There’s a zillion ways to experience the Mississippi River, but one of our favorites has to be kayaking its storybook backwaters. Enter Broken Paddle Guiding, an outfitter that leads kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours in the Nelson-Trevino Bottoms State Natural Area.
Minnevangelist co-founder Ashlea Halpern met Broken Paddle founder Michael Anderson last summer when she was reporting a Midwest Living story along the Great River Road. Although Broken Paddle is based in Wabasha, Minnesota, it launches its kayaks just south of Pepin, Wisconsin. After putting in their kayaks, the pair spent four hours paddling six miles of sun-dappled channels in a tucked-away swathe of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Anderson narrated the scenery all around, pointing out silver maples, river birch, and cardinal flowers. He listened for prothonotary warblers and scouted for bald eagles. The M.O. was all about slowing down, stopping to sniff the swamp milkweed (mmm, vanilla!) or admire the sunny yellow petals clinging for dear life to the stem of a rare American lotus.
Anderson is in awe of this natural environment and worried about sediment accumulating in the upper end of Lake Pepin. Threatened by upstream erosion, both the lake and back channels are in danger of disappearing. That’s why Anderson works closely with the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance and why he is so passionate about getting folks out here — to experience the enchanting landscape first-hand and then fight to protect it. As he told Midwest Living, “There’s something about the deep forests, the views, the huge river valley—it feels ancient, a little mysterious even. It’s a different kind of beauty out here.”
Broken Paddle’s Flooded Forest Tour departs Wabasha at 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily. It costs $90 for adults and $75 for children 12 and under; this includes transportation, gear, a group kayak lesson, setup and breakdown, and, of course, a deeply knowledgable guide. Other tours combine sunset kayaking or SUPing with a brewery visit or a stop at the National Eagle Center (yet another great reason to love Minnesota).
Broken Paddle Guiding
213 Main St. W., Wabasha, MN; 651-955-5222.