Canoeing at Welch Mill: Fun, even if you’re not a nature person


I graduated from Macalester College this May and was decompressing before continuing the dreary search for a summer job when one of my housemates came in and asked if I wanted to go on a canoe trip the next day.

I hesitated at first, because I’m not really a super nature kind of girl. I classify people into three categories:
• those who wouldn’t go anywhere near a tent even if you paid them,
• those who sometimes go camping or canoeing at the insistence of their friends, and
• those you suspect live in hiking boots because it’s almost freakish how many of their Facebook pictures show them backpacking.

I am in the second category, a person who tags along at the insistence of her friends. So the next day, I piled into a car with four other people and we drove south to Welch, Minnesota to canoe on the Cannon River. Though some of my friends may veer toward the last category of nature people, this canoe trip was very laid-back. Welch Mill Canoeing and Tubing is a place for people of all ages and all levels of nature enthusiasm or experience.

A family-run business, Welch Mill opened for summer customers the first week in May. Owner Ross Nelson told me they have had tubing since 1972 and canoeing since 1981.

“I thought it was something I was just going to do in high school,” Nelson said, explaining the long family legacy, “but then I just kept doing it.”

My friends and I brought along a cooler of beer and some snacks for the journey. (You can bring coolers, just no Styrofoam, and beverages, as long as they aren’t in glass bottles.) This was my first real, organized canoe trip, not counting the times a childhood friend and I canoed in circles on a lake in Wisconsin because we couldn’t figure out how to steer.

As we floated down the river, sipping beers and munching watermelon, we all agreed that the trip was a perfect kick-off for summer. Occasionally racing or bumping into each other with our canoes, laughing or bossing each other around about steering, all the stress from our final college days melted away. I enjoyed looking at birds and dipping or splashing my paddle into the water.

Despite the economy, Nelson expects business to continue as usual. “Recessions don’t affect our business,” he said, “people still set aside money to do a small trip.”

Canoeing at Welch Mill is indeed perfect for a small day trip. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to drive there from the Twin Cities. The cost is $25 per canoe for a five-mile trip and $30 per canoe for a twelve-mile trip. If you want to travel the river solo, the price of a kayak is $15 for the five-mile and $20 for the twelve-mile. (Cash only – no debit cards or checks, according to the website.)

Nelson explained that for families it may be better to come during the week and earlier in the day. “We get a pretty good variety [of customers],” he said. “A lot of families during the week, and as the day progresses the crowd gets rowdier.”

For other places to rent canoes, near the Twin Cities or around Minnesota, check out listings.

Ellen Frazel is a recent graduate from Macalester College ( with a degree in English and Creative Writing.

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