Paddle into Minnesota's Wild Heart: Top 20 Wildlife Watching Destinations!

Minnesota's myriad lakes, rivers, and wetlands are more than just bodies of water; they are sanctuaries of the wild. For those seeking to immerse themselves in the state's natural splendor, paddle boarding offers an intimate connection to the environment, allowing for close encounters with a variety of wildlife. In this guide, we'll embark on a journey to discover the top 20 locations across Minnesota where the harmony between paddle boarders and wildlife creates an unforgettable tapestry of nature's beauty. So lets begin our tour of the best places to view wildlife from a sup in Minnesota!

Key Highlights

  1. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: A tranquil wilderness where moose and bald eagles roam.
  2. Lake Superior's North Shore: Encounter harbor seals and ospreys against rugged cliffs.
  3. Voyageurs National Park: Glide beside playful otters and watchful beavers in interconnected lakes.
  4. Lake Itasca: The starting point of the Mississippi River, home to painted turtles and great blue herons.
  5. Lake Bemidji: A serene lake setting for deer sightings and painted turtle encounters.
  6. Lake Minnetonka: Urban oasis for osprey nests and muskrat sightings.
  7. St. Croix River: Paddle past towering bluffs and watch for peregrine falcons.
  8. Gunflint Lake: Immerse in the wilderness with glimpses of black bears and red squirrels.
  9. Lake Pepin: A birdwatcher's paradise, from pelicans to bald eagles.
  10. Gull Lake: Watch for herons and sandhill cranes in this vibrant avian hub.

Photo Credits: Paddle Hoppers

1. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a mesmerizing tapestry of interconnected lakes and lush forests along the Minnesota-Canada border. Here, the tranquil waters are a mirror to the untouched wilderness that surrounds you. Paddle silently, and you might witness the graceful moose wading along the shoreline, their mirrored reflection creating an ethereal scene. Bald eagles, the watchful sentinels of the skies, soar overhead, their white heads and powerful wingspans cutting through the air. As you navigate through the pristine waters, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive gray wolves, their presence a reminder of the untamed heart of the wilderness.

2. Lake Superior's North Shore.

Lake Superior's North Shore, with its rugged cliffs and sparkling waters, offers a unique wildlife viewing experience. Paddle beside towering sea stacks, and you might spot harbor seals lounging on rocky outcrops. Osprey nests crown dead trees, and white-tailed deer make occasional appearances along the shore. Gaze out over the vast expanse of the lake, and you might even witness the silhouette of a majestic bald eagle as it scans the water's surface for its next meal.

3. Voyageurs National Park.

Voyageurs National Park, a mosaic of interconnected lakes and forested islands, offers a symphony of nature's wonders. Launch your paddle board and be serenaded by the haunting calls of loons, their cries echoing across the tranquil waters. Glide past the otters that gracefully dive and play, their sleek bodies leaving trails of ripples behind. Marvel at the industry of beavers constructing their lodges, a lesson in resourcefulness and architectural finesse. In this park, every paddle stroke is a brushstroke painting a picture of the wilderness in its purest form.

4. Lake Itasca.

Lake Itasca, the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River, is a haven of tranquility and natural wonder. As you paddle along its shores, painted turtles might sunbathe on logs, their colorful markings a testament to the artistry of nature. In the shallows, great blue herons wade gracefully, their slender forms blending with the reeds. Watch as red foxes dart through the underbrush, their russet coats a flash of color against the green backdrop. Here, where the journey of the Mississippi begins, your paddle board becomes a vessel of discovery.

5. Lake Bemidji.

Lake Bemidji, a serene expanse of water surrounded by lush forests, offers a front-row seat to nature's theater. Glide gently across the water, and you might encounter the painted turtles that line the logs, their distinctive markings like a painter's masterpiece. As you approach the shore, white-tailed bucks might venture down for a drink, their antlers framed by the verdant foliage. The calm waters mirror the beauty that surrounds you, creating an experience that is as peaceful as it is mesmerizing.

6. Lake Minnetonka.

Lake Minnetonka, a tranquil oasis near the Twin Cities, invites paddle boarders to explore its hidden corners. Osprey nests perch atop dead trees, offering a glimpse into the lives of these skilled hunters. Muskrats nibble on aquatic vegetation, a reminder of the delicate balance between creatures and their environment. Glide through the glassy waters, and you might catch sight of a great horned owl perched on a branch, its large eyes fixed on the world below. Lake Minnetonka is a stage where nature's drama unfolds, inviting you to be both observer and participant.

7. St. Croix River.

The St. Croix River, meandering between Minnesota and Wisconsin, is a testament to the timeless dance between water and rock. As you paddle along its course, towering bluffs rise like sentinels, their rugged beauty a testament to the passage of time. Peregrine falcons grace the skies, their rapid flight a marvel of nature's design. Along the shoreline, deer venture cautiously, their presence a reminder of the wild heart that beats within this tranquil landscape. The St. Croix River is a journey through history, where the stories of the land and its inhabitants intertwine.

8. Gunflint Lake.

Nestled in the heart of the Gunflint Trail, Gunflint Lake is a pristine canvas waiting to be explored. Crystal-clear waters reflect the dense forests that surround the lake, creating a sense of immersion in nature's embrace. Black bears, those elusive creatures of the Northwoods, forage along the shoreline, a glimpse into their secretive lives. The red squirrels that dart among the trees add a touch of liveliness to the serene landscape. Gunflint Lake is a sanctuary of solitude, where the whispers of the wilderness echo in every ripple.

9. Lake Pepin.

inflatable paddle boards on a lake

Lake Pepin, the widest part of the Mississippi River, is a gateway to avian wonders. American white pelicans grace the skies, their impressive wingspans and graceful flight patterns captivating observers. Bald eagles, symbols of strength and majesty, hunt for fish, their piercing gaze a reminder of their role as apex predators. Amidst the beauty of the water and the sky, the surrounding bluffs provide a dramatic backdrop to this natural spectacle. Lake Pepin is a testament to the interconnectedness of life along the river's course.

10. Gull Lake.

Gull Lake, with its inviting waters and picturesque coves, is a sanctuary for avian enthusiasts. Blue herons stand like statues in the shallows, their poised demeanor a symbol of patience and grace. The melody of songbirds fills the air as you glide past the verdant shoreline, creating a symphony of nature's harmonies. Paddle in tranquility, and you might witness the playful courtship dance of the sandhill cranes, their elegant movements a celebration of life's rituals. Gull Lake is a canvas of colors and sounds that evoke a sense of wonder.

11. Big Stone Lake.

Resting on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, Big Stone Lake is a haven of diverse life. White-tailed deer graze at the water's edge, their delicate movements blending with the landscape. Coyotes, skilled hunters of the prairie, move with purpose, their eyes sharp and attentive. The lake's shores are alive with the rustling of creatures both small and large, creating a symphony of nature's rhythms. Big Stone Lake is a testament to the delicate equilibrium of ecosystems in the heart of the Midwest.

12. Lake Winnibigoshish.

Lake Winnibigoshish, affectionately known as "Lake Winnie," is a haven of secrets waiting to be uncovered. River otters, those aquatic acrobats, frolic in the shallows, their playful antics a source of endless amusement. Bald eagles soar above, their piercing eyes scanning the water for potential prey. The lake's tranquil surface belies the intricate dance of life beneath it, where schools of fish dart and play. Lake Winnie is a reminder that beneath the calm exterior lies a vibrant world brimming with life.

13. Upper Red Lake.

During migration season, Upper Red Lake becomes a temporary refuge for a multitude of waterfowl. The sky comes alive with the graceful flight of ducks and geese, their formations a tribute to nature's patterns. Paddle through these flocks, and you'll become part of their journey, an observer of their annual pilgrimage. Amidst the flurry of wings, the American bittern might make a fleeting appearance, its cryptic camouflage a testament to its mastery of blending in. Upper Red Lake is a seasonal theater where the stories of countless birds unfold.

14. Lake Traverse.

Lake Traverse, straddling the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, is a serene sanctuary for migratory birds. Sandhill cranes, those elegant dancers of the wetlands, perform their intricate rituals, their calls echoing across the water. Trumpeter swans, symbols of grace and purity, glide across the lake's surface, leaving ripples in their wake. In this shared space between two states, nature's creatures find common ground, creating a tableau of harmony and coexistence. Lake Traverse is a living example of the unifying power of the natural world.

15. Lake of the Woods.

Lake of the Woods, a watery labyrinth of islands and inlets, is a realm of exploration and discovery. Timber wolves, those enigmatic denizens of the forest, occasionally reveal themselves along the shore, their haunting howls a reminder of the wild's mysteries. Loons, with their eerie calls, glide across the water's surface, a link between the aquatic and the ethereal. Islands, each with its unique ecosystem, create a mosaic of landscapes, each with its own stories waiting to be told. Lake of the Woods is a testament to the endless diversity of nature's expressions.

16. Rainy Lake.

Rainy Lake, adorned with a multitude of islands and inlets, beckons with the promise of untamed beauty. River otters, those agile swimmers, accompany your paddle, their curiosity evident in their playful approach. Among the trees, warblers flit and dart, their vibrant colors a kaleidoscope of nature's palette. The haunting calls of loons echo in the distance, carrying the stories of the lake's history. Rainy Lake is a canvas where every stroke of your paddle blends with the symphony of life around you.

17. Lake Vermilion.

Lake Vermilion, with its rocky shores and clear waters, is a landscape of contrasts. Mink, those elusive hunters, dart along the shoreline, their lithe bodies a testament to their adaptability. Common loons, symbols of northern lakes, call to one another with their haunting cries, creating an atmosphere of ethereal beauty. Rocky outcroppings provide perches for great horned owls, their silent flight a reminder of the night's mysteries. Lake Vermilion is a journey through nature's textures, where every stone and ripple tells a story of the land's evolution.

18. Woman Lake.

Woman Lake, cradled by the Northwoods, is a haven of tranquility and life. Common mergansers, those elegant divers, nest along its shores, their sleek forms cutting through the water with grace. Red foxes, skilled hunters of the underbrush, venture out for their daily pursuits, their russet coats a vibrant contrast against the greenery. The tranquil waters mirror the beauty that surrounds you, creating a sense of harmony and connection. Woman Lake is a refuge where time slows, and the rhythms of nature take center stage.

19. Cedar Lake.

Cedar Lake, nestled within the embrace of the Northwoods, is a sanctuary for creatures both large and small. Great horned owls, those silent night hunters, glide on soundless wings above the water, their large eyes scanning for movement. The haunting howls of gray wolves carry on the wind, a reminder of the wild's enduring presence. Amidst the trees, the rustling of leaves might reveal the presence of white-tailed deer, their graceful movements a tribute to the landscape's serenity. Cedar Lake is a portrait of the Northwoods' mysteries, where every sound and shadow holds a secret.

20. Lake Waconia.

Lake Waconia, a gem near the Twin Cities, is a sanctuary for waterfowl and wildlife. River otters chase each other through the water, their boundless energy a reminder of the simple joys of life. Flocks of migrating ducks create a vibrant spectacle in the sky, their formations a testament to the magic of synchronized flight. Lake Waconia's shores become a theater of nature's wonders, where the interconnectedness of life is on full display. Paddle through the water, and you become part of this intricate dance of existence.


dogs on a paddle board

Minnesota's waters are not just pathways for paddle boards; they are gateways to the natural world. The top 20 locations highlighted in this guide offer a glimpse into the lives of creatures both big and small, both above and below the water's surface. From the majestic moose to the elusive gray wolves, each location has its own stories to tell, its own lessons to impart. So, let the gentle rhythm of your paddle strokes carry you into the heart of Minnesota's wilderness, where the beauty of the land and its inhabitants intertwine in a symphony of life.

Tips, Tricks, and Fun Articles await.

Here are a few quick links to help you keep going, don't forget to check our blog out for more tips and expert advice. For wildlife tips check out our blog and this article on Beginners Guide To Bird Watching. And don't forget to read our article on Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Wildlife Encounters. For a complete guide of where to paddle board in every state, this one is for you! The best places to paddle board in the United States a state by state tour of where to paddle board with Glide Paddle Boards.

Or perhaps something international is what you are looking for, then these two articles will help out. Check out the ultimate guide on finding places to paddle board near you for tips and tricks on finding new and exciting places near you! And for international spots Epic Spots Globally To Paddle Board is for you! And check out the Glide O2 Angler and why it makes an incredible platform for birding and wildlife viewing.