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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
4.4' per mile
Zumbro Falls: ht/ft: 7.62 | cfs: n/a
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.
Map: State Water Trail River Levels
Outfitter: Zumbro River Ratz
Outfitter: Zumbro Valley Canoe Rental
Overview: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Wikipedia: Zumbro River
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.
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.
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.