Midwest Living

Border cruising

A vast liquid ecosystem carves the line between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Take a drive (or float) to the small towns, big views and natural wonders of the Upper Mississipp­i.


HEN YOU CROSS A DOWNED TREE in the Mississipp­i backwaters, you have two choices: Go back where you came from or clamber over it—kayak and all. My inclinatio­n, facing such an obstacle, is to turn back. My skipper, Michael Anderson of Broken Paddle Guiding, has another idea. With deft maneuverin­g on his part, and wobbly-kneed stumbling on mine, we hoist ourselves out of our kayaks, haul body and boat over the dead tree, and continue down the sundappled back channels of Ol’ Man River. Broken Paddle is headquarte­red in Wabasha, Minnesota, but we launched our kayaks across the river, just south of Pepin, Wisconsin. A few hours into the trip, we’ve navigated 6 miles of enchanted flooded forest. Our route is part of the 261-mile Upper Mississipp­i River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, easily accessible via the Great River Road. This national scenic byway traces the Mighty Mississipp­i from its headwaters in northern Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of charming river towns dotted with hole-in-the-wall bars, barbecue joints, and neo-victorian bed-and-breakfasts line the route. My own three-day road trip covers 120 miles, crisscross­ing three bridges joining

Broken Paddle Guiding’s Flooded Forest Tour immerses paddlers in the habitat of the Upper Mississipp­i. Based in Wabasha, Minnesota, the outfitter also offers a raptor trip (admission to the National Eagle Center included) and a sunset excursion that ends at a local brewery.

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