The Mississippi River Seaplane Tour

by Woody Minar
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2018 issue

I’ve flown along the Mississippi River between Surfside Seaplane Base (8Y4), east of Anoka County-Blaine Airport in Lino Lakes, Minnesota, to Le Claire, Iowa, some 17 times! And each time it has been a very enjoyable trip. Why? Imagine flying BELOW the scenic river bluffs looking down at the locks of the Mississippi, barges passing through them, fishing boats, sun bathers on many of the islands, and trains hauling cargo. You can follow the train tracks along the river as they pass through small river towns. On one trip, we were flying level with the tops of the river bluffs. Near La Crosse, Wisconsin, there’s a picnic area on top of a limestone bluff. As we approached this picnic area, we were literally eye level with the picnickers – we waived at each person with big smiles. Imagine their surprise to have a seaplane fly by. The fall is a great time to see the colors of the leaves against the backdrop of the bluffs.

Twelves miles southeast of Red Wing, Minnesota, there’s a small town called Lake City, Minn. on Lake Pepin. Just north of the marina is a nice shoreline where we beach the planes and tie their tails to the nearby trees. A short walk into town past the boats at the marina, many of which are large sailboats, takes you downtown and to several restaurants.

About five miles southeast and across the river in Pepin, Wisconsin, is the Pepin Pickle Factory Waterfront Grill. There’s a marina next to it and a shore in front where you can beach a seaplane. In the early 1900s, this historic building was a factory where pickles and sauerkraut were made. You can eat inside or at a picnic table outside along the shore. A hotel is just a block away if you decide to spend the night. For more information, visit and 

Further south is Le Claire, Iowa, just northeast of Moline, Illinois. This is a unique river town that is home for the hit television program and antique shop, “American Pickers,” where you can browse and shop for hours. You can tie down at the city dock that is seaplane friendly and where the town center, lodging, restaurants, and tourist sites are just a few short blocks away. If you have amphibs, you can always tie down in Clinton, Iowa (KCWI), take the courtesy car, and drive south about 15 minutes to Le Claire. The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum is very near the dock and is attached to a River Boat Museum where you can explore an antique river boat. If you want to tour the Mississippi, hop onboard a 126-foot, 100-year-old river boat replica for a 1.5-hour, one-day, or two-day cruise. You can also take a tour of the Mississippi River Distilling Company, which distills many different spirits using locally grown crops. Finally, it’s tough to decide which restaurant to partake – they’re all good! For information on Le Claire, go to For assistance with fuel and floatplane information in Le Claire, contact George Millar at 563-343-1340.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Woody Minar is a Designated Pilot Examiner, Master CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G, the FAA Safety Team Lead Representative, 2012 FAA Great Lakes Region CFI of the Year, and 2013 FAA Great Lakes Region Safety Team Representative of the Year, based at Osceola, Wisconsin (KOEO).

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