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NiceRide on the river: Kayak on the Mississippi for $20 through the Paddle Share program

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan

Put this on your bucket list for summer fun in the Twin Cities: kayaking on the Mississippi River. With the Paddle Share program, it's especially easy.

After lending support for the NiceRide program, Susan Overson, Paddle Share project manager for the National Park Service, came up with the idea of connecting that service to kayaking stations. She got the idea from a similar effort up at Sunfish Lake in Dakota County. A free program, it provided access for people interested in kayaking.

“We’ve tied all of the Paddle Share stations to the NiceRide bicycle stations, but also with the light rail, the bus transit, the bike trails—any form of transportation that you could actually hook up to in a seamless way—so that you could actually get from home to the river either by riding a NiceRide or hopping on the light rail," she says. “And this is all part of the overall system to get people to experience the river without a car.”

Through the program, it’s a cinch to reserve online. There’s no lugging boats with bungee cords over your car. You don’t need to worry about getting life jackets or paddles. Everything is right there for you when you arrive at one of the storing stations. You can get right to paddling down the river.

The Paddle Share program officially opened in August of last year. There are currently two places where you can pick up a kayak: North Mississippi Regional Park and at the Lowry Avenue Bridge (there’s a station at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization across the street from Betty Danger’s Country Club). The final destination is at Boom Island Park.

Later this summer, there will be a third option, beginning at Hidden Falls and ending up at Harriet Island in St. Paul.

Once you make your reservation online and read the safety information, you can go to one of the stations and pick up your gear. This includes either a single-person or tandem kayak, paddles, and a life jacket. You get three hours, which is enough time for either a picnic or a little stop at the Sample Room, which actually has kayak parking out on their dock (be sensible with your drinking choices, of course!).

On a clear day, the river is nice and easy to navigate. It’s best if you’ve kayaked before; the website suggests places like Above the Falls Sports, Wahoo! Adventures, Wilderness Inquiry, Wheel Fun, REI Outdoor School, or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for a lesson or two. However, if you’ve ever gone canoeing, it’s actually easier than that, and you’ll probably be fine with a bit of research ahead of time. 

The main goal of the program is to create opportunities for people to experience the Mississippi.

“Once they are on the river and they love it and they learn to appreciate it, they learn to care for it too,” Overson says. "[The program] is a big part of getting people to experience the river, getting people to care for the river, and doing something unique and different in an urban national park.”

Overson joined the National Park service back in 1991 as a landscape architect with the Denver Service Center. She came to Minneapolis a year later for a six month assignment, and ended up staying here. Since then, she had gone on to win awards, such as the American Recreation Coalition's Partner Outdoors "Legends Award" presented for outstanding service to the recreation community.

More information about reserving a kayak can be found at paddleshare.org.