area in the world for single-blade enthusiasts. But many of its large lakes—all blissfully free of motorized traffic—also offer great overnight getaways for kayakers. On Hegman Lake you can spot centuries-old Indigenous pictographs adorning granite cliffs. With a few short portages, kayakers can also access the larger bodies of water of Saganaga, Knife and Crooked lakes along the U.S.-Canada border.

Most Boundary Waters outfitters are based in Ely, including Piragis Northwoods Company, which offers kayak rentals and complete outfitting. Sawtooth Outfitters and Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply rent sea kayaks and run guided Boundary Waters kayak day trips—a great way to ease into overnight tripping in the area.

Photo: Virginia Marshall

Lake Superior Water Trail

The Lake Superior Water Trail runs 150 miles from Duluth, Minnesota, to the Canadian border. Along the way, spectacular backcountry campsites every 10 to 15 miles let you experience the shoreline at a relaxing pace. Allow three days to explore the breathtaking coast between Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche state parks, or a full week to continue paddling all the way to Grand Marais. Highlights include Palisade Head, Split Rock Lighthouse and the Manitou River waterfall.

Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais offers kayak rentals and custom guided trips. Rentals are also available from Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte. Book a guided multiday journey on the Lake Superior Water Trail with Day Tripper of Duluth.

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What you should know about kayaking in Minnesota

Important laws and regulations

It is strongly recommended that everyone wear a life jacket when on the water. State law requires one U.S. Coast Guard-approved, properly sized and easily accessible life jacket for each person aboard a kayak.

Children less than 10 years old are legally required to be wearing a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard‑approved life jacket when aboard any watercraft—including kayaks—while underway.

Additionally, always carry a whistle and a white light—especially if you will be on the water between sunset and sunrise.

Find more paddling safety information on the Minnesota DNR website.

Do you need to register a kayak in Minnesota?

Kayak owners in Minnesota must purchase an annual watercraft license ($42 in 2024) from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, with some exceptions.

A watercraft license is not required for nonmotorized watercraft 10 feet in length or less. Registration is not required for out-of-state (or country) kayaks, provided the owner’s state or country of residence does not require licensing of that type of watercraft, and it is not within Minnesota for more than 90 consecutive days. Kayaks licensed in another state do not require registration in Minnesota for durations of less than 90 consecutive days.

To start planning your kayaking trip, find travel guides, itineraries and more at exploreminnesota.com. Follow Explore Minnesota on Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, and YouTube.




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