By Jim Umhoefer
The Cannon is an ideal family river for families because the few rapids are light and easy. Snags are scattered, but downed trees are a hazard in high water. You'll have to portage seven dams, most of which have no developed portage trail. When the Lake Byllesby dam begins to produce hydroelectric power, it will affect canoeing downstream by altering the water level.
Highest water is usually in early April, although heavy rains can cause later flooding. The river's water level is generally high enough for canoeing throughout the season. During late summer dry spells, some stretches are too shallow to pass.
The upper Cannon, bordered by gently swelling hills, rambles through the woods and farmland of southern Minnesota. From Cannon Falls to the Mississippi, the river enters a broad gorge flanked by 300-foot-high bluffs. As you weave through the maze of backwaters and sloughs at the Cannon's mouth, watch for bald eagles, wood ducks and mallards, and beavers. Reservoirs and slow stretches are the hot spots for fishing on the Cannon. The most common catches are northern and panfish, but as you paddle downstream, you might land a walleye, smallmouth bass or channel catfish.
It would be easy to plan a canoeing, hiking and camping vacation on the Cannon. Sakatah Lake State Park, where most canoeists start out, features a dense hardwood forest known for its variety of woodland flowers. Besides the park trails, the 39-mile Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail roughly parallels the river to Faribault.
The Cannon River Wilderness Area, midway between Faribault and Northfield, has a canoe access and three primitive camping areas in a hardwood forest that straddles the river. If you like to photograph wildflowers, come here during spring when trillium and lady's slippers are in bloom. Or aim your camera at the graceful blue heron as it soars over the trees. Just downstream from the wilderness area are the limestone ruins of the Archbold Mill at Dundas. This old mill was one of the 15 flourmills on the Cannon between Faribault and Northfield.
The Cannon Valley Trail between Cannon Falls and Red Wing offers 20 miles of biking.
The Cannon is a good day-trip river, but there are a number of campsites available, mostly in the upper portions of the route, if you'd like to plan an overnight adventure. Consult the DNR's canoe route map for locations of canoe landings, rest areas, public and private campsites, and outfitters.