Paddle Bridge brings kayak tours to the Mississippi River Gorge

Posted on 22 April 2019 by calvin

Theo Byrnes is the owner of Paddle Bridge Guide Collective, a new service that brings people out on the Mississippi River Gorge in kayaks. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Kayak enthusiast and Minneapolis native Theo Byrnes didn’t paddle the Mississippi River until he was almost 20 years old. Along with his family, Byrnes had explored the city lakes and the St. Croix River as a kid but, like many people, they had stayed clear of the Mississippi.

Now the owner of a two-year-old business called Paddle Bridge Guide Collective, Byrnes is enthusiastically getting paddlers of all ages and abilities out on the mighty river. The driving force behind Paddle Bridge is to promote urban adventure, paddle safety, and the history and ecology of the Mississippi River Gorge.

As a kid, Byrnes came up through the ranks of the YMCA’s Camp Menogyn. He paddled all the way to the Arctic Circle with their advanced explorer’s program in 2007 and got hooked. He found a job guiding for “Above the Falls” in 2009, an operation that brought kayakers out on the river above St. Anthony Falls. When the owner retired in 2017, Byrnes and his co-workers wanted to keep guiding together, and the Paddle Bridge Guide Collective was born. More than just a local outfitter, they are working to create an active and sustainable river community.

All of the Paddle Bridge guides are extensively trained in First Aid and Water Rescue techniques to guarantee a safe paddle experience. “For new paddlers,” Byrnes said, “we start with basic instruction on the shore, and cover everything a person needs to know to feel comfortable on the water. The stretch of the river between Minneapolis and St. Paul is the only naturally occurring gorge on the entire Mississippi. Water speeds are faster here because it’s a narrow stretch. We hope to have our full schedule online by mid-May, if the weather cooperates. Water levels will still be up, but safe for paddling.”

Lessons for experienced paddlers who want to hone their skills are also available by request; kayak terminology, techniques, hazard awareness, and self-rescue are covered. To inquire about lessons, email

Paddle Bridge has a fleet of 12 red hot kayaks made by Current Designs in Winona, including four tandems which accommodate two paddlers at-a-time. There are life jackets for all ages and sizes, though 12 years old is the minimum recommended age. Younger children can be included on private tours.

Two-hour River Gorge tours are $65/person, four-hour River Gorge tours are $95/person, and 1.5-hour sunset tours of Boom Island are $45/person (30% discount for all tours for kids under 16).

Tours are by reservation only. Check the website for availability at When making a reservation, specify if you have a particular area of interest in the river.

“All of our guides have their own interests including geology and biology,” Byrnes said. “Across the board, I’d say our strongest suit is history. Our goals are to get people out on the water; we guarantee them a memorable experience and a good night’s rest.”