7 Reasons to Explore the Upper St. Croix This Summer

There’s no excuse not to paddle the river’s wild and beautiful northern reaches.




4 minute read

Sponsored by Wild River Outfitters:

The single greatest thing about the St. Croix River above St. Croix Falls is that it’s a short drive; less than 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities near Grantsburg, WI. This wild and beautiful area is in the backyards of millions of people.

A float down the river from Nelsons Landing to the Highway 70 bridge is an easy day trip, and it beckons for a weekend or longer. It offers heaps of adventure, beauty, fish, and respite from busy lives. There’s a lifetime of experiences waiting, and anyone can easily enjoy it.

1. Stunning scenery

Upper St. Croix scenery

People who know the area debate which part is the prettiest stretch of the whole river. Nature’s artistry reveals itself around each of the many bends.

White pines, rocky shores, spring creeks, and numerous islands provide a feast for the eyes. Narrow channels offer paddlers an intimate experience and a chance to study the wild shores up-close.

2. Fast water

Fast water

Let’s not call them rapids. The steeper and rockier stretches – especially between Nelson’s Landing and Seven Islands – are fun and doable for novices. Point your bow downstream and ride the river as it bounces over some of the fastest water on the St. Croix.

If you want a challenge, head down the Kettle River Slough when the river is high enough (i.e., above 5 feet at the Norway Point gauge). Where this four-mile channel re-joins the main St. Croix, an infamous ledge has thrilled many – and sent a few swimming.

3. Fishing

Upper St. Croix River fly fishing

Anglers have long sought everything from smallmouth bass to walleye, northern, muskie, catfish, and even sturgeon in these waters. Minneapolis Star Tribune’s outdoors writer Dennis Anderson travels far and wide to fish, but writes about the upper St. Croix in glowing terms.

Many miles of rocky shores, deep holes, and islands also mean fisherfolk don’t need to compete for prime territory.

4. Paint Mine

Grantsburg Paint Mine along St. Croix River

The ruins of a 100-year-old paint mine sit along a tumbling creek, a short hike from a river campsite. The old waterwheel looks ancient, hinting at stories from another time.

The minerals extracted from the bluffs here made ideal paint. In fact, it was too good: it lasted so long that the company didn’t get many repeat customers, a fact which probably contributed to its ultimate demise.  And when one of its partners died from a fall while painting a sign, its fate seemed sealed. Today, the quiet site seems haunted by dreams of the long departed.

5. Sand

St. Croix sand

You’re going to want to take a swim in these clean waters. Cool off, float in the current, have a picnic. Beaches, sandbars and islands seem to appear just when you’re getting hot, or simply want to sit and soak in your surroundings.

Tip: if the water is a little high, look at the downstream ends of islands. There’s often a spit of sand extending far into the water.

6. Sandrock Cliffs

St. Croix sand

These tall cliffs rise sharply out of the water in a side channel and awe everyone who paddles beneath them. Tall pines sway in the wind above the sandy bottom of a 500-million-year-old sea. It is calm and peaceful, like paddling through a museum of ancient geology.

There’s a campground on top of the bluffs and five miles of hiking trails, if you want to stay a while or stretch your legs.

7. Remote river

St. Croix scenery

It’s safe to say this is some of the wildest country you can paddle through in Minnesota or Wisconsin. In addition to the banks being almost free of human structures – thanks to National Park protection – there are vast tracts of uninhabited lands on both sides.

Consider this: On the Minnesota side, there is St. Croix State Park at 34,000 acres, Chengwatana State Forest at 30,000 acres, and St. Croix State Forest at 42,000 acres. In Wisconsin, there is 20,000-acre Governor Knowles State Forest, and 30,000-acre Crex Meadows.

All this and something special that can’t quite be described add up to a true escape from the everyday hustle and bustle of life and work.

This post is sponsored by Wild River Outfitters, which provides canoe and kayak rental and shuttle services on 150 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers. Visit www.wildriverpaddling.com or call 715-463-2254 for more information.


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7 Reasons to Explore the Upper St. Croix This Summer