The UWCA creates great adventures for youth, families, and adults on the Mississippi River. Join us for a day trip, overnight camping trip, or multi-day trip. It's an experience that will last a lifetime.


The UWCA has grown in a few short years into one of the most successful programs in the country for engaging youth with the outdoors. The collaboration between the core partners of Wilderness Inquiry (WI), the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (NPS), and the Mississippi River Fund (MRF) began in earnest in 2008. These partners set the goal of growing the program to serve 10,000 people a year, mostly students, with a combination of Mississippi River day trips, overnight camping experiences in nearby parks, and canoe “workshops” at local festivals and events. With support from all the partners and additional funding from a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a grant from the Minnesota Legislative Citizens’ Commission on Minnesota Resources, the program grew quickly toward that goal. In 2011 the UWCA paddled with over 8,000 people.  

The UWCA program has also developed multiple agency partnerships. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources embraced the development of a water trail and stepped up to help improve canoe landings on the routes along the Mississippi River in the twin cities. Fort Snelling State Park began to host UWCA campers overnight on Picnic Island.  Some lucky St. Paul high school kids went all to the way to Glacier National Park in what has become an annual trip.  

The 2010 America’s Great Outdoors initiative called attention to the UWCA as a model program. A trip in fall of 2010 to the Anacostia River got several other federal agencies and 700 Washington, D.C. area kids in the UWCA voyageur canoes.   Not only has the UWCA program been expanding geographically but the larger strategy began to get better definition.   Conversations with the U.S. Forest Service Urban Connections program staff resulted in the development of what has become known as the “pyramid.”   This is a series of connected programs to move young people from their initial engagement with nature during day-trips on the Mississippi River, up through various experiences with the outdoors, from camping to internships, conservation corps and all the way up to careers with the outdoors.

A formal cooperative agreement was signed in 2011 between WI and the NPS and a related interagency agreement was signed between the NPS and USFS, both intended to help move federal support towards the UWCA programs.   Individual and corporate donors have been generous with the program support. A new annual fund raising event was launched in 2011, the Great River Race, where sponsored canoes race between Minneapolis and St. Paul.   As the 2012 season begins, routes have been changed to eliminate lock usage in order to reduce the threat of Asian carp migrating north through the locks. NPS rangers have developed new, more hands-on educational programs to make these trips even more memorable and valuable to educators.   With impressive growth in both size and scope in such a short time, the core partners are working on a strategic plan for the next stages. The strategic plan looks at where and how to develop other parts of the “pyramid”, where the program might be developed in other urban areas, and how this exciting initiative can be sustained for many years to come.