Paddling the Mississippi River

Kayaking on the Mississippi River.

national park service

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area follows 72 miles of the Mississippi River from Dayton downstream past Hastings. This stretch of river includes waterfalls, historic sites, tall river bluffs, barges, 4 locks and dams, 18 cities, and 19 bald eagle nests! One great way to experience our national park is by canoe or kayak. Many people think of Minnesota’s thousands of lakes when thinking of setting out in their canoe, but paddling is a wonderful way to see the Mississippi up close. So grab a paddle and a life jacket and head out on the Mississippi River!

Getting on the River
There are several public boat launches along the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. To find public access points, visit the Public Water Access page on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. Remember to respect private lands bordering the river- use only public access and facilities. Many access points have restrooms, picnic tables, or other facilities, but other sites may not, so come prepared. River currents are usually gentle to moderate, but for most of the national park it is easiest to drop off the boat upstream, park a vehicle downstream, and shuttle back to the starting point.


River Safety

-Wear your life jacket (personal floatation device) or have it accessible at all times.
Mississippi River currents can be powerful in high water. Use caution around bridge piers, dams, and constricted passages.

-Be aware of the commercial navigation channel marked by red and green buoys. When paddling downstream the green buoys (square-topped in profile) will be on the right side of the channel; red buoys (triangular- topped in profile) will be on the left. (Remember the phrase: "red, right, returning"- red buoys on the right side of the boat when returning upstream to port.)

-When encountering wake from a towboat or other motorized vessel, angle your bow into the waves. Broadside waves can tip a canoe or kayak if you are not careful. By turning into the waves your vessel will be more stable. Keep paddling! You are more stable under power.

-Be prepared to brace if necessary. Be aware of weather conditions before setting out. In windy and foul weather stay ashore. Winds often funnel along the river.
Additional Information
Locks & Dams U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District River Guides & Water Safety
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
(651) 296-6157 or (800) 766-6000
Boat Licenses Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
(651) 296-6157 or (800) 766-6000

Mississippi River Visitor Center Mississippi National River & Recreation Area 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 293-0200

Mississippi River Canoe & Boating Maps Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
(651) 296-6157 or (800) 766-6000

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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