The weather is warming, rivers have thawed, and the water trails are ready for exploring again. Paddling is a great way to get in some exercise and experience the natural environment differently than if you were on land hiking or biking. Here are a few options in the area to try out.
The Iowa River provides a convenient water trail to those who enjoy paddling. For an easy float with minimal challenges, drop a kayak in at Sturgis Ferry Landing just south of the Highway 6 Bridge on Riverside Drive and head towards the boat landing at the Hills Access. Paddle down through rolling Iowa countryside, admire the unique river cabins along the way, catch glimpses of water animals swimming about and bald eagles perched in tall cottonwood trees, and maybe even see another paddler or two. I recommend packing a snack, some water, and maybe a few beers from your favorite local brewery. The roughly nine-mile float can be as fast as two and a half hours, where a leisurely float can be closer to three and a half to four hours.
For a more challenging paddle, try out the English River between Kalona and Riverside. Accessing the river in Kalona is a bit tricky. I’ve found the easiest way is to park near the Highway 1 Bridge, just south of Kalona, and carry your kayak or canoe down to the base of the bridge to put in. To exit the river in Riverside, there’s a boat access point in Hall Park. Compared to the Iowa River, this is much tighter with oxbows every one hundred to two hundred yards. Due to its size, there are many more fallen trees in the river that you’ll want to avoid. The surrounding landscape is hillier than the Iowa, and you’ll likely see fewer paddlers here, though the area is popular with fishermen. The paddle is upwards of ten miles, and can take close to 4 hours. Don’t plan on too much leisurely floating on this one as you’ll be required to maneuver often around obstacles and turns.
For the more relaxed float, take your watercraft to Lake MacBride just west of Solon. I recommend putting in at the boat ramp just off Opie Avenue, which turns into Lake MacBride Road as you arrive at the shoreline. This area of the lake is less populated than it tends to be by the State Park beach, and provides ample space to float while avoiding sailboats, pontoons and fishermen. I like heading across to the south shore, and paddling through the lily pads (where you would otherwise get tied up if you were in a motor craft). While you should wear sunscreen whenever you’re out on a sunny day, definitely don’t forget it here. Compared to rivers, there aren’t many opportunities for shade unless you head to the shoreline to find some tall oak trees. On a sunny day, head out near dinner time. The lake is calm, not too busy, and is a great place to take in a warm Iowa sunset.
If you are interested in purchasing your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, there are many retailers in the area who supply them such as Scheels and Fin & Feather. If you would prefer to rent equipment, Lake Macbride has rentals, and so does University of Iowa’s Outdoor Rental Center (located in the West Campus Tennis Center) for those looking to hit the rivers. Just remember, rivers can be dangerous places. If you don’t have experience paddling on your own, go with someone first who knows what they are doing and learn a few tips about avoid precarious spots on the water.
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