By Jim Umhoefer
The Des Moines River, the only state canoe route in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, has become a favorite of families and beginners because of its easygoing nature and variety of wildlife.
The route begins below the Talcot Lake Dam, where you can launch from accesses on either side of the river. Some canoeists put in above the dam and paddle along the lake's north shore to the Talcot Lake Wildlife Area to photograph the waterfowl. County Highway 7 cuts across the eastern edge of this refuge and also crosses the river near the accesses.
From the Talcot Lake Dam to Windom is about a 30-mile trip through a broad, flat farm valley with few trees. The dam in Windom must be portaged; most river travelers start below the dam and canoe to the Jackson Dam. This 24-mile stretch is the most popular on the Des Moines because of its scenery. Between Window and Kilen Woods State Park, the river valley narrows, and willows and ash line the gently sloped banks. As the river approaches the state park, the banks become steeper and more wooded. From Kilen Woods to Jackson, you'll pass below 100-to 200-foot bluffs and cut through flood-plain forests that swell to the water's edge. The Windom to Jackson segment also features almost all of the accesses, rest areas and campsites along the route.
Jackson also has an outfitter, two accesses and a rest area. The dam must be portaged to continue downstream, though one of the accesses is below the dam for those who wish to start there. From Jackson the Des Moines River flows through farm country to the Iowa border, where it continues on to the Mississippi River.