By Jim Umhoefer
Hubbard, Wadena, Todd, Cass and Morrison counties. 110 miles, from 10th Crow Wing Lake near Akely to the Mississippi River at Crow Wing State Park.
Rising in a chain of 10 lakes in southern Hubbard County, the Crow Wing flows through low marshy lands for its first 20 miles. The river broadens and the banks increase in height as it continues southward. Although there are many cottages and homes along the river, the tree cover is dense enough that you'll get a wilderness feeling as you paddle downstream. The vegetation varies from evergreens to maples, basswoods and cottonwoods, with grasslands and bogs scattered along the way.
The river forests shelter a rich variety of woodland animals. Canoeists are likely to see deer, beaver, turtles and various types of birds. Some black bear and bobcat are present but are hard to spot. The Crow Wing River Valley does not attract ducks and geese as much as other flyways that have more extensive backwaters and aquatic plants.
The local communities actively support water and land recreation trails. Canoeists will find information and outfitters in Akeley, Huntersville, Nimrod and several other places along the river. The Crow Wing Trails Association, Wadena County and the Minnesota DNR have cooperated in developing many of the primitive riverside campsites. Area saddle clubs help to maintain miles of horseback trails through the coniferous and hardwood forests flanking the river. Snowmobilers use these trails in winter.
Public forests are as thick as trees around the Crow Wing River Valley. The Chippewa National Forest and the Badura, Foot Hills and Huntersville state forests are close to the river's upper section. The Lyons and Pillsbury state forests are near the lower stretch. The Brainerd area, famous as a vacationland, is just northeast of the Crow Wing's junction with the Mississippi.
Also at the river junction is Crow Wing State Park. The park (and the river) is named for a wing-shaped island at the river's mouth. The Ojibway people called the river "ka-gi-wig-wan" ("raven's wing"). About the same time that the Ojibway began pushing the native Dakota Indians out of the forests (early 1700s), French fur traders filtered into the region. They established several trading posts, including one on the site of the park.