Flora, fauna, fun on the river - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 6:05 pm / Updated at 6:15 pm
Flora, fauna, fun on the river
River trip tips
>> Apply sunscreen early and often. A severe sunburn is not a souvenir you want to take home.
>> Wear an old pair of shoes or sandals to protect your feet from sharp rocks or flood debris.
>> Wear a flotation device. Bring your own form-fitting vest to avoid sometimes uncomfortable, old-style flotation devices provided by outfitters.
>> Strap down the lid of your cooler with a bungee cord to keep your food and drink from floating down river if you capsize.
>> Carry your valuables, like cellphones and cameras, in a dry sack and keep the sack tied to your boat.
>> Invest in a waterproof camera or buy waterproof disposable cameras for the trip (about $10 each).
>> Pick up litter as you travel down the river.
>> Some outfitters offer deals for weekday trips, and the river will be less crowded.
>> Consider renting a cabin if planning a multi-day trip. A shower is a blessing after a day on a sandy river. Most cabins are built to accommodate larger groups, bringing down the price per person.
Bring cans, not bottles. Broken glass on the river is a danger that easily can be avoided.

Upper Iowa outfitters
Hruska’s Canoe Livery
3233 347th St.
Kendallville, Iowa 52136
Hruska’s Canoe Livery is located in the Upper Iowa River Valley about 80 miles north of Waterloo, Iowa

Chimney Rock Canoe Rental & Campground
3312 Chimney Rock Road
Cresco, Iowa 52136
Offers canoes, kayaks and tubes for floating the Upper Iowa River. The campground is on the water.

River & Trail Outfitters, Inc.
212 Pulpit Rock Road
Decorah, Iowa 52101
A full-service canoe, kayak, inner tube and bicycle rental facility.

Upper Iowa Resort & Rental
578 Lonning Drive
Dorchester, Iowa 52140
Nestled in a quiet valley between Waukon and Dorchester on the banks of the river. Offers swimming, canoeing, inner tubing and fishing.

The Upper Iowa River has multiple personalities.

The 156-mile river begins at the headwaters near Mankato, Minn., and winds through many untouched canyons and meadows in northeast Iowa before draining into the Mississippi River. More than 110 miles are accessible by canoe, kayak or tube.

In the spring, the river is fast. Salmon and white columbines accent the limestone cliffs. Wildlife, including deer, heron, eagles, king fishers and gold finch, are abundant.

The river becomes a lazy float in the summer, perfect for tubing and taking in the dramatic views while cooling down in the spring-fed river. Smallmouth bass and trout fishing add adventure to the trip.

In the fall, the river valley is painted with the changing colors of old growth trees, including ash, maple and massive oaks. Traffic on the river is slow, and isolation allows for an intimate encounter with one of the Midwest’s most scenic rivers.

Access to the most scenic stretch between Kendallville and Decorah, Iowa, about 80 miles north of Waterloo, is made easy by four outfitters. It includes 31 miles of mostly untouched canyons highlighted by limestone cliffs, palisades and waterfalls of cold springs.

The most popular route is a 15-mile stretch between Kendallville and Bluffton. Limestone rock formations rise high above the river for much of the stretch, and cold springs pour into the river in dramatic fashion.

“We had no idea how beautiful Iowa would be,” said Connie Thomson Bass of New Jersey, a staff member at the Discovery Channel. “The scenery was picturesque and the river fun and relaxing.”

The river is wide enough to skirt hazards, making it a great river for a family adventure.

River trips are a vacation budget saver. Numerous camps offer tent and RV camping for as little as $20 a day, and canoes and kayaks can be rented for $25 or less per person. Tubing the river brings access to the clear waters and spectacular views for less than $10.

“Coming from the East coast, everything felt not just reasonable, but cheap,” Thomson Bass said.

Decorah is about a six-hour drive from the Omaha area. That’s about the same distance to the Niobrara and Dismal rivers in Nebraska.

Dwayne Hruska, owner of Hruska’s Canoe Livery, started outfitting in the Kendallville area 43 years ago with three canoes. He now outfits canoe, kayak and tube trips from April 1 to Nov. 1 and hosts a campsite in Bluffton, giving visitors the convenience of canoeing into a riverside camp.

At 69, Hruska still moves like a 30-something, but with a lifetime of stories on the river for entertainment on drives to river access areas. He’ll keep doing the job until his health fails, he said while lifting a sturdy canoe single-handedly.

“I went from the Ho Chi Minh trail to the Upper Iowa River and have been here since,” said Hruska, a veteran of the Vietnam war. “People don’t associate the dramatic views on the river with Iowa.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1378, mark.davis@owh.com

Contact the writer: Mark Davis

mark.davis@owh.com    |   402-444-1378

Mark Davis splits his duties between the sports department as an outdoor writer and the photography department as a photojournalist, videographer and imager.

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