Best Places to Paddle Part 2

By: Grant Armour

June 08, 2020

Category: Recreation

When I think of my dream paddling location, I think about a lake with glassy water and dappled sunlight coming through the shoreline trees. Ideally, there is an island or three to paddle around, ample wildlife and minimal power-boat traffic. 

That’s a tall order, but with the right weather and planning, I can think of more than a few lakes around Three Rivers Park District that meet my desires. Alyssa hit on many of them in her Best Places to Paddle post, but here are a few more spots for your paddling pleasure! 

1. Hyland Lake — Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Bloomington

A small island emerges from a calm lake a sunny spring day.
Hyland Lake. Photo courtesy of Grant Armour.

While Hyland Lake Park Reserve may be best known for cross-country and downhill skiing, in the summer months all that snow melts back into water – and that water can be found in Hyland Lake. 

Entering the park from the recreation entrance, you will find the lake access on your right just before arriving at the visitor center. Here, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and paddle boats are available to rent starting June 11. Parking is limited near the boat ramp, but there is plenty of parking in the adjacent Sunnyside Picnic Area. 

Hyland Lake is restricted to electric motors so you won't be paddling through strong wakes. 

Once on the lake, you will find its sole island due south of you. As I paddled, a pair of ospreys were perched at the top of the trees on the small island, their keen eyes on the hunt for fish. 

The shoreline is my favorite thing about Hyland Lake. Because the lake is completely encircled by the park, the shoreline is quiet other than the animals – and a few anglers. Gentle hills rise from the water’s edge into the ambling woods that occupy the southern portions of Hyland Lake Park Reserve. 

2. Half Moon Lake — Baker Park Reserve, Maple Plain

A long wooded dock cuts through cattails before jutting out into a lake.
Half Moon Lake. Photo courtesy of Grant Armour.

If you drive past the Half Moon Group Campsite in Baker Park Reserve, you will come to a small parking area surrounded by woods and an unsuspecting boat launch. As a carry-in launch, the pleasures of Half Moon Lake are reserved for those who are willing to haul their watercraft a few hundred yards from the parking area to the dock down on the lake. 

My latest paddle on Half Moon was one of the most wildlife-laden paddles I have been on this year. Once on the water, a pair of loons appeared across the lake to the north. As I made my way east toward the marshy slough, a pair of trumpeter swans came casually around the corner. For a moment I found stillness as I floated with swans on my right and loons on my left, once again surprised by the beauty and power of nature in its daily motion. 

Ducks, a muskrat, eagles, a great blue heron and more all added to my float on this small lake. While the territory I covered was not vast, the experience left me smiling and satisfied, even after carrying my 65-pound kayak back up the hill to my car. 

3. Steiger Lake — Carver Park Reserve, Victoria

Cattails and trees line the shores of a lake. The tip of a yellow kayak can be seen in the foreground.
Steiger Lake. Photo courtesy of Grant Armour.

After turning off Arboretum Boulevard and crossing the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail, you can find access to Steiger Lake in Carver Park Reserve down a short and serpentine gravel road that nearly tricked me into thinking I was approaching a Boundary Waters lake access point. That feeling of giddy joy, knowing that it was nearly time to dip my paddle blades into the water, washed over me as the first view of the lake revealed itself beyond the final curve. 

About a dozen cars and trucks, half with empty boat trailers were sprinkled throughout the boat launch lot. An adjacent fishing pier was dotted with those who had not come to Steiger with a boat. It was a warm and sunny Friday afternoon and a couple of children were trying their hardest to catch minnows near the boat ramp with their bare hands. 

With the boat ramp on the southeast side of the lake, it was a perfect location for the prevailing northwest winds to blow me home at the end of my paddle. 

Paddling gently along the northern shore of the lake where cattails give way to woodland, the familiar sound of plip-plop-slip-drop repeated itself. Small groups of painted turtles adjourned their sunning to seek the safety of the water. Working my way west I could see the low-lying land between Steiger Lake and Lake Auburn, a marshy space filled with more cattails.

Throughout my paddle I was treated to the views of a mostly white bird with a pointy orange beak repeatedly diving down to the water, clearly on the hunt for a fish lunch. After consulting one of Three Rivers’ wildlife biologists, I learned that I had been watching a tern! 

With Lake Zumbra and Lake Auburn boat launches both nearby, still inside of the bounds of the vast Carver Park Reserve, I knew that if Steiger Lake had been too busy, I had plenty of nearby alternatives. 

Want to learn more about building your paddling skills and safety knowledge? Check out upcoming paddling programs offered by the Outdoor Recreation School! Want to learn more from your couch (or hammock)? Cruise over to the Outdoor Recreation School Facebook page to see some skill builder videos! Ready to try it on your own? Kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and more will be available to rent at several Three Rivers parks beginning June 11. This year, all rentals must be reserved online. We look forward to seeing you on the water!

About the Author

A man in a hat and sunglasses smiles at the camera while paddling in a kayak.

Grant Armour has been with the Outdoor Recreation School of Three Rivers since the summer of 2017. He has been a sea kayak guide in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior and has canoed with participants across this country from Utah to Washington, D.C., to Texas. A love for all things paddling means that Grant has spent at least 75 days on the water each year over the last few years. Grant’s biggest message when it comes to paddling is: “Wear your life jacket and have fun out there!” 

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