The Minnesota River Valley has long been a favorite escape and an equipment-testing ground for the staff at GearJunkie. Drive 20 minutes south from our office in Minneapolis and you hit the river, its wide, lush valley falling away to the east and west from a freeway bridge.
At 370 miles long, much of the river is a wilderness or abutting empty land. Even in the Twin Cities the valley feels wild. But motorboats troll and barges inch up-river from its mouth at the Mississippi. People fish from the banks and under bridges. Mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners share singletrack that runs for miles and miles along the banks.
Big rains this year have kept the river high. It’s flooding its banks. The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area, one of many parks along the river near Minneapolis, issued a “Visitor Alert!” explaining that its main river trail is “closed due to flooded conditions” (or, in other words, completely underwater).
We’ve been exploring the river and the valley anyways this spring, though via some unconventional means. A mountain bike ride last week turned into a swim. One day, we hopped on a Sea-Doo Spark to explore a bloated stretch of the river where little whirlpools where forming in eddies under a bridge.
The water flowed inland and up channels and small creeks, the Minnesota River going toward its high-water mark from decades ago. Oxbows, long abandoned by a winding river wanting to go straight, have reconnected to the main flow. We paddled in flooded trees, dark eerie no-man’s lands, swamps, and rare Minnesota bayous.
Here are some shots from the adventures. If you’re in the area, head down to the Minnesota River. By any means, it’s a true escape. —Stephen Regenold