My experience using the new Paddle Share kayak rental program

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The Mississippi River Paddle Share program opened in late 2016 as an exciting opportunity for those looking to take a kayak down the Mississippi River for an enjoyable kayaking experience without the hassle of renting one, or bringing your own and carting it over to the boat landing.

My wife and I ended up testing this out last weekend. Here, I share my thoughts and offer tips to help those that are looking to try it out.

The Rental Process

The whole process of renting kayaks and returning them is fairly streamlined. I was impressed because I’ve never heard or seen anything like it. I’m used to going down to Lake Calhoun and standing in line for as long as it takes to get a rental.

The Paddle Share program on the Mississippi makes the process pretty painless.

I reserved our two single person kayaks about a week in advance. Would they have been out of kayaks if I had reserved later? I’m unsure, but there is only a limited amount and I didn’t want to end up being surprised.

It’s quite simple to get started. I went online to www.paddleshare.org where you can make a reservation.

Currently, there are two options for the length of your trip. You can either start at one of two places up the river and kayak down to the Boom Island Park ending point:

  • Start at Mississippi Regional Park and kayak down to Boom Island Park (3.9 miles)
  • Start at Lowry Ave Bridge and kayak down to Boom Island Park (1.7 miles)
map of paddleshare
Map of Paddle Share entry and exit points

They do have a 3rd option that is not available yet that is a bit of a longer trip, as well as offering access to different parts of the river: You’ll be able to go from Hidden Falls Regional Park to Harriet Island Regional Park (a 6.3 mile trip).

Anyways, we decided on the longest route currently available, starting at Mississippi Regional Park.

Booking Online

When you book online through paddleshare.org, it gives you a few options that you need to select:

  • Date
  • Time Slot (7:30 AM-10:30 AM), 12PM to 3PM, or 4:30PM to 7:30PM)
  • Type of Kayak (single or tandem)
  • How many kayaks you want (you’ll be able to see what’s available and what isn’t
booking screen
Booking Online

The cost is either $25 for each single kayak, or $40 for each tandem. They are available for 3 hours at a time.

It was a very simple process. We ended up getting two single kayaks (there’s no way my wife and I would survive 3.9 miles in the same kayak…) and booked it for a Sunday morning slot.

After booking, I received an email confirmation of the booking as well as another email with the digital lock access codes that we needed to unlock the kayaks at the rental station.

The Day Of

That Sunday morning, we drove over to Mississippi Regional park and parked in the lot there. You walk a short ways down to the river bank where there’s a whole host of kayaks stacked on racks as well as lockers.

During the rental process, you’re given a number for each kayak and locker in which you have to use your digital access codes to unlock.

Pretty simple and pretty cool.

We did struggle a bit getting our kayak down off the top rack, but we managed and inside each locker there was a life jacked and paddle. We then carried the kayaks a short ways down the sandy landing area and put them in and off we went. The whole getting started process probably took 15 minutes.

Kayaking down the Mississippi was an enjoyable experience. I really hadn’t seen much of the Northeast riverbank: there’s plenty of interesting old architecture and buildings to keep your attention.

factories
Factories along the river

I wouldn’t say it is a journey meant solely for relaxation, however, as the current definitely does what it wants; there was no way to put your paddle down and expect the current to continue pulling you leisurely down the river. I was quite surprised by this. If I put down my paddle even for a minute to take a picture, your kayak ended up just starting to turn sideways due to the river tow.

As you paddle south towards downtown Minneapolis, you get a spectacular view of the city looming in the distance. It is quite remarkable.

view of mpls
View from the Mississippi of Downtown Minneapolis on the trip

Nearing the end of the 3.9 mile trip, I was actually glad my wife was in front of me because I would have completely missed the exit point on the river to return the kayaks. It’s very well hidden (which was my one pet peeve).

So note to all of you: look on the left as you get close to the city for an inlet with some return station signs. I can only imagine how many people have missed this and then have to kayak up river against the current to get back to the return station.

There’s a little outlet with a small sandy beach area where you pull in to return the kayaks.

It probably took us an hour and a half max to reach the end point. So my advice, take your time on the river; we probably cruised a little too fast.

Returning the kayaks is fair simple, you just carry them to the racks and loop a locking cable through the eyelets and attach it to the lever on the shed, which automatically locks it up.

Getting Back to the Car

The only thing we had left to do was get back to our car up river. Since we didn’t opt to drop a car off at the return point (like some people do), we decided to just grab a bike from the NiceRide bike sharing station right in Boom Island Park and bike back up to Mississippi Regional park.

It was cheap, and it was quick. The route was very bike friendly, it probably only took another hour to get back to the parking lot our car was in. And there’s a bike return station right there as well.

Would I recommend the experience?

Definitely. If you don’t own a kayak yourself and are moderately experienced, I think this is a great thing to try out this summer. There’s nothing quite like paddling down the Mississippi with a beautiful view of Minneapolis in the background. It makes for a nice few hours of exercise.

The price is pretty great too: Renting at Lake Calhoun for only an hour is comparable and your get 3 hours of time with the sharing program.

I think I’ll wait until the 3rd route opens up to try it again, but if you’re looking to test this out, head on over to paddleshare.org to book a trip of your own.