With historical significance and an abundance of wildlife, the Pine River has a lot to offer. Locals are now starting to revive the river’s use by locals.
Official DNR maps record the length of the Pine at 59.2 river miles stretching from Pine Mountain Lake in Backus, all the way to the Mississippi. Each stretch of the river has a different personality, some are narrow with bogs, some wide with sand and gravel bottoms. The river has a lot of unused potential.
Recently, Jim Bergquist began consigning his kayaks at Wireless Woods and JJ’s Trading Post in Pine River. Bergquist purchased Crow Wing Kayaks from Stearns Manufacturing in Brainerd in September. He has begun negotiations with Doug Taylor of Action Entertainment. Taylor would like to begin leading historical entertainment tours of the Pine from the Pine River Dam to highway 15 near Upper Whitefish Lake.
“There’s a very intriguing little excursion. We could go the whole distance, or with busy schedules maybe they want more of a 45 minute to an hour,” Taylor said. “I would research and look for something that has the most entertainment value so we can give people the best time possible and make the trip as valuable as possible.”
Recently, Taylor took a trip down the Pine in a kayak to test the feasibility of his tour idea. Bergquist provided the kayaks and discussed the possibility of furnishing rentals for the excursions. The results of the trip were positive.
“If somebody called me tomorrow and wanted to take five people down the river, I could arrange it tomorrow,” Taylor said. “To set that up I don’t find it something that’s much of an inconvenience. All of our equipment is right in Pine River and it should be up and rolling pretty quick.”
Michelle Holden has a lot of experience in river kayaking. She has kayaked the entire Crow Wing River, and the Mississippi River from the headwaters all the way through half of Iowa. She and a friend, Jeanette Wolmut, started their local kayaking hobby with the Pine River 13 years ago.
“We actually did the whole thing from Backus from the Pine Mountain Lake all the way to the Mississippi River, but that’s not recommended, and for good reason,” Holden said. “I would suggest you start somewhere closer to Pine River where the river gets a little wider, like even somewhere near Harriet, before Norway, somewhere right around there.”
“It’s very narrow, and there’s places that there’s some floating bog type areas where you’re not exactly sure where the river is, so it gets a little dicey,” Holden said. “After Brockway it gets a little dicey. Also, by Caddis Creek it’s really small. You have quite a few little portages, little cement dams and that kind of stuff. Being from Backus we thought we’d try, and we did it, we survived it.”
Pine Mountain Lake to Lake Hattie the river is narrow, interrupted by roads and dams. This first stretch requires portaging. From Hattie to Norway Lake the river widens and has fewer interruptions.
The stretch from the Pine River Dam to Upper Whitefish Lake, the route taken by Taylor and Bergquist, is wider, clear, and constant. There are a few minor rapids, but the river is shallow, rarely reaching four feet in depth.
“The main part from Pine River to Crosslake is beautiful,” Holden said.
From Crosslake and south the river is rural with a sand and gravel bottom. The river offers the opportunity for kayakers to bird watch, swim, and fish. All of this should be done with private property in mind, as many sections of the river have no public property.
According to Holden, the Pine River is a high quality option for kayakers to take simple day trips.
“When we did the Pine River we did day trips. We didn’t do any camping. We were close enough to home that we could have a car on each end or have somebody pick us up,” she said.
There are also sparse camps established along the river by either the DNR or private rental campsites. Some of these even offer picnic cooking areas and bathrooms. Most of them can be found on the DNR’s water trail map of the Pine River, available online or at local information centers and DNR offices.
“The DNR does put out a really nice map,” Holden said.
The maps label dams, rapids, public property and shore fishing locations.
Kayaks are becoming more locally available. ALCO, in Pine River, carries two varieties of beginner kayaks. There are some resorts that carry kayaks for their guests, and Chlebecek’s Riverview RV park has offered canoe rentals and shuttle services to the general public for years. Starting this summer, they added four kayaks to their offerings.
“Sometimes the river isn’t really high. During the middle of the summer it gets pretty low. Then it isn’t navigable with the canoes. Otherwise you portage them all the time,” Jeff Chlebecek said. “Most of the time, depending on the weather, it is navigable for a kayak.”
“It really is great fun, and it’s really and underused gem I think,” Holden said. “In Cass County and Crow Wing county, I think a lot of people don’t think about it, because if they want to go somewhere they go to the Boundary Waters or something, but just for day trips you can get a lot of really nice paddling in a day around here.”
Over all the Pine is a shallow river that runs in a leisurely pace. According to Taylor, Bergquist, Holden and Chlebecek, this makes it a safe place to kayak. The current even ensures that kayakers don’t have to work hard.
According to the DNR, Minnesota has the most mapped water trails in the nation. The current of the Pine River can help kayakers travel at a rate of 2-3 miles per hour depending on weather conditions. Kayakers should always travel with other kayakers, bring water, wear life jackets, and never litter.
During early spring conditions, Holden suggests that spare clothes should be packed in dry bags, as hypothermia is a bigger danger on this river than the rapids.
For more information on kayaking the Pine River, you can visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/news/podcasts/wt_pine.html for a DNR podcast, http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/watertrails/pineriver/index.html for a map and historical information, or rent “Paddling Northern Minnesota: 86 Great Trips By Canoe And Kayak” By Lynne Smith Diebel from your local library.