Kayaking on the Kinni

School teacher shares his love of the outdoors.

Teacher, father, seasoned river veteran, businessman: owner of River Guide Kayaks Mike Kealy is a little bit of all of these, and more. “I try to get out on the [Kinnickinnic] river every month of the year,” he says. Yes, that’s right, even in January and February, too. “I grew up on the river,” he says. “I knew as a teacher I wanted to do something in the summers. This hit me.” What hit is River Guide Kayaks, where novices to experienced kayakers can rent kayaks (along with paddles, dry storage, life jackets), receive basic kayaking instruction and get shuttled to and from start and end points, all to enjoy a several-hour trip down the Kinnickinnic River.

Kealy has lived in River Falls all his life. He began teaching in the Woodbury school district in 1998; he’s now a science, technology, engineering and math (Stem) teacher at Lake Middle School. His wife, Sara, teaches special education in Woodbury and is head volleyball coach at River Falls High School.

Their family includes 16-year-old twins, Michael and Madison, 13-year-old Morgan, 6-year-old Ryan and 5-year-old Parker. “I originally started River Guide Kayaks to get my kids involved. I wanted them to understand the responsibility of work,” he says. He also wanted them to get more face-to-face human—as opposed to virtual—interaction. He gave the oldest three the opportunity to buy a 10 percent ownership of the company as kids, and the younger two will get the same opportunity when they turn 7. Michael and Madison have been working for River Guide Kayaks since they were 10. Now 16 and driving, they are able to help transport kayaks. All of his children, says Kealy—even the youngest two—help by greeting customers and caring for the equipment.

The business is located in River Falls where Kealy and his chief operation officer Tim LaVold warehouse 40 kayaks in an “old, abandoned car wash,” says Kealy. LaVold joined Kealy several summers ago; his two sons also help out. Would-be kayakers meet their guides near the picnic tables behind the pickleball court in Glen Park. Clients pick up their kayaks and start what LaVold calls “the nature walk:” a several hundred-foot trail, including a fair number of steps, down to the Kinnickinnic River. Don’t worry, says the friendly and soft-spoken LaVold: it’s not a test and someone will bring your kayak down if you can’t. In fact, he says, he and Kealy take great pleasure in bringing kayaking to people of many ability levels. Trips can be guided, but most kayakers receive instruction in the quiet waters where the kayaks put in, complete the 8.2 mile trip unaccompanied and in about three hours are met and shuttled back to Glen Park. Two years ago, a similar trip down the Nippersink Creek in Illinois was added.

The water in the Kinni is generally 10–12” deep, crystal clear (and cold!). There are a few grade-one rapids which most people enjoy, says Kealy. Deer, other wildlife and many birds, including bald eagles, have been observed. In many sections the river is enclosed in deep canyons. “You’re totally isolated in a beautiful, natural setting,” says Kealy. The biggest surprise of the business, says Kealy, is the positive reaction of nearly everyone when they get off the river. “Most people really enjoy being unplugged and experiencing nature,” he explains.  

Kinnickinnic River Stats

Spring fed, cold-water stream

22 miles long

The Kinni is classified as an Outstanding Resource Water and a Class I Trout Stream