in the Land of 10,000 Lakes


WHEN YOU LIVE IN THE LAND OF 10,000 LAKES—and countless rivers and creeks, ahem, cricks—you can’t throw an agate without it splashing into a body of water. These precious waterways supply an abundance of opportunity for water sports of all types. And when it’s time to tune out the noise and tune in to nature, some say there is no better way than with a paddle in your hand and a kayak under your keister. 

Photo courtesy of Brad Nelson/HiTempo

Know before you go

Kayaking is easy to learn but takes finesse to master. Jeff Kidder, owner of Kidder Kayaking, recommends taking an introductory kayaking course to find out if you’ll like it, what type of boat you will want, and the type of equipment you will need. 

Local experts recommend finding a dealer that offers demos so you can find the right boat for how you intend to use it—gentle shoreline tours, lake expeditions, river trips, fishing and hunting, even as a crossover stand-up paddleboard. Because if you think a kayak is a kayak, think again. The American Kayaking Association lists five types of flatwater kayaks: sit-on-top, recreational, touring, inflatable, and pedaling. 

Most sit-on-top, recreational, and touring kayaks are of the paddling variety. Pedaling kayaks offer a hands-free option. “Paddling kayaks are to pedaling kayaks as cross-country skiing is to downhill skiing. Both are fun, but they are different,” Brad Nelson, owner of HiTempo, said. “Pedaling kayaks are faster than you think for the effort you are putting in, don’t require a paddle, and won’t tip unless you’re playing on it. And there are no age or strength barriers.” 

Photo courtesy of Brad Nelson/HiTempo

Once you find the right boat, you need to learn how to use it. “Anybody can hop in, get it to go forward, and figure out how to turn it. If you spend time in the sport, there are hundreds of types of paddle strokes and edging and maneuvering techniques,” said David Jeremiason, founder of Paddle Folk. “I’d recommend hopping in with a club where you are surrounded by people with experience. I’d also recommend getting lessons—The American Canoeing Association is a great resource.”

While many recreational kayaks are very stable and designed not to tip, Busching suggests taking your kayak into shallow water with another person and tipping it so you know where your tipping point is and to eliminate any fear over what would happen if you tip. 

For ease of transporting, there are roof rack systems with hinges that come down on the side of your vehicle, so you don’t have to lift your kayak over your head. Low trailers are also popular. 

Safety tips

  • Don’t paddle alone. Kidder suggests going in groups of three kayakers or more. 
  • Always wear a life jacket. Kidder recommends a life jacket specific to kayaking, which is shorter than a typical life jacket and roomy in the arms. 
  • Stay close to the shoreline.
  • Go Monday – Thursday to avoid heavy boat traffic.
  • Remove vegetation and dry your boat to avoid transporting invasive species. 
Photo courtesy of Holli Busching/Paddle Hoppers

What to wear

  • In the summer, shorts, a t-shirt, hat, and sunglasses are all you need.
  • A wet suit will keep you protected in the spring or fall.
  • Look for long-sleeved shirts with SPF.
  • Pants or shorts made with quick-drying material are cool and lightweight.
  • Sunscreen gloves are popular for fishing.
  • Neoprene boots or socks with rubber soles protect your feet from rocks and zebra mussels. 

4 Pretty Good Kayaking Trips

These kayaking destinations offer something for everyone—including two hidden gems*.

Mississippi River  |  Trips starting from Grand Rapids meander through parks, fields, and forests with sights around every bend. Several access points offer trips for a half-hour up to overnight.  You can even start upriver and go down with the current for a break from paddling. 

Wabana Lake to Trout Lake*  |  This favorite of Holli Busching, owner of Paddle Hoppers, goes from the northwest landing of Wabana Lake near Grand Rapids to Little Trout Lake to the aqua waters of Trout Lake. Trout Lake offers camping, swimming, and historic Joyce Estate, a 4,500-acre resort from the 1920s with 40 outbuildings, golf course, and private hangar. Today, it is part of the Trout Lake Semiprimitive Nonmotorized Area, managed by the Chippewa National Forest. The grounds are open to visitors. 

Pine River*  |  Jim Bergquist, owner of Wind, Water, and Wheels and Crow Wing Kayaks, claims the Pine River is one of the best—and most underutilized—kayaking destinations in the area. With easy-to-navigate level one rapids, 2- to 5-foot depths, a sandy bottom, and plenty of places to swim, it’s a fun family kayak. Wind, Water, and Wheels has divided it into thirteen trips ranging from one hour to a full day and will be happy to recommend the right route for you.  

Mine Lakes of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area  |  Six natural lakes and fifteen lakes formed by former mine pits offer visibility of up to 40-foot depths and 25 miles of natural shoreline. Jenny Smith, owner of Cycle Path & Paddle said, “The mine lakes are deep and clean with beaches to get out and picnic or cool off. Several are connected for a longer paddle.” 

Photo courtesy of Jim Bergquist/Wind, Water, and Wheels and Crow Wing Kayaks

Kayaking Clubs

Crow Wing Paddlers schedules 12–15 trips throughout the Brainerd lakes area on various times of day, days of the week, and types of water. Half-price rentals are available for club members through Wind, Water, and Wheels. Lessons available. Find them on Facebook. 

Paddle Folk provides rentals, lessons, and guided trips. They take Thursday night paddles to lakes throughout the Brainerd and Crosby area, often stopping for dinner afterward. Visit paddlefolk.com for calendar of events. 

Paddle Pushers takes Tuesday night scenic paddles and Wednesday night skill paddles on Brainerd area lakes including Cross Lake, Upper Whitefish, Bay Lake, South Long Lake, Gull Lake, and North Long Lake. Lessons available. Visit paddlepushers.com for calendar of events. 

Photo courtesy of Jim Bergquist/Wind, Water, and Wheels and Crow Wing Kayaks

Kayak Rentals & Sales

Cycle Path & Paddle, Crosby, rents and sells recreational kayaks and also rents trailers. Try before you rent or buy on Serpent Lake. Find them at cyclepathpaddle.com, on Facebook, or 218.545.4545.

HiTempo, White Bear Lake, specializes in Hobie pedaling kayaks, with 17 models to choose from including fishing, touring, inflatable, and sailing. They offer sales, rentals, and demos on White Bear Lake. Hitempo.com

Paddle Folk, Brainerd, offers sea kayak rentals to the public (club members receive a discount). Reserve at paddlefolk.com or call DJ at 218.820.6893. 

Paddle Hoppers, Grand Rapids, offers all types of kayaks for rent or sale and paddling trips throughout the summer. Located on a 3-4 mile stretch on the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids, you can try before you buy. paddlehoppers.com, 218.326.5853.

Walker Rental, Walker, rents fishing and recreational kayaks. 218.547.3656.

Wind, Water, and Wheels, Crosslake, rents and sells locally made kayaks by Crow Wing Kayaks, with demos available on Cross Lake. They offer six models of sit-on-top kayaks, including recreational, fishing, and hunting. Learn more at windwaterandwheels.com, Facebook, or 218.692.1200.