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Des Moines River in Minnesota

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

We covered 18 miles of the West Des Moines river in Minnesota from below Windom to Jackson over two days. One could easily cover the whole distance in a single day but we were fishing with the current most of the time. For a flat looking river the Des Moines in this area does have quite a current even in the slack water. There are ripples every so often and three sets of class 1 rapids to break things up.

At first we had thought about camping along the river at the DNR canoe campsites, but decided to camp at the KOA in Jackson. This turned out to be a good decision since we could never find the DNR campsites and if there is one, I doubt you could get out of the river to the sites easily. We found that there are very few places one can get out of the river without wading through mud, even at the boat access sites it is messy. The river is not very clear, the visibility was about 6 inches. This section of the Des Moines is very beautiful and isolated, down in a wooded river valley for most of the trip. We never encountered any other boaters in two days (Thursday and Friday).

The river level for our trip was just over 4 feet on the gauge in Jackson, which made for good paddling and we did not have to get out to walk our inflatable kayaks at any point. The rapids provided fun with small standing waves which should be easy enough for beginners. The fishing was good for catfish and my daughter and her boy friend caught some bigger ones (4-5 lbs) while I had to be satisfied with smaller catfish. If we actually knew how to fish for catfish I think we could have done much better.

Day One (Christiana Bridge to Kilen Woods State Park)
The access at Christiana bridge is very nice and the trip starts with some fairly swift flat water for 2-3 miles. After some Ripples the river flattened out for quite a while until you get to the rapids at the state park. The take out is shortly after the rapids at the County 19 bridge. The take out was fairly muddy. This section is surrounded by flatter farm land, but the trees on the river banks give a nice sense of isolation. Near the state park the river goes down more into a valley and is very scenic. One could camp at the state park, but we chose the KOA since we had to coordinate 3 cars and the state park would charge us $5 a day for each car and was more expensive for the sites. We stopped at the state park to look around and it was very buggy. Also, the canoe access for the park is not well marked.

Day Two (Kilen Woods State Park to Jackson)
We put in for day 2 were we stopped the night before at the County 19 bridge access. This section of the river was the more scenic of the two and has a fun class 1 rapids just past the 2 mile point, I actually got a bit wet. There is an island just past the rapid above the the County 16 bridge, which could be used for a take out point just watch out for the electric fence. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar above the island, one of the few places on the river to do this. The next 5-6 miles are very isolated and scenic; you do not really see or hear any signs of civilization until you get close to the I90 bridge. Even the last couple of miles into Jackson are isolated until you get right into town. We took out at the city park above the dam. This day was fairly windy, but the wind was out of the northwest so it pushed us. Had it been out of the southwest there would have been some hard sections of paddling. Southwest Minnesota is usually windy, hence all the windmill farms.

Overall, we had two nice days of floating and fishing. The Des Moines is a nice river for casual paddling which provides some very scenic views.


We camped at the Jackson KOA, which was very nice although some freeway noise. There is camping at the Kilen Woods state park. Both Jackson and Windom have motels.


Sea Eagle 380 Explorers


Jackson is on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota



book: "Paddling Southern Minnesota"

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location