Paddling in the Outdoor Mecca of the North
By Holli Busching
Grand Rapids, Minnesota: the outdoor Mecca of the North. With lakes, trails and fresh air, you’re sure to find something fun to do. My favorite spring, summer and fall activity is paddling!
You could say paddling is my passion. As a young girl, my sister and I used to paddle canoes along the shores of Bass Lake. We loved feeling the sun on our shoulders and sand between our toes. As a teen, I went camping with my family on Lakes NorthStar and Clubhouse, where being on the water was second nature. I honeymooned in the Boundary Waters. I took girlfriend trips in kayaks, just because we could. Dipping in a paddle, I answered all the questions my 2-year-old son had about fish, turtles, lily pads and frogs. The first time stand-up paddle boarding was truly like walking on water! Oh, the memories and the joy of knowing there’s more to come. When you feel this happy doing something, you want to share it.
That is the premise behind Paddle Hoppers, my little paddle shop on the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids. I want to share the joy of paddling. Paddling is a sport that everyone can do, young and old alike. You can do it alone, with a partner or pet, or in a group. You can do it for an hour, a day or even a week. You can paddle canoes, kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. You can paddle out for fun or to bring back dinner. There is no limit to where you can go or what you’ll see, and with 1,084 lakes in Itasca County alone, you don't have to go far. Paddle Hoppers offers kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards that are ready to get you out on the water.
Our site is located right on the gorgeous shores of the Mississippi River. If you haven't paddled the river between the Pokegama and Blandin dams, you'll be surprised at how wild and beautiful it is. Paddle Hoppers offers river access at the shop, on County Road 63 in Grand Rapids, for those who just want to rent for a few hours. From the moment you put in, you will experience the slow-moving water slapping against the sandy and slightly rocky shorelines that are studded with deciduous and coniferous trees. As you paddle your way along the river in either direction, you will see an abundance of Minnesota wildlife including loons, ducks and eagles. This section is also a great place to fish, with the opportunity to catch a variety of species; just be sure to get a Minnesota fishing license first.
As you paddle, you may also notice big deadheads, or logs, in the river; these are the remains of our logging heritage and a time gone by when logs were floated down the river. In fact, after paddling, you can check out the Forest History Center, where you can learn more about our logging history. Be sure to pack yourself a lunch, as there are a couple of spots to pull out of the water and grab a bite. Sylvan Bay and Izaac Walton Park offer boat access, picnic tables, benches and a fishing pier. If you continue upriver, you’ll find a picnic area, a walking trail to stretch your legs and even a playground at the Pokegama Dam!
Looking for a little more adventure? Start a paddle trip at the Steamboat landing right across from our public library. This section of the Mississippi River is unique because it is very close to town, yet you would never know! It passes under bridges, through farmland (ask the Californians about the cows!) and past big pine stands that sit high above the river and lowlands where you are paddling in the trees. Wildlife is sure to be seen. You can quit a few hours downriver at the Blackberry Bridge Landing or make it a five- to six-hour trip to Herb Beer’s landing, but be sure to have a truck or friend waiting to bring you back to town where you started. Once you are back in town, head over to one of our many awesome places to eat or drink, like Unwind Up North or Rapids Brewing Company, or grab a brew and enjoy live music, often brought in by Klockow Brewing Company. Need vegetarian or vegan fare? Stop at Brewed Awakenings.
As you can see, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer the paddling enthusiast on and off the Mississippi River. If you need gear or advice or just want to chat, stop in and see us at the shop or check out our website at paddlehoppers.com. Happy paddling!