Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Canoeing Elm Creek
by BigOarDeal

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 04/19/2020
Entry & Exit Point: Other
Number of Days: 1
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
There is a creek a mile from my house I've always wanted to canoe. The guidance to stay local as a result of the pandemic was the extra push we needed to make this a reality. One of the goals was to find out where the creek is navigable so I could take my family back later. I decided to publish this as I saw no information on Elm Creek and figure I can't be the only suburbanite BWCA fan that has thought of paddling a local creek.
Elm Creek runs from north from Plymouth(?) up to the Mississippi River in Champlin. I'm not exactly sure where Elm Creek starts, but it's definitely not navigable south of Maple Grove. Today we canoed the southern part of the creek, north up to the Elm Creek dam near the Maple Grove Arboretum. Next time I will want to start from the dam and head north, where it spends most of its time winding through Elm Creek Park Reserve, an enormous park just north of Maple Grove.

I would split our journey into three distinct stages:

1) Non-navigable creek

2) Navigable creek

3) Open water

Non-navigable creek

We started by portaging down a paved biking trail at the intersection of Nottingham Parkway and Dunkirk Lane. We walked a few hundred feet down the path, got some looks from some bikers/walkers who have surely never seen anyone carry a canoe down here. We found a spot to lay the canoe down into the water and begin our journey. Side note: this is the maiden journey for this canoe! My father-in-law gave me a royalex Woodsman III (same as Bell Northwind 16.5') hull. So I purchased seats, thwarts, yoke, handles and installed them all and this would be the first time in the water!

Just as we pushed off, a lady called down to us from the trail and wished us 'good luck' on our journey and complimented us on making the attempt to canoe it.

And it wasn't long... maybe about 20 feet or so around the bend, before deadfall forced us to portage.

And this was repeated about 6-7 times. Of course, there were a few occasions in which we were not forced to portage!

So unfortunately, this first part of the stream I would grade as non-navigable. If this creek were in my backyard, I would probably get the deadfall out of the way and then it would become navigable (is this legal on public land?) since depth was not an issue.

The last part of the non-navigable portion took us through some reed-choked parts of the stream until we got to a wider, open creek.

Navigable creek

This was definitely the best part of the trip. As you can see, the creek opened up quite a bit after getting through the reeds.

This is a very pretty part of the journey. So far, all of the land we had canoed through was public land (city/park owned). Soon we came to a culvert we were hoping we would be able to canoe through (hadn't done any recon beforehand). This goes under Weaver Lake Road.

Turns out it was plenty big enough!

After the culvert, we entered a cool part of the creek that went through a bunch of backyards. (Legal tangent: Riparian rights state that in MN as long as a body of water is adjacent to at least one piece of public property (e.g. road, park, etc.), then the public has a right to float on the water. So technically we were on private property, but legally since we were on the creek. Maybe everyone already knew this, but I researched it before since I saw we would be going through some neighborhoods.)

One distinct benefit of going through neighborhoods was that homeowners generally did a good job maintaining the navigability of the creek. There were a couple spots we had to lift the canoe over a log, but it was mostly free paddling. After a few bends, we spotted a boat lift--which means open water ahead!

Open water

This leg was probably the least interesting, but a nice change of pace. The creek opens up into Rice Lake, which intersects I-94. We canoed under the I-94 bridge and headed toward the northeast corner where the creek continues on.

The creek continues to be quite wide and many homeowners adjacent to the creek have pontoons or speedboats. The creek continues on past the Maple Grove Arboretum.

We paddled up to the Elm Creek dam. Since our time was running short, we decided to stop there. But I am very curious to continue our journey northbound past the dam into Elm Creek Park Reserve and maybe eventually all the way to the Mississippi! A great adventure and hopefully I inspired you to explore a creek of your own!