Find Your River Recreation this Summer in Wadena County!
8 Jul 2021
Many canoeing enthusiasts believe they have to travel to northern Minnesota or even the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to experience a multiple-day trip through a peaceful, remote and wooded Minnesota landscape. But residents of Wadena County know that adventure awaits them on the Crow Wing River Canoe Trail that runs over 90 miles through the area in central Minnesota.
The Crow Wing River was called "Kagiwegwon'' by the Chippewa Indians, translated to "Raven's Wing." The river winds its way through the county from north to south, beginning at the Blueberry Bridge northeast of Menahga and exiting at the southeastern corner near the City of Staples.
The Crow Wing River Canoe Trail was the first of its kind in Minnesota, established as the first Resource Conservation and Development project in 1964. Local resident John Rife, Sr. has been recognized as having a vital contribution in getting the designation for the canoe trail.
The trail provides the perfect opportunity for a day trip or a longer excursion, thanks to the lack of any serious rapids and the presence of a number of parks and spots where canoeists or kayaks can camp. It is generally shallow enough to not be navigable by motorized boats and presents a remote setting, thanks to county regulations.
“Wadena County is very protective of the scenic and natural habitats and qualities of the river,” said Deana Malone, the County’s Parks Administrator. “You will see some buildings along the Trail but we are very strict on our setbacks, so there are not many to see.”
That habitat allows excellent tubing trips, with deeper swimmable pools amid the sandy, shallower stretches, along with excellent fishing and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Complementing the favorable river dynamics is the presence of a number of county parks along the river, several with small campgrounds. They are all remote, with outhouses, hand water pumps but no electricity, except for the Old Wadena Park Campground, the only county park on the river that can be reserved. As such, it is a popular location for family reunions, graduation parties and wedding receptions.
“The parks may not have many modern amenities,” said Malone. “”But the natural aesthetics offer solitude, a quality experience in nature and unbelievable stargazing at night.”
For Malone, picking a favorite park is nearly impossible because each has its own charm. Old Wadena provides the nostalgia of being located at a historic battle site. Knob Hill has an upper and lower campground with a long stairway and footbridge. Bullards Bluff Campground sits high on a bluff overlooking the river, whereas Little White Dog Campground is right at the water level.
The County provides firewood at all of its parks, so paddlers do not have to worry about carrying it with them. County employee Glenn Motzko, known as ‘Ranger Glenn,’ is usually the one providing the firewood.
“He has become known as an excellent resource for those paddling the river, either to make sure there is enough wood stocked at a specific campground or to ask about the current water level,” said Malone.
The Trail provides a significant impact on Wadena County's economy. Huntersville Canoe Outfitters runs a business at Huntersville, which is near Menahga on the northern end of the canoe route. The nearby Huntersville store provides many items canoeists, kayakers and tubers need for their excursion. The next door Outpost Bar & Grill is an excellent spot for a pre- or post-trip meal and provides tubes and transportation for persons on select tubing routes. Gloege’s Canoe & Kayak Outfitting is another outfitter near the town of Nimrod, which also has the Nimrod Bar and Grill for dining. Wahoo Valley Bar & Grill across from Cottingham Park is the last option to rent a tube or grab a bite close to the river before a paddler leaves the county.
“Folks going on overnight trips need to be on the top of their game and bring what they need for the most part,” said Malone. “And that means packing out trash because this is a very clean river and we want to keep it that way.”
The Canoe Trail actually continues out of Wadena County for a total of 90 miles until it reaches the Mississippi River. For more information on the entire trail, go to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website here.