Guiding company gives visitors an edge on the Mississippi River
Broken Paddle Guiding Co. in Wabasha, Minnesota, offers guided tours of the backwaters of North America's longest river.
WABASHA, Minn. — When Michael Anderson co-owned a bed and breakfast, one of his favorite parts of the job was taking guests out on kayaks on the Mississippi River.
He shed the constant stream of laundry and housework he didn’t enjoy when he founded Broken Paddle Guiding Co. in Wabasha in 2012.
Broken Paddle offers planned tours around the backwaters of the Mississippi River or an opportunity to rent a boat to go your own way. And the only laundry he has to do is his own.
When the COVID-19 pandemic limited recreation opportunities, Broken Paddle thrived. The business enjoyed its busiest seasons in 2020 and 2021, Anderson said.
“By far,” he added.
The extra business allowed the business to buy another van and trailer. That helps dealing with the logistics of putting into the water and picking up tour groups, which means they can guide paddlers on tours more often.
Part of the fun of building the business was figuring out routes for tours.
Anderson was one of two guides taking half a dozen paddlers on a flooded forest tour through the backwaters of the Mississippi in Wisconsin.
In late August, the water is low and a section near the put-in area is mud.
“The first 100 feet are ugly,” said Taylor Treinen, a Broken Paddle guide. “The rest, well it can’t get any worse.”
Treinen teaches one-on-one kayak lessons too.
Becky and Glen Pattee, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, joined the tour as part of an anniversary trip to the Driftless area. Becky said she got the idea from a co-worker who went on a Broken Paddle tour as a retirement gift.
“It’s like floating down the lazy river at the water park,” Glen said. “But for adults.”
The rest of the tour is calm. Despite small storms popping up close enough to give some rumbles of thunder, the group remained mostly dry.
The backwaters offered plenty of glimpses of raptors, turtles, mussels and other wildlife. The tour ended with a trip south on the Mississippi River back to Wabasha. Wind churned the surface of the river but the guides kept the group close and the paddlers were able to navigate through the brief period of waves.
Anderson said part of the fun of developing the business was finding routes for the tours. The flooded forest tour takes about 4 hours. Another backwater trip, the sunset trip is about 1 hour.
People can also choose their own adventure. Spring brings higher waters and opportunities to paddle, well, anywhere.
“You can go any direction you want through the trees, which is fun,” Anderson said.
Anderson enjoyed canoe trips in the boundary waters growing up. He worked at Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters in Grand Marais, Minnesota. After a stint with the Conservation Corps in northern Minnesota, a longtime friend invited him to co-run a bed and breakfast his friend had purchased as an investment property.
“None of us had stayed at a B&B or worked in a kitchen,” Anderson said.
Anderson said it was a fun job and that he enjoyed the guests but wanted to find a way to make a living spending more time outdoors. He bought a building on Main Street in Wabasha and established Broken Paddle.
Most of his customers come from the nearby region, he said.
“We get quite a few people from Rochester,” he said. “More than I expected when we first started out.”
Summer does bring a larger share of tourists from further away, he added.
“People are amazed by this area,” he said. “It might not be the first place that comes to mind, but this part of Minnesota really is unique and fun to paddle.”