Water Trails

Eastern and Midwest Water Trails 1
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1 - Ozark National Scenic Riverways

A popular National Park Service facility, the best time to experience these superb rivers is early in the season and midweek.
Route: Jacks Fork and Current Rivers in southeast Missouri
Length: 134 miles
Campsites: Developed camping and camping on the gravel bars
Types of Craft: All types. Some horsepower limitations on motorcraft.
Year Started: Protected in 1964
How Far Along: Completed
Guidebook: Available from park office

2 - Minnesota Water Trails

Minnesota the"Land of the Lakes" has over 3,000 miles of water routes developed by various government agencies cooperating with local citizens. Voyageurs National Park commemorates the life of the hard-paddling colonial fur trappers and traders. The St. Croix River is a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River that makes for a gentle 25 mile paddle to the Mississippi River.

The state's Department of Natural Resources oversees 23 canoe and boating routes and has the authority to grant land for campsites and access, totalling almost 3,000 miles. The Root River Trail travels through 72 miles of a wild landscape featuring high limestone bluffs topped by dense hardwood forest. The 56-mile Kettle River has many well-spaced campsites along its route, and some nicely rollicking Class II to IV rapids. The Zumbro River presents a tricky challenge, with more than its fair share of snags and its rapid current a true adventure. Not to be left out, the Mississippi Headwaters Trail is profiled below.

Contact: Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's Information Center, (651) 296-6157.

The state's national forests are among the best paddling destinations around. Chippewa National Forest has nine routes, and Superior National Forest contains the fabled Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area. See "Canoeing on the Edge" for specific entry points and routes in the BWCA.

3 - Mississippi Headwaters River Trail

Lake Itasca is an invented contraction of the Latin words veritas (true) and caput (head), put together to sound Indian. What's not invented is the lush beauty and historic interest of this terrific water trail.

Route: From headwaters of river at Lake Itasca to St. Cloud in Minnesota
Length: 400 miles (all navigable)
Campsites: Many options, from commercial campgrounds to primitive camping
Types of Craft: No restrictions
How Far Along: Complete
Guidebook: Mississippi Headwaters Guidebook, available from the Headwaters Board, and 6 river maps, available from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (see above)
Contact: Mississippi Headwaters Board, (218)547-7263

4 - Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area

Route: Network of trails in northeast Minnesota, connected to Quetico Provincial Park.
Length: 1500 miles of canoe routes, over 2000 lakes and streams
Campsites: Over 2000 designated campsites. Many established sites (with reservation system) and wilderness camping. 80 entry points. 60 water entry points.
Types of Craft: Canoes, kayaks, rowboats and motorboats on certain lakes, no wind-powered craft and no pontoons
When created: Roadless Area was declared in 1958. In 1978 Congress passed the last major piece of legislation for the Wilderness Area.
How Far Along: Well established
Contact: Superior National Forest
Comments: If you want to cross the border into Quetico Provincial Park, you must clear customs beforehand.

Go to more extensive coverage of Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area.

5 - Lake Superior Water Trail

The grand dream is a water trail that rings enormous Lake Superior. But organizers must work with the government entities and people of three U.S. states Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota and one Canadian province Ontario. It's not going to fall into place all at once. Little by little, completed segments will be linked together. Let's take the states one by one. . .

The Inland Sea Society (ISS) is the non-profit organization spearheading the water trail effort in Wisconsin. The ISS actually originated the idea for a water trail, which is intimately linked to the organizations broader goal to "promote environmental stewardship through education and recreation." So far, the ISS has completed one Wisconsin segment of the water trail.

Length: 60 miles
Types of Craft: Small watercraft.
Year Started: 1988
How Far Along:
Guidebook: Documenting what's exist.
Contact: iss@inlandsea.org, or http://www.inlandsea.org/

Length: 45 miles
Campsites: City of Two Harbors has a campground, resort and lodges. Primitive camping is available at other points along the trail.
Types of Craft: Small boats. Sea kayaks are especially suitable paddlers must contend with an unprotected shoreline of straight rock walls with very few bays.
Year Started: 1991 was when work first began. Work was established by the legislature in 1993. Minnesota Parks and Trails Council
How Far Along: Minnesota Chapter of the Lake Superior Water Trail Association plans to expand the trail within the next couple of years. In the near future the trail will be contiguous from Duluth to Two Harbors.
Guidebook: Lake Superior Water Trail Map, (888) 646-6367
Contact: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Chapter of Lake Superior Water Trail Association, (888) 901-0668

6 - Les Cheneaux Water Trail

The name means "the channels" in French, which gives you an idea of the linear nature of these sheltered waterways between these north woods islands in Lake Huron. You'll find two big pieces of public land here Hiawatha National Forest and Detour State Park.

Route: North shore of Lake Huron, from the Carp Rier through Les Cheneaux Islands to Detour Village.
Length: 75 miles
Campsites: Many campsites and small resorts are located along the trail.
Types of Craft: Canoes, kayaks, motor boats
Year Started: 1997
How Far Along: Completed
Guidebook: In the works
Contact: Les Cheneaux Welcome Center, (888)364-7526, (906)484-3935

7 - Michigan Water Trails

This state has an ambitious program that it will be unrolling over the next few years. Contact the Michigan States Forests and Campgrounds at (517)335-3040.

8 - Northeastern Illinois Water Trails

Work is proceeding to create safe, legal, and adequate access to the many waterways in and near Chicago. Gary Mechanic from the Paddling Council recommends three in particular. Lower Desplaines River is a wide and shallow river, with numerous places for getting in and out for on-the-ground exploring and views of the abundant wildlife protected by forest preserve. The CCC-made Skokie Lagoons offers a pleasant paddle through forest preserve. And Downtown Chicago, where the buildings rise straight up from the water, has got to be one of the most dramatic paddling spots in the the world.

Route: Various waterways
Length: 500 miles of river and lakefront
Campsites: There are no campsite. Nearly all of the trails. Day trails. Multi day trip, 3 to 5 miles between sites. beginners, older people,
Types of Craft: non-motorized, paddle, pedal, wind, rowing shells, rowboats.
Year Started: 1996
How Far Along: The Paddling Council has completed a survey and have developed a recommendation that is incorporated into an official plan. The council wants to develop sign and conduction more public education on the human and natural history of the waterways.
Guidebook: Some informal guidebooks exist, but your best bet is to stop at a paddling shop and query them.
Contact: Gary Mechanic , Director of The Access Project of the Illinois Paddling Council

GORP Feature: Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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