Cruising the St. Croix

Whitewater Meets Quietwater on This Midwestern Jewel
St. Croix quietwater
St. Croix quietwater (Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR)

The St. Croix River is one of the midwest's paddling gems, a long smooth ribbon that defines most of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. With much of the lower St. Croix officially designated a National Scenic Riverway, paddlers won't be disturbed by the encroachments of civilization as they float past gentle sandstone banks and thriving hardwood forest. The trip described here can be done in sections or as one luxurious 70-mile excursion. Many rustic campsites along the way make the latter option an enticing possibility.


Section 1
Gordon Dam to CCC Bridge

Water Conditions

This section and section 4 have significant areas of grade I-II rapids, unlike the other three sections of the St. Croix, which are essentially quietwater. The nearest gauge is located near Danbury. For water levels, call the Park Service at (715) 483-3284. Section 1 is too shallow to paddle most summers.


Good to excellent. Much of the shoreline has escaped extensive development. The riverbanks are primarily forested with relatively mature, second-growth hardwoods, such as oak, sugar maple, birch, and aspen. There are also pines and basswood.


This area has undergone extensive glacial activity. The oldest rocks are Precambrian metamorphic and volcanic formations. In most places this bedrock is covered by Cambrian sandstone and other glacial sands, clays, silts, and gravels. In some areas outcroppings of sandstone can be seen along the river banks. Rapids are located where the river passes over harder rocks of Precambrian lava origin. Springs are common in this area.


Evidence of early inhabitation goes back to at least 1000 B.C. Numerous mounds and other remnants of early civilization have been found in this region. During the fur trading era of the 1700s, the Chippewa lived here. The Chippewa were allied with the French, who supplied them with firearms. There were many bloody battles fought over the control of this early trade route, which extended from Lake Superior via the Bois Brule, St. Croix, and Mississippi rivers down to the Gulf of Mexico. The British took over control of this area in 1763 when France ceded Canada to England. By the end of the 18th century John Jacob Astor and his American Fur Company had established a strong foothold in the territory. Following a treaty in 1837, the United States gained control of all lands east of the Mississippi, except for small areas of reservation lands near the start of the St. Croix and Chippewa Rivers. Near the end of the 19th century the railroad was introduced to this area, and along with it came the loggers. Lumber production reached its peak in 1899. By 1920, the big logging boom had tapered off considerably.

Wild Rivers

The St. Croix downstream from Riverside Dam continuing to just above Taylor Falls, Minnesota, is included in the National Wild Rivers Act of 1968.

Points of Interest

0.0 miles: Gordon Dam. Below this dam is the put-in for Section 1. There is ample parking at this improved landing. There is also a campground at this location.
0.5 miles: Scout Chute. This is a grade I-II rapids that begins at a large island and continues downstream. There is a primitive campsite on the island.
1.0 miles: Scott Rapids. This is a small grade I rapids located about one-quarter mile upstream of Scott Bridge.
1.6 miles: Scott Bridge. The Moose River enters the St. Croix from the right just above this bridge. The right bank next to the bridge can be used as an alternate landing.
2.5 miles: Sheosh Creek. Enters from the right.
5.6 miles: Crotte Creek. Enters from the right. A half-mile upstream of this creek, there is a landing on the left bank.
6.8 miles: Buckley Creek. Enters from the left.
7.0 miles: Copper Mine Sluice Dam. This is the partial ruins of an early logging dam. Scouting is recommended since logs and other debris can become lodged in the remaining supports. There is a good portage trail on the right bank.
7.5 miles: Shelldrake Rapids. An island divides the river into two channels. These grade I rapids are located in the right channel.
8.8 miles: County Road T bridge. Landing on right bank.
9.0 miles: Bear Trap Rapids. This rapids begins just downstream of the County Road T bridge. This is a shallow rapids that has numerous boulders to dodge. Rating grade I-II, this rapids gradually fades out into a long continuous stretch of alternating riffles and quietwater that extends to just below Louis Park.
10.0 miles: Louise Park. This primitive campground is located on the right bank at the mouth of Beaver Creek. There is road access to this area, and thus it can be used as an alternate landing.
11.6 miles: Shone Park. This is a primitive campground with limited room. It has road access. Rock Creek enters from the right just downstream of this location.
12.5 miles: Dry line landing. This alternate landing is located on the Douglas and Burnett County line. There is road access on the left bank.
14.5 miles: Big Fish Trap Rapids. This is the most difficult rapids on the upper St. Croix. It rates grade II. If you choose not to run this rapids, you can line down a canoe on the right bank.
15.5 miles: Little Fish Trap Rapids. This grade I rapids begins just upstream of the CCC bridge. Clemeng Creek enters on the left. The CCC bridge is the recommended takeout for Section 1 and put-in for Section 2. There is a picnic area at this location.© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »