Six Must-Kayak Midwest Rivers
Here are some midwest rivers you can't overlook if you're a kayaker.
When it’s warm out and you’re outside, the best place to be is on the water. It always feels cooler by the water and, if not, it’s definitely cooler with a dip in. Oceans and lakes are great options but rivers, don’t get the credit they deserve.
Winding and coursing through hills and mountains, carving up the landscape, and providing habitats for wildlife – rivers are a great destination to explore and enjoy. And, the Midwest is full of them. When it comes to exploring rivers, there’s really no better way than by kayaking. Not only is it a great form of exercise, but it also gets you up close and direct with the river and with the wildlife.
Check out six must-kayak Midwest rivers below that are great for a solo trek, a friendly adventure, or a journey for the whole family.
- Location: Hiawatha National Forest, MI
- Nearest Town: Manistique, MI
- Length: 51 miles
- Class Rating: II
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the UP as Michiganders refer to it, is a wildlife paradise, and the Indian River is a great way to explore so much of what makes it great. The river spans 51 miles throughout the Hiawatha National Forest in Manistique, Michigan. And, The Indian River Canoe Trail has several campsites along the trail, with some only accessible by canoe or kayak.
So, if you’re more of the rugged adventurer, this river is more your speed. You’ll also get the chance to see several rare, threatened, or sensitive species like the bald eagle, American marten, wolf, common loon, osprey, and wood turtle.
- Location: Iron, St. Francois, Washington, and Jefferson Counties MO
- Nearest Town: St. Louis
- Length: 83 miles
- Class Rating: I
At 83 miles in length, Big River delivers on its moniker, despite technically being a tributary and not a river. It also delivers on great kayaking with slow-moving waters. Its many miles of banks are dotted with park areas, plenty of places to stay, fishing locales, hiking trails, and historic tours. Depending on how long you follow the river, you’ll also pass through the banks of Washington State Park, Twin River Park, Cedar Hill Park, and St. Francis State Park—all teeming with activities and opportunities to break up your kayak adventure.
If you’re looking for an access point, Bonne Terre is home to Cherokee Landing – a campground and outfitter. You can rent kayaks directly from them and get local advice on water levels, places to picnic, and more.
- Location: Mower, Fillmore, and Houston Counties, MN
- Nearest Town: Lanesboro, MN
- Length: 18 miles
- Class Rating: I
If you’re up for a kayak trip with the whole family, you’ll want to check out the Root River State Water Trail. Spanning three counties in Minnesota, the Root River has no major rapids and features a water flow that ranges from gentle to moderate.
You’ll find plenty of outfitters and trading posts along the river where you can rent kayaks and gear—like Root River Outfitters. And, once you paddle in, you’ll discover an abundance of species and wildlife. The river is, in fact, home to more than 40 species of birds including blue herons, egrets, and wood ducks.
Little Miami River
- Location: Clark, Warren, Clermont, and Hamilton Counties, OH
- Nearest Town: Cincinnati
- Length: 86 miles
- Class Rating: Class I
The Little Miami River is one of 156 American rivers designated by the U.S. Congress or the Secretary of the Interior as a National Wild and Scenic River and lends its name to the adjacent Little Miami Scenic Trail.
You can start your journey where the river starts, at John Bryan State Park, or access at several points throughout the course of the run before it spills into the Ohio River just south of Cincinnati. The river flows through somewhat to mostly residential areas, but despite this, it retains a relatively excellent water quality. You are likely to see a variety of wildlife on your kayak journey as well. Several varieties of turtles, mallards and other ducks, geese, and blue herons frequent the river and bank.
There are also several liveries and outfitters along the shore if you need to rent a kayak. One great option is Rivers Edge Outfitters in Waynesville, Ohio. They’re located in one of the more secluded parts of Little Miami, making for a kayak trip that’s all the more nature-filled.
The Galena River
- Location: Jo Daviess County, IL
- Nearest Town: Galena, IL
- Length: Approximately 10 miles
- Class Rating: II
The Galena River in Galena, IL is a great river for kayaking – and so much more. The river stretches approximately 10 miles, and you can paddle the whole length, north-to-south. Bring your own kayak or rent one from several vendors in town, like Fever River Outfitters. The river provides a few swift riffles but mostly plenty of flat water as it winds its way through the Illinois countryside.
You’ll see plenty of wildlife including Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, and songbirds. The river also boasts a great trail for biking and walking if you have members of your party who prefer to stay on dry land!
Missouri River – Bismarck
- Location: Burleigh County, ND
- Nearest Town: Bismarck
- Length: Varies with Route
- Class Rating: Class II
The Mississippi River gets most of the fame as far as rivers go in North America, but, in fact, the Missouri is the longest, stretching from the Rocky Mountains and flowing east for 2,341 miles before entering the aforementioned Mississippi just north of St. Louis. With all that length, you can believe there are plenty of locations along the way to kayak with outfitters, routes, restaurants, lodging, and more.
However, one truly great destination to kayak this epic river is in Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck is a great destination for families. You can check out the Dakota Zoo and then hit the water. Missouri Kayak Adventures is a great outfitter in town. They not only rent out kayaks but also provide approved routes. The water in this part of the Missouri is calm at a Class II.
Being near a town, the wildlife isn’t as abundant, but you should expect to see some songbirds and an occasional American Kestrel or two. Also, be on the lookout for Snapping Turtles and a variety of toads and amphibians.