Slow and shallow, wide and uncrowded, the 8.8-mile stretch of the St. Croix River from Osceola, Wisconsin, to William O'Brien State Park is the ideal training ground for the novice stand-up paddleboarder. Launch at the Osceola Landing and head south through a corridor of sandstone bluffs and lush wooded slopes. Keep an ear out for feeder streams and an eye out for bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and the occasional otter. If you're feeling adventurous, paddle the backwaters and side channels, both of which are loaded with catfish and bass. Of course, there's no shame in floating away the hours on the tranquil main channel, where the therapy is free and the views are priceless.
What to Know Going In
• The route takes roughly 2 to 4 hours, depending on wind conditions, number of stops, and paddling speed.
• Fill a dry bag with snacks and water and strap it to the front of your board.
• Don't want to leave a car at your launch and takeout points? On summer weekends, Taylor’s Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental offers a shuttle service that drops off paddlers upriver. The park also rents paddleboards.
What to Do Once You're There
• Take a break at one of the many sandbars along the way.
• Railroad buffs will want to stop and admire the old Soo Line swing bridge a few miles south of the Osceola Landing.
• Extend your trip with an overnight at O'Brien's Riverway Campground, located a stone's throw from the water.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service characterizes the St. Croix as "one of the premier mussel watersheds of the world." The river is home to 41 mussel species, five of which are federally endangered.
• From 1839 to 1914, the logging industry dominated the St. Croix River Valley. Loggers cut white pines growing along the river, then drove them down to the Stillwater boom site, where they were sorted and stored.
• The 52-mile Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is a wonder of cooperative management that involves multiple localities, the National Park Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Chris Clayton , editor in chief