Cloquet River State Water Trail

Cloquet River

Cloquet River location mapLocated in northeastern Minnesota, the Cloquet River State Water Trail is known for its fishing, paddling and class 1-3 rapids. The upper stretch of the Cloquet River is wild, with heavily forested banks. The lower stretch is partially forested, and borders farmland and residences. There are many steep, rocky stretches that can become impassable when water levels are low.

Water trail segments and maps

Segment 1 - Island Lake to St. Louis River

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About this segment

This area of the Cloquet River offers a scenic paddle past forested banks and occasional farmland or homes. You'll encounter several bridges as the river makes its way to the St. Louis River. 

The river level depends on release from the Island Lake Dam. Minnesota Power is required to provide a minimum flow of 350 cubic feet per second (if available) in May and June, which offers good paddling. During the rest of the summer, only 175 CFS is provided (if available). This is enough to float down the rapids with some scraping and river walking. Class I-II rapids become numerous near the St. Louis River. 

Within the river is a diverse fish population with plentiful smallmouth bass. You may also spot painted, snapping and wood turtles. To protect their eggs, avoid trampling on sand bars and sandy banks. 

Hazards include Class I-II rapids. Portages are available for Class II rapids and should be used by beginners. Always get out and scout the rapids before proceeding.

Recommended day trip

Island Lake Dam Carry-in Access to Bachelor Road Access

  • Put-in location: river mile 28.6
  • Take-out location: river mile 20.5
  • Length: 8.1 river miles

Enjoy scenic country with good fishing for walleye, smallmouth bass and brown trout. Plan to carry-in your canoe to launch, and watch for Class I rapids near the launch site.

Explore on shore

DNR watercraft campsites

In this section, you'll find numerous primitive watercraft campsites on property managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and do not require a fee. Camp during a longer trip, or simply stop for a picnic meal (if unoccupied). 

Nearest medical facility

St. Luke's Hospital, 915 East First St., Duluth
Tel. 218-249-5616

St. Mary's Medical Center, 407 East Third St., Duluth
218-786-4000

Lake View Hospital, 325 Eleventh Ave., Two Harbors
218-834-7300

Segment 2 - Indian Lake to Island Lake

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About this segment

This stretch of the Cloquet River offers vast forested banks and a remote, primitive feel. Paddle past red and white pines, fir, spruce, aspen and birch as the river makes its way to the St. Louis River. 

Medium to heavy stream flow is best for an enjoyable run through the river's rapids. Stream flow is usually high during spring runoff and typically falls throughout the summer. The river above Island Lake can rise quickly after heavy rains and take three to seven days to return to normal flow. The rapids in this area may only be runnable after heavy rains.

This river stretch has a diverse fish population with abundant northern pike, walleye and brook trout. You may also spot painted, snapping and wood turtles. To protect their eggs, avoid trampling sandy areas. 

Hazards include Class I-III rapids. Portages are available for Class II rapids and up, and should be used by beginners. Always get out and scout the rapids before proceeding.

Recommended day trip

Indian Lake Access to Bear Lake Road

  • Put-in location: river mile 71.8
  • Take-out location: river mile 61.5
  • Length: 10.3 river miles

Paddle this narrow, northern stretch of the river and enjoy wooded banks on either side. Expect a set of Class II rapids halfway along your route, with an option to portage around or run them. Watch for bald eagles, deer and even otter. You'll find several public campsites, allowing you to turn this into a longer trip if desired.

Explore on shore

DNR watercraft campsites

In this section, you'll find numerous primitive watercraft campsites on property managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and do not require a fee. Camp during a longer trip, or simply stop for a picnic meal (if unoccupied). 

Nearest medical facility

St. Luke's Hospital, 915 East First St., Duluth
Tel. 218-249-5616

St. Mary's Medical Center, 407 East Third St., Duluth
218-786-4000

Lake View Hospital, 325 Eleventh Ave., Two Harbors
218-834-7300

River character

Because of the many steep, rocky stretches and the small watershed area, medium to heavy stream flow is necessary for an enjoyable run. In the summer, rapids may be runnable only after a heavy rain. Stream flow usually peaks in late April and drops throughout the summer. Fall rains frequently raise the level of the river significantly.

If the gauge on the bridge south of Brimson (river mile 67.7) reads much below 3.5, many of the rapids will be too rocky to run. If the flow into Island Lake is less than 150 cubic feet per second, many sections may be too congested for easy passage.

From Katherine Lake to Island Lake, the river falls 549 feet, or 8.5 feet per mile. The upper stretch is steepest, falling 13.9 feet per mile from Katherine Lake to Indian Lake. From there to Island Lake, the river falls 3.2 feet per mile.

Landscape

The upper stretch of the Cloquet River is wild, with generally low banks heavily forested with red and white pine, fir, spruce, aspen and birch. Long placid stretches are broken by short bouldery rapids. Outcrops are most frequent in a short stretch immediately above Island Lake. Except for several houses near Alden Lake and on Island Lake, the upper Cloquet is undeveloped.

The lower part of the river varies in scenery. A riverside forest of red and white pine, fir, spruce, aspen and birch is occasionally broken by farmland and a few homes and cabins. Though several bridges cross this stretch, there are no large towns or cities.

For more information about conservation, paddling and fishing on the Cloquet River, see "Wild Country...Still" by Gustave Axelson in the May-June 2010 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.

Fish and wildlife

Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.

Fish

  • Brook trout (near cold-water tributaries in the far upper reaches)
  • Brown trout
  • Channel catfish
  • Smallmouth bass,
  • Sunfish
  • Northern pike
  • Walleye

Wildlife

  • Otters
  • Painted turtles
  • Snapping turtles
  • White-tailed deer

History

The map of Major Stephen Long's expedition in 1823 shows the Cloquet as Rapid River, but on Joseph Nicollet's 1843 map, the river was called Cloquet, probably for a French trader.

For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, this area was home to the Dakota. It's believed that in 1679, the first European to explore the area was Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, for whom Duluth was later named. European settlement of the area began with the La Pointe Treaty of 1854, when the Lake Superior and Mississippi bands of the Ojibwe Indians ceded the vast area of northeastern Minnesota to the United States.

The completion of the railroad from the Twin Cities to Duluth in 1869 marked the real beginning of immigration to the area. Hundreds of immigrants from the eastern United States and Europe arrived in Duluth each month.

There were an estimated eight billion board feet of pine in the Cloquet River valley. It was in this area that the largest section of timber ever recorded was cut--33 million board feet from a square mile near Little Alden Lake. Nearly all of the original pine stands had been logged by the time of the last log drive in 1925, though scattered mature white and red pine remained amid a second-growth forest of birch, aspen, fir and spruce.

Local contact 

DNR Area Office, 1568 Highway 2, Two Harbors, MN 
218-834-1420

Lake and St. Louis counties