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.
Glacier-carved canyon walls framing the falls of the Willow River. Great blue herons stalking the wildflowers along the Kinnickinnic River. 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.:m]]
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.
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.
Approximately 6,000 years ago, when Sumerian scholars were devising some of mankind's first mathematic systems, a mile-thick sheet of ice began to melt half a world away in the region known today as Minnesota. Slowly, the glacier shrank and poured gallons of water into the land around it, leaving behind gorgeous rock formations dotted with artistic ridges and eye-catching striations. Perhaps most notable of these formations is a structure that resembles a cross, which inspired settlers to name its surrounding river St. Croix, or "holy cross."
Today, modern humans can catch a glimpse of these awesome sights thanks to Wild Mountain. Seasonal activities include skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, where snow-goers explore 100 acres of hills encompassing 26 runs, bunny slopes for newcomers, and four terrain parks for the seasoned veterans. Wild Mountain also holds daily lessons, youth and adult programs, as well as racing competitions and camps run by knowledgable and trained northerners.
Outdoor enthusiasts Dan and Sandra Meer equip adventurers with canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards to explore a 60-mile stretch of the Mississippi River whose picturesque shores have been designated wild and scenic by the Department of Natural Resources. “One group we sent out on just a two- or three-hour trip counted 12 eagles,” Dan says, marveling at the myriad wild turkeys, muskrats, and deer that often congregate along the protected waterway to gossip about bald eagles’ unconvincing hair plugs. Gleaming schools of small-mouth bass lure fishermen to the rippling waters, and plentiful sandbars and shallow depths also beckon younger explorers. “We want to get kids involved,” says Dan—himself a former Boy Scout and now the father of two more Scouts. “Get them away from their screens.”
He and his wife entice those youths, and older adventurers as well, with day trips in canoes and kayaks whose hulls are made in nearby Wenonah. For overnight jaunts down the river, the couple rents both vessels and camping gear, and at their store—housed in an old creamery building on the riverbank—they sell new and used canoes and kayaks to dedicated paddlers who know the river so well they can fall asleep while swimming across it.