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Paddling in the Midwest

Everyone loves summer! School’s out, the weather is warm, the sun is shining, kids are playing, and the new life that the spring rains brought is abundant. If it’s a particularly wet season, then streams will be flowing, rivers will be abounding, lakes will be splashing, and summertime will be filled with paddling; that is, paddling in the sense of secluded vacations and paddling across a vast body of water in a canoe or kayak.

Across the globe there are numerous areas known to be premier canoeing and kayaking destinations. Here in the Midwest, we’re fortunate to be close to two of the three most popular and rewarding areas for this activity. These destinations are The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or Boundary Waters, located in northeastern Minnesota and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which sits within the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The third most popular destination for canoeing and kayaking is Algonquin Provincial Park located north of Toronto in the southern portion of Ontario, Canada. Each of these locations is well within traveling distance from most of the Midwest, and will absolutely provide the adventurer with a unique experience that will last their lifetime.

Up in northeastern Minnesota lie the remains of former glaciers: “rugged cliffs and crags, canyons, gentle hills, towering rock formations, rocky shores, sandy beaches and several thousand lakes and streams, interspersed with islands and surrounding forest” (US Forest Service, This area is known as The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Boundary Waters are adjacent with Canada, hence the name, and encompass over a million acres of wilderness land. In addition, the area has over 2,000 designated backcountry campsites, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, and 12 separate hiking trails. Not only this, but the area offers abundant fishing opportunities where anglers set out to catch walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and several types of trout. The Wilderness is also home to gray wolf, eagles, loons, moose, black bear, lynx, and numerous bird species. In order to paddle overnight in the Boundary Waters it is required that a permit be obtained which must be reserved in advance; however, day paddling and hiking permits do not need to be reserved. If you’re looking for a good old fashion canoe paddle, the Boundary Waters are sure to impress.

If a canoe trip isn’t quite what you’re looking for, but you still want to get out on the water, think about heading north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located. The Pictured Rocks, unlike any other place on Lake Superior, was America’s first National Lakeshore. It offers visitors pristine beaches, over 100 miles of hiking trails, and the opportunity to kayak along the most beautiful shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes. Running 43 miles long, the Pictured Rocks are called so because of their unique, colorful sandstone cliffs jutting 200 feet in the air above water level. In addition, visitors experience caves, waterfalls, sand dunes, archways, and if they’re lucky, some of the abundant wildlife. Although animal life is plentiful, it may take some patience to actually catch a glimpse. The National Seashore is home to some very interesting animals, such as the American Marten, osprey, mink, fisher, and nearly 300 vertebrates. Either way, a trip to the Pictured Rocks definitely will not disappoint.

Thinking about venturing to Canada this coming Summer? Well, if you’re not, maybe you should be. Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario is not only one of the largest parks in Canada, but it’s also the oldest provincial park, and has become one of the world’s most famous canoeing areas.

“Here, not far from the populous centres of eastern North America, is the call of the loon echoing from rocky lakeshore, the sunset silhouetting a solitary pine, and a beaver forging a rippling wedge across a glassy pond. A fish splashes, a raven croaks, and a chipmunk streaks across a portage into the protections of the forest undergrowth. After dark, two canoeists camping on a quiet lake pause from their evening coffee to drink in the wild music of wolves wafting over the hills. This is Algonquin Provincial Park” (The Friends of Algonquin Park, Canoe Routes of Algonquin Park).

Algonquin offers visitors various recreational pursuits such as fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, hiking, camping, and most popular, canoeing. The park contains over 2,400 lakes and 745 miles of streams and rivers. In addition, Algonquin Logging Museum is located by the park’s east gate, and is open seasonally. Visiting Algonquin in the summer can certainly mean a few things, good and bad; great lake trout and brook trout fishing early in the season, long days and warm nights, and comfortably warm water to swim in. However, summertime is by far the most popular time to visit, and many routes become rather busy. One thing is true, no matter what season you choose, if you visit Algonquin you’re going to see a moose. “Algonquin is unequalled in Ontario, perhaps even in North America, as a location for seeing Moose” ( Additionally, animals such as beaver, deer, black bear, wolf, and loon live here. Whether or not you pursue canoeing, a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park is a must.

Despite being three very unique and different areas for canoeing, these three pieces of protected land are common in that they can all be extremely dangerous to paddlers if not prepared. If you plan to travel to any of these areas, be sure to invest sufficient time into planning and preparing for the trip so that you can have a safe and fun-filled time, immersed in some of the best paddling locations out there.

Paddling in the Midwest

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