7/02/2015 0 comments

Zumbro River

Zumbro Falls to Millville
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Zumbro River is a fun, occasionally riffly and easy-going paddle that cuts through the distant wooded bluffs of the beautiful Zumbro River Valley.

A picturesque day on the Zumbro.

June 1, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I

4.4' per mile

Zumbro Falls: ht/ft: 7.62 | cfs: n/a
Recommended Levels:
Using this map for reference, 12' is high. 7-9' is recommended.

Sportsman’s Club Campground & Canoe Landing, Zumbro Falls, Minnesota
Read’s Park Canoe Landing, Millville, Minnesota

Time: Put in at 11:55a Out at 2:05p.
Total Time: 2h 10m
Miles Paddled: 11.75

Wildlife: Baby bald eagles, geese and fish.

Using Lynn and Robert Diebel’s guide, Paddling Southern Minnesota as my inspiration, I chose the popular “Zumbro River 2” for my initiation to this river. And this is a popular section for a reason. It’s great for beginners and just pretty enough for anybody looking for a relaxing day trip (I do challenge any Talking Heads fan to paddle the Zumbro River and not have this running through your head all day - I just don’t think it’s possible).

As mentioned in my Cannon River report, paddling in Minnesota requires a boat license for boats over 10’. That’s important to keep in mind if you’re planning on visiting from Wisconsin. The license cost $24 but the upside is that it lasts for a couple years. You could, of course, just paddle a smaller boat.

What we liked:
Maybe not as exotic as the name suggests (and it is quite possibly one of my favorite-named rivers), the Zumbro is delightful and great for a float trip (as proven by those who put-in before me and whom I past after not only my paddle, but my shuttle too - that’s some slow floating).

I put-in at Sportmen’s Park Campground, home to Zumbro Valley Canoe Rental (there is another outfitter, Zumbro River Ratz, located near the take-out in Millville). It’s a private campground but the put-in is public. This has been the traditional access point for this section but the DNR just installed a new put-in up by the Highway 63 bridge, just outside of the park. However, I scouted it and there was no obvious path down to the water - so maybe it was still a work in progress as of this paddle.

Side note: The previous night, the Sportmen’s Park Campground is where I had initially intended on camping but when I showed up, nobody was around and after 30 minutes of waiting, I realized I was pushing daylight so I gave up and took a drive to Oxbow Park, a good 20+ minute drive away. That turned out alright because Oxbow, had a few more options for camping next to the water, while Sportmen’s is mostly open with campsites right next to each other but it surely would’ve been more convenient.

At the landing, I could tell this was indeed a popular stretch since it was a Monday and there were many others putting-in but I guess it is summer (something that often evades the working man).

Once on the river, you’re immediately greeted by light riffles and you’ll continue to find short sections of them throughout the day as you wind your way through the valley. Flanked by Highway 68/11 nearly the entire way, this trip isn’t the most intimate but it doesn’t detract. You’ll certainly hear any sign of traffic coming either direction but that road isn't heavily traveled.

The water is brown and despite low clarity, it’s soon apparent that the river isn’t very deep even at the level I was paddling, which was higher than normal. There were few stretches where it felt deep, but soon I’d spot the sand or gravel river bottom. The river was definitely moving and for the third day in a road, I averaged 6 mph on the water. It didn't feel all that fast but I certainly could've have spent another hour or so on the river.

The Zumbro often suffers from intense flooding but it’s wide enough where deadfall shouldn’t impede progress. It ranges from 150-175 wide but feels narrower with the twists and turns and little sand/gravel bars that break the river. It’s said that if worse comes to worse and you find yourself separated from you boat, just stand up - it’s that shallow.

While the Zumbro may be short on specific highlights, save for Wall Rock, a cliff that stands 200-feet tall within the Zumbro Falls Woods State Natural Area, there are many beautiful towering cliffs to be seen but they are kept at a distance on the other side of the road that flanks the river.

Wildlife sightings, while never make-or-break a trip, were minimal on this trip, except for some baby geese, baby bald eagles and a few fish.

The take-out at Read’s Park was excellent. Turns out, I could’ve camped there the previous night had I known it existed (ahh… hindsight… why are you always 20/20?).

It was at Read’s that I met some friendly people that gave me insight into the area, the flooding, the park and also hooked me up with the best shuttle I’ve ever had. My plan was to bike but I was offered a shuttle by a woman named Sandra, a wildlife photographer (by the way, Sandra, if you read this, I couldn’t find you on Facebook - email me). This saved me time since I was heading back to Madison that same day and it was also fortunate because while the highway from Milville to Hammond is paved, the road from Hammond back to the put-in is all-gravel (and the loose kind) which would have been the bike shuttle less than ideal.

The fun and unexpected part was that we jumped into some sort of ATV on steroids (I believe it’s called a Maverick - the kind with an open roof and nets on the door) and took off down the winding road. It made for a pretty badass way of travel, I must admit. As we made our way alongside the river, we stopped and checked in on the baby geese and eagles and took some photos. I also got some history on the amazing little grotto on the East bank of the river between Millville and Zumbro Falls, one that has survived the amazing floods this area has experienced.

It’s moments like these and the people that you don’t plan on meeting that make a paddle memorable.

What we didn't like:
I can’t really think of anything. I guess, had I bike-shuttled, a dedicated trail or paved road from Hammond to Zumbro Falls would make that trek a better one.

If we did this trip again:
I’d absolutely do this again. There’s nothing crazy about it, it’s just a really enjoyable paddle and it’s perfectly suited for beginners since it’s wide and generally shallow, so you could essentially stand up should anything go wrong.

I tend to give paddles like these 3-stars because as time goes on, I find myself more attracted to greater excitement in terms of rapids but I’d be selling this short if that were always the criteria. It’s so pretty, accessible and I really like the Talking Heads, so it deserves a 4-star paddle. Still, there is a lot of Zumbro to explore but I’m sure I’ll be back here another day.

Related Information
Article: PostBulletin
Map: State Water Trail River Levels
Outfitter: Zumbro River Ratz
Outfitter: Zumbro Valley Canoe Rental
Overview: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Wikipedia: Zumbro River


Shuttle Information:
There are no other realistic options for the bike shuttle, trust me, you are truly in a valley and the other options that surround the area are insane uphill grades would test even Superman. From Millville, you'll take Highway 11 to Hammond and then Highway 68 to Zumbro Falls. Just keep in mind that from Hammond to Zumbro Falls, it’s all loose gravel.

Photo Gallery:

All towns on rivers should require canoer graphics.

The put-in at Sportsman’s Club Campground.

Ready for riffles.




Riffles and bluffs, oh my.



Rock stacking is not just a Great Lakes thing.



Tadpoles party.



Main Street bridge.






River teepee. A first for me.




The take-out at Read's Park.


Stopping along the way for some photo opps.

The best damn shuttle, ever.
6/30/2015 0 comments

Cannon River

Faribault to Dundas
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A visit to one of the staples of Bluff Country, the Cannon River offers a variety of beautiful sights, including limestone cliffs, outcrops and a stunning old gristmill to end the trip.

One of a handful of limestone walls on this stretch of the Cannon.

May 31, 2015

Class Difficulty:
Class I

3.1' per mile

Northfield: ht/ft: 891.72 | cfs: 1050
Recommended Levels:
Using this map for reference, below 13' is low and 16' is high. Catch it between 13-16.

Two Rivers Park Canoe Landing, Faribault, Minnesota
Highway 1 Canoe Landing, Dundas Minnesota

Time: Put in at 12:15. Out at 2:50.
Total Time: 2h 35m
Miles Paddled: 13.75

Wildlife: Geese, turtles, hawks, heron and one deer.

After seven years, Miles Paddled finally makes its way into Minnesota territory. And as an introduction to Minnesota, what could be better than a visit to Bluff Country? The Cannon River, not far from the cities and a designated Wild and Scenic River, was high on my list and it didn’t disappoint.

Unlike Wisconsin, Minnesota requires a license if your kayak is over 10’. This is important to note if you plan on going because it can take a couple weeks to receive your permit if doing so by mail. You can also visit a DNR station in person but you’ll need to check the hours of operation. The license cost $24 but the upside is that it lasts for a couple years. You can, of course, just paddle a smaller boat though.

What we liked:
Following Lynn and Robert Diebel’s lead in their Paddling Southern Minnesota guide, I selected "Cannon River I" as my destination but chose to shorten the route since I had to shuttle myself and from everything I could infer from scouting, I wasn’t missing much downstream. Plus, nearly 18 miles for a day trip is stretching the limits of a recommended day trip from my experience.

I have to admit though, I was kind of intrigued by the idea of taking-out before the Malt-O-Meal dam in Northfield but the take-out in Dundas has its own highlight and makes for a more manageable 13.75-mile trip. I did scout the dam and its impressive spillway because my wildest imagination had led me to believe that the Malt-O-Meal dam would actually not be made of traditional concrete but rather, a giant spoon. That was not the case though.

The put-in at Two Rivers Park, at the confluence of the Straight River, is nothing special which was surprising since Minnesota really treasures and touts these rivers (and rightly so). It was a rock ditch landing/path which was hidden from the parking area. Coincidentally, it was there that I ran into the DNR which was leading some youngsters on a trip called I Can Paddle, which sounded like a cool outdoor program.

Within the first mile you'll come across some large rock walls - an exciting and welcome sight so early in the paddle. I was hoping it would be like this all day but that isn’t the case. You’ll find the handful of limestone cliffs and outcrops mostly within the first eight miles. The most impressive is found within the Cannon Wilderness State Natural Area which is a sheer limestone face jutting straight up from the water with a pile of crumbled rock at its base. Its pitted and pretty.

The water of the Cannon is brown and muddy and I assume it’s mostly sand-bottomed but I could only catch a 1/2 a paddle blade of clarity so I’m just speculating based on the rare shallows and few sandbars I did see. I should note that this was also the second day in a row that I was met with faster than usual water levels. It wasn't all that noticeable while paddling (if you told me these were normal levels, I'd believe you) but when all was said and done, I had yet again, averaged 6 mph instead of the normal 3-4 mph (I'm breaking kayaking speed records these days).

I didn’t see a lot of wildlife but I encountered turtles, hawks and heron. At one point I was focused on a rock wall in front of me when a deer popped his head up from the tall grass not 10 feet from my boat and spooked the hell out of me.

It’s often noted that snags are common on the Cannon. I had no trouble and there was no portaging on this day but there is countless high-water evidence along the way. Throughout you’ll find mounds of tree trunks and forcibly-produced piles of log debris. I imagine that navigation can change rapidly (no pun intended) in times after heavy rains and high water.

The Cannon is about 100’ feet wide for most of the trip and despite the occasional proximity to Highway 3, it’s a mostly intimate and peaceful paddle. The first eight miles are the best for scenery, then comes four miles of straight-ish paddling in a much wider river. In fact, I’m not sure when it got wider - it just suddenly occurred to me somewhere near the outer boundaries of the State Natural Area, that it felt less intimate.

The long, straight, open stretches outweigh anything scenic in the last leg until nearing Dundas. There, a few riffly areas greet you on the last mile and the paddle is punctuated by the shell of the historic Archibald Mill, a former gristmill, which at one time produced some of the best flour in the country.

Just downstream a hundred yards or so is the take-out on river-right, just below the Highway 1 bridge. It’s sandy, grassy and marked but it's hard to spot from the road where it looks more like a hiking trail entrance than vehicle-ready but there is a minimal amount of parking. Lynn and Robert point out that there is an alternate take-out at Memorial Park just upstream but the put-in/take-out is a muddy bank and you’ll miss running the riffles past the mill so I don’t recommend it.

On my way to the next paddle, I chose Oxbow Park which is located on the South fork of the Zumbro River, the Zumbro, as it were, was my next destination. Located in the Zumbro Valley, the park is unique in that it hosts an actual zoo. The campsites were spacious, clean and the few campers that were there, were friendly. I enjoyed the company of deer walking through camp but not the raccoons, which seem to be taking over every state and county park in the midwest these days (I'm starting to think they're planning a revolution).

What we didn't like:
The bike shuttle - it was all highway travel due to construction on Acorn Trail (which would’ve saved some highway time). Thankfully, the shoulder was wide(r) but it’s always nerve-racking to bike the highway nonetheless.

If we did this trip again:
I'd absolutely visit again. The Cannon is a wonderful day trip with just enough scenery to keep the paddle interesting. There are no dramatic rapids and there are many stretches of flat, straight paddling so it's perfect for beginner and intermediate paddlers. Of course, there are countless paddling opportunities in Minnesota for every skill level and every paddling wish-for, so the challenge becomes, how does one choose the next one?

Related Information
Guide: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Guide: Paddling Southern Minnesota
Map: State Water Trail River Levels
Wikipedia: Cannon River


Shuttle Information:
The bike shuttle was about 50 minutes and all on Highway 3 due to construction but when Acorn Trail reopens, I would recommend that for safety.

Photo Gallery:

The put-in at Two Rivers Park in Faribault.


Immediately greeted by a handsome rock wall within the first mile.

Train trestle.

Low profile limestone walls.




The most impressive wall revealing itself.

The size can really only be appreciated in person.




Highway 29 bridge.






Log piles are common features on the Cannon.

Highway 3 bridge.

Homes of Dundas reveal themselves on the last mile on the left bank.

The bridge connects to Memorial Park.

The Archibald mill.




The take-out below the Highway 1 bridge.

A view of the mill from above.