Paddling: Straight River between Owatonna and Medford is anything but straight

Paddling: Straight River between Owatonna and Medford is anything but straight
Jim Moran paddles the Straight River between Owatonna and Medford on June 4.

On a warm sunny morning in early June, Jim Moran, Jim’s granddaughter Chris Storino, and I decided to paddle the 10-mile route of the Straight River from Owatonna to Medford.

We left a shuttle vehicle at the take-out at Straight River Park on the north side of Medford and drove the 8-mile shuttle route on I35 to Morehead Park in Owatonna.

There is not a DNR access but we found a place on the left bank just downstream from the dam where we could launch our kayaks.

We were swept away by the quick current and soon were winding through a tree=lined route with many boulders (drift left by glaciers). The banks are a mix of rocks, boulders and dirt.

There are many fast riffles and some class I boulder strewn rapids. This is a scenic route with the banks lined with trees providing a shaded canopy almost the entire route giving the feeling you are going through a remote forested area. The river is narrow, 30 to 60 feet, with fast water through some class I rapids with rocks and boulders requiring river reading skills to navigate through the shallow, rocky sections.


Chris has paddled with us a couple of times on area rivers and although she is a "beginner" river paddler, she did well reading the currents through the many ripples.

This is a great bird watching route.

We saw Blue Herons, many geese and ducks with their young hatches playing the "wounded bird trick" to protect the little ones. Several other birds that Chris could name but I had no idea what they were. We also saw several fish as there are northern pike, crappies, smallmouth bass and carp in the river.

This route is anything but straight as it winds through the boulder strewn river course with many glacier deposited boulders evident on the banks and also in the river channel.

The river’s name comes from the Dakota Indian name of Owatonna which translates as "morally straight.''

Six miles downstream from Owatonna there is a class II-III rapids near Clinton Falls where the remnants of old flour mill dam presents a challenge for most paddlers, including myself. You can hear the water cascading through the rapids as you approach but there is a tight turn that takes you from quiet water to "wow what have I got myself into" scenario.

We got out on the left bank just upstream of the rapids and scrambled up the boulder strewn remnant of the old dam to scout the options. We decided to take a lunch break and we concluded we would take a short portage and avoid the rapids. We found a pathway that led from the dam to a good launch spot below the rapids.

I talked to Joel Wagar the area DNR supervisor for Trails and Waterways about the lack of warning signs upstream of the Clinton Falls rapids and also there should be a portage sign. The signs had been washed away by high water and will be replaced. Also he said the remains of the Clinton Falls Mill dam are on private property.


About half a mile downstream from Clinton Falls by the County Road 45 Bridge, we met a dad and two small kids launching a canoe at a DNR carry-in access. This makes a nice short route, just over 4 miles of moderate paddling to the Medford access at Straight River Park, or continue another 7 miles to Krogh’s Landing at County Road 19.

The Straight River rises and falls quickly after a rain so be sure to check the water level and flow (CFS) just before you make a trip on this route.

The best level for paddling when the USGS gage near Faribault reads 4.5 to 6.5 feet. Below 4.5 and you will scrape rocks in the shallow ripples. If the gage is above 7 feet the current is very fast and possibly dangerous.

The river level when we ran this route was at 4.6 feet and we did occasionally bump rocks in the shallow stretches.

This is a great little river and I can’t wait to paddle the route from Medford to Faribault, almost 16 miles with great scenery with fast current but I’ll have to wait for some rain.


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