Moose Horn River Adventures – Mahtowa -Part 1

Winter is a great time to re-live our adventures when the weather outside is not the best for any sort of water activities.  It is also a time to note the lessons learned from some adventures so that we can learn and become better paddlers.

The northern part of the Moose Horn River is almost a small creek close to the town of Mahtowa, Minnesota.  Driving by it for years, I often pondered what was down the wild back country it flows through as it makes it’s six mile journey on the way to the town of Barnum.  I would drive along MN state highway 61 and get peeks of it as it flowed through some of the local farmland.  I would drive up dirt roads and look for good places to launch from making mental notes as I watched the rate of flow.

Just like my river adventure on the Kettle River close to where I grew up (read here) this river had a certain romantic pull to it.  The problem was I was scared out of my wits to try it alone.  I didn’t have anyone I knew who would paddle it with me.  But, that didn’t stop me from dreaming.

I set out one late summer afternoon to paddle it. I stopped at my Dad’s place on County Rd 4 and let him know I was heading out and where I was paddling. He suggested I launch from one of the farms along the river instead of County 4.  I listened, nodded my head in agreement, but really had my mind set to launch where I wanted straight from the highway.

Then I called a good friend of mine in Barnum and asked if she was free to pick me up and haul me back to my truck once I reached Barnum.

“Sure, How long before you get here?”  she asked

“I am guessing a couple of hours. If you don’t see me before dark maybe try to call my cell phone and check on me.  My truck is parked along county road 4.” I replied

Moose Horn RIver Mahtowa start point

Blue arrow for start point and yellow arrow approx. location of beaver dam.(images from google maps)

When I reached the launch point I noticed that it was a bit of a drop from the road and pretty swampy to get the kayak into the water.  The water seemed to be hardly moving here along the highway.  I pushed and pulled the kayak through the tall swamp grass to a level spot on the waters edge. I quickly and not gracefully loaded my butt into the hull.

Moose Horn RIver start point

Start point on Carlton County #4 just west of Mahtowa (provided by Google street view)

The water quickly pulled me in the direction of flow south towards Barnum.  I drew in a deep breath as I tried to make sure the kayak was heading where I wanted to go and not directly towards the log that now was in front of me.  Narrow and deep the banks were lined with swamp grass and brush willows.  I rounded a corner and another and then on my left was a house with other small out buildings. Then just more swamp and blue sky.

paddle on the Moose Horn

The start of the paddle I already had grass from pulling the kayak through the swamp to launch.

The flow of the current slowed. I floated into a wide area of still water filled area with small islands of grass.  I knew I should keep heading in the direction of the water flow but now that was a bit of a challenge to determine where the water was going. I had to look at other indicators besides the now mostly still water.  A leaf floated by and I watched as I tried to determine where I should go.  The leaf floated off to the left.  Ah…. that must be the right way.  I started to paddle in the direction of the leaf.

I was now engulfed in a narrow path of water that was surrounded by tall swamp grass reaching towards the sky.  The frogs were happily singing as I paddled into this unknown area.

Then the water stopped. A cascade of water dropping three foot to the continued river below.

A beaver dam had the entire river blocked off.  The drop to the other side of the dam looked more of the challenge than I wanted to face. With no clear area to portage my kayak from the banks. Disappointed, I turned my kayak around and headed back towards the road.

Now the frogs singing sounded more like heckles and laughing than singing as I kayaked back on this river through the swamp.

I pulled my kayak onto the bank at the farm I had passed on my way towards the now known beaver dam.  I would leave the kayak and walk to get my truck.

Beaver dam on the Moose Horn RIver

Small part of a very large beaver dam blocking my path downstream.

When I finally had the kayak loaded I considered my Dad’s advice to stop at one of the farms along  state highway  #61.  I was not going to let this river win, I would just get past the swamp and it would be fine.

Or so I thought… the story continues in Part #2. (Here)

Lesson #1– Listen to your Dad even if he doesn’t kayak!


Things to do in Mahtowa, MN.

TJ’s Country Corner – Known for the best homemade wurst in the area.  Great for camping trips.  I recommend the wild rice brats. They are great over a campfire after a day of hard paddling!

Willard Munger State Trail – This 70 mile bike trail from Hinckley to Duluth, Minnesota runs right through downtown Mahtowa. Perfect for cross country skiing in the winter or cycling in the summer.