St. Croix Tributary Tuesday: Greater than the sum of its parts

Four rivers that feed the St. Croix have interesting history and natural resources, and give their waters to the St. Croix




4 minute read

The St. Croix River is about 200 miles long, but it wouldn’t exist without the countless number of creeks, streams, and rivers that flow into it. These tributaries form a web of water that connects nearly 8,000 square miles of land.

For St. Croix 360’s new fundraising campaign, we selected four major tributaries to represent the contribution levels. That’s because the site wouldn’t exist without community support. Thank you! If you haven’t contributed yet, we hope this will inspire you.

Below are photos of each tributary’s confluence with the St. Croix, a haiku about my experiences at each one, and more information about these wonderful waters.

Kinnickinnic River ($5/month)

The mouth of the Kettle River at the St. Croix, where kayaks and cruisers meet. (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)
cold winding stream
ends at a sandy delta
kayaks meet cruisers

Length: 25 miles

Watershed: 170 square miles

Notes on the name: Kinnickinnic is a European spelling and pronunciation of an Ojibwe word which means “that which is mixed.” The word refers to a mixture of tobacco and other plant material that Native Americans smoked. In this region, they would use the inner bark of willows, dogwoods, or sumac leaves.

Fast facts:

  • Most of the river is designated a Class 1 trout stream, which means trout reproduce naturally in the river. It has not been stocked for decades, yet boasts thousands of trout per mile.
  • More than half of all the bird species found in Wisconsin, and 40 percent of the plant species, can be found in the Kinnickinnic watershed — which comprises just .25 percent of the state.
  • The watershed contains more than 40 species of endangered, threatened, or special concern plants, animals, and insects.

Apple River ($10/month)

dawn brings golden light
and songs of water and birds 
hidden by grasses

Length: 78 miles

Watershed: 550 square miles

Broadleaf arrowhead in bloom on Rice Lake (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Notes on the name: Amalgamation of French and Native American languages. Ojibwe people referred to it as Waabizipinikaan-ziibi, meaning “River Abundant with Swan Potatoes,” for the roots of broadleaf arrowhead, which were harvested for food. The plant still grows abundantly at its mouth. The French word for potato is pomme de terre (apple of the Earth), but when the name was given, only pomme remained, which translates to Apple.

Fast facts:

  • The Apple joins the St. Croix River at Rice Lake, north of Stillwater. Sand and sediment carried downstream by the Apple settles out in the slower St. Croix, creating a network of islands and sandbars and forming large expanses of shallow water popular with waterfowl.
  • A canyon right before the Apple’s confluence with the St. Croix features 100-foot tall bluffs, much of it publicly-owned.
  • A French-Canadian settler built a cabin at the mouth of the Apple River in 1855, and it still standing as part of Martell’s Landing Education Center.

Kettle River ($15/month)

tumble over rocks
to the receiving river
telling lost stories 

Length: 84 miles

Watershed: 1,050 square miles

Notes on the name: The Kettle is named for deep holes scoured in bedrock by the action of swirling stones in glacial runoff (just like those found in basalt at the Interstate State Parks). Both the Dakota name for the river, Cega watpa, and the Anishinaabe word, Akikko-ziibi, also refer to these formations.

Fast facts:

  • Designated as a Minnesota Wild & Scenic River in 1975.
  • The DNR has been tagging and tracking lake sturgeon in the Kettle River since 1992, with a resident population estimated at more than 300 fish.
  • Passes through two state parks: Banning and St. Croix.
  • Many residents of Sandstone, Minn. took refuge in the river during the Hinckley Fire of 1918.
  • Rapids in Banning State Park are popular with whitewater kayakers, canoeists, and rafters.

Namekagon River ($30/month)

a journey ends here
much behind and more ahead
waters become one

Length: 101 miles

Watershed: 991 square miles

Notes on the name: Based on the Ojibwe word “Namekaagong-ziibi”, meaning “river at the place abundant with sturgeon.”

Fast facts:

  • Only tributary included in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, protected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
  • The Namekagon is bigger than the St. Croix at their confluence.
  • The first permanent white settlement on the Namekagon was built in 1877 at Veazie, near modern Trego. It was based around a large farm to provide food for lumberjacks.


You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to St. Croix 360 and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email


Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlikeCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike
St. Croix Tributary Tuesday: Greater than the sum of its parts