Robert and Nicole Stai have a passion for the outdoors. Combined, they have been avid adventurers more than 50 years?including several years of marriage. The Stai's opened The Gear ReSource Outfitters in order to equip others for adventures of their own. They keep their shop stocked with the industry's newest gear, as well as lightly used and consignment items brought in by customers or bears trying to clear room in their dens for flat-screen screen TVs. More than just a source for outdoor apparel, Robert and Nicole also help customers put their purchases to work with guided adventures, including canoeing and kayaking trips in the summer and snowshoe treks in the winter.
Nestled among the trees that surround Lake Minnetonka, Tommy's Tonka Trolley's bright yellow exterior and neon signs lure in passersby with promises of summertime treats and adventures on the water. Their fleet of kayaks and standup paddleboards accommodate beginners, who can launch their chosen vessel from a special floating dock built by the nation's best sturgeon architects. Before sending customers onto the scenic lake, Tommy's crew instructs them on proper usage and supplies maps showcasing various on-water locals.
Back on shore, staff members serve selections from a menu of hot dogs, sandwiches, and tasty treats. Scoops of Sebastian Joe's Ice Cream, lauded as one of the nation's best ice creams by USA Today, pile onto waffle cones and chill taste buds with flavors that range from salty caramel to coffee oreo.
Though they've only been leading paddling tours for a few years, the certified guides of Stand Up MN have already helped thousands of people explore the Twin Cities' local waterways up close. After equipping their guests with standup paddleboards, personal flotation devices, and ample training, they embark on trips along the quiet stretch of the Mississippi River that cuts through their urban landscape.
From St. Paul, groups glide under bridges and pass idyllic natural areas—and from Minneapolis, they can take a break from paddling to high-five low-flying birds from a rope swing over the water. Stand Up MN also leads extended paddling tours to Taylors Falls, where state parks and tumbling waterfalls abound. These excursions are complemented by the company's special events, which include speed-dating events at which participants spend most of the time hanging out while paddleboarding.
More than 15 years ago, Wisconsin-based Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters Wisconsin introduced everyday people of all ages and walks of life to the unspoiled forests and sparkling blue waters of the Kinnickinnic River valley. What began as a nature outpost offering guests six rental canoes and three rooms, soon expanded into a spacious resort with a fleet of 100 kayaks.
Today, Kinni Creek is spread across 180 feet of private, scenic shoreline along the Kinnickinnic River. The resorts boasts 100 kayaks for rent, a fly shop and fly-fishing school, and vacation cottage and fly-fishing lodge. Everyone from corporate camping outings to students and youth groups to families of vacationers commune with nature as they kayak past the bluffs and prairies of the Kinni, fly-fish for trout, or relax in a rustic bed-and-breakfast chalet.
The rooms also exude their own sense of eco-friendly character. Its owners lluminate rooms with energy saving light bulbs, recycle and compost when possible, and use clothes lines for solar drying.
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Great blue herons stalking the wildflowers along the Kinnickinnic River. Trout leaping out of the water to feed. Owner and lifelong outdoorsman Mike Kealy and his guides lead kayaking trips past these and more dramatic sites, which typify the undeveloped riverbanks throughout eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Each outing begins at a select meet-up point, from which guides provide shuttle service to and from the launch sites. Along with unveiling the rivers? untouched scenery, River Guide?s team can also add a fishing guide to each trip, taking guests into streams teeming with brown, rainbow, and zebra-striped trout.
About 30 minutes from Minneapolis, the crew of Kinni Kayak runs tours on the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls, Wisconsin. The 3.5-hour excursions travel an 8-mile stretch of the river in a secluded, nonresidential area teeming with wildlife. For first-time kayakers, Kinni offers lessons with instruction as basic as how to sit in the craft and hold the paddle and as advanced as paddling techniques and fish grammar.