You probably know about the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, but did you know Winona is also home to some of the best paddling in the United States? Between an ample number of put-in spots and dozens of public islands for pitching a tent, it would be nearly impossible to come up with a comprehensive list of all the wonderful places in the Mississippi River backwaters to explore in your self-powered watercraft. And while there is an abundance of great camping spots available, if you like the idea of spending all day in quiet and beautiful backwaters but still relish the idea of having a bed to sleep in at night and restaurants to dine in at the end of your long day on the river, Winona is the spot you’ve been looking for.
Rob Brault is an English professor at Winona State University, but around town he is widely known as an expert paddler and canoe builder. Rob first hit the water in a canoe at 8 years old, but it was his first trip to the Boundary Waters with a biology class that solidified his love of paddling. He built his first canoe, Vingilot, in 1987, and has since built others. Rob has also led multi-day paddling excursions with students and community members. We asked Rob where he’d suggest visitors hit the water around Winona. These 5 places made his Visit Winona Short List!
1. Lake Park Lodge
Whether it is kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, renting the lodge/boats, tandem biking, log rolling, longboarding, or just taking in the beautiful view, Lake Lodge is sure to offer an experience that floats your boat! Winter activities to include ice skating, snowshoeing, and indoor activities at the Lake Lodge. $20 per year and $10 per day boat rentals.
2. Prairie Island Campground
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge provides protected habitat for fish, wildlife and plants, and is an important breeding area for several bird species. Prairie Island is an ideal location to access the river and refuge areas for observing wildlife, paddling in the backwaters, and fishing and hunting. No matter what your pace, or purpose, Prairie Island Campground is an ideal launching point for your river adventure.
3. Perrot State Park
Perrot State Park, where the Trempealeau River meets the Mississippi River, offers breathtaking views from 500-foot bluffs. The river bank and surrounding wetlands provide wonderful habitat for the many migratory birds that travel through this area twice a year.
4. McNally Landing
A great place to launch a boat, kayak or canoe, Upper McNally Landing provides access to Polander Lake, a well-known fishing spot with wide-open water. Lower McNally Landing, located below the spillway, sets you into a popular boating channel with lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.
Map: Pool 5A
5. Mertes Slough / Latsch Island
Formerly known as St. Mary’s Bottoms, The US Fish and Wildlife Service bought the area in the 1980s. This peaceful and majestic spot, less than 5 minutes from Downtown Winona, allows for great birdwatching, fishing, and relaxed paddling. No gas-powered motors are permitted, making for safe and enjoyable canoeing and kayaking.
Latsch Island is on the other side of the highway from Mertes Slough. There, you’ll find a large public beach on the Main Channel of the Mississippi River, a public park, and paddling on the backside of the island, you’ll be treated to views of Winona’s famous boathouse community.
Maps: Pool 6
American Canoe Association Top 10 Safety Tips https://www.americancanoe.org/page/top_10
Basic Canoe Safety https://paddling.com/learn/basic-canoe-safety/
US Coast Guard – Boating Safety http://uscgboating.org
Check out the feature on Rob from The Winona Daily News here