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Finding Minnesota: Floating The Scenic, Gentle Cannon River

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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WELCH, Minn. (WCCO) –  Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes offer wide open spaces for fast boats and personal watercraft.

But for a quieter, more relaxing day on the water, there are seven rivers in the state, designated as “wild, scenic and recreational.” One of them, the Cannon River, offers a refreshing way to enjoy nature, with very little effort involved, on a canoe, kayak or inner tube.

“If you want to, you can just get out in the middle and let the current pull you down,” said Ross Nelson of Welch, “and spend the whole day at it.”

The Cannon River eases along at one to two miles an hour typically, guiding visitors through a lush green valley.

“It’s a beautiful canopy when you look at it,” said Nelson. “It’s almost jungle-like in spots.”

Nelson grew up along the river, and can spot wildlife that others might miss, such as snapper turtles on the riverbank.

“If you’re quiet, you can usually canoe right up to them and get a closer look,” he said.

Nelson and his family have been helping people explore the river for more than 40 years.

They rent out tubes, canoes and kayaks from a building that used to be the family’s feed mill.

At $10 a person for a full day of tubing, they often draw big groups.

“Just like being with all your friends and like going through the river and getting tan, of course,” said a teenage girl, in line to rent a tube.

The Cannon is not as well-known and not as crowded as other tubing rivers, which some say means less trouble.

“I mean people have their drinks out here,” said Lindi Steffan of Prescott, Wis., “but it’s a lot more relaxed and definitely a way better family environment.”

The river does get too high at times and too fast, as it did this past weekend.

That’s when the Nelsons suspend business – even when people try to offer them more money to make an exception.

“If we wouldn’t want to put our family out, we’re not going to put anybody out on the river,” said Jane Nelson, co-owner of Welch Mill.

They say it’s not meant to be a thrill ride.

It’s a break from stress, a chance to dial back, with very little work involved.

“It’s a very inexpensive way of spending a whole afternoon,” said Ross Nelson. “We’re within an hour from the Twin Cities. You don’t have to travel way up north or go out west.”

For canoeing and kayaking, Welch Mill offers a 5-mile or 12-mile trip which can take anywhere from one to four hours. A short tubing trip lasts about an hour, while the longer option takes up to 4-and-a half hours.

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