Lower St. Croix River State Water Trail

St. Croix River Water Trail

The lower St. Croix River is a placid river of quiet tree-shaded backwaters. On this stretch of river you can experience an awesome day or overnight trip from the metro area. The lower St. Croix is designated as a wild and scenic river. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

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St. Croix River Water Trail sections:

Local contact and maps

River location map National Park Service maps

Pine, Chisago, and Washington Counties, east central Minnesota
Contact National Park Service St. Croix River Visitor Center: (715) 483-2274.

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River character

The upper and lower rivers were formed at different times, by draining waters from different glacial lakes. Within the stretch from the State Highway 70 bridge to William O'Brien State Park lies the long-ago meeting place of the two rivers, the St. Croix Dalles at Taylors Falls. Here, water draining from glacial Lake Duluth drilled a deep narrow path through hard igneous rock to join the previously formed lower river. Rocks and gravel swirling in river eddies carved out the Dalles' potholes which are stone wells up to 60 feet deep. Pines cling precariously to rock walls that tower as high as 200 feet above the deep river. The St. Croix's depth here averages 70 feet, but holes are as deep as 100 feet. Today the Dalles area is preserved in the Interstate Parks of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Just above the park, under the U.S. Highway 8 bridge, is a short but strong stretch of rapids. Standing waves about 3 feet high at normal water levels and up to 5 feet at high water can swamp an open canoe. However, there are few obstacles such as rocks to make the rapids dangerous. The easiest path for an open canoe is along the right side of the rapids.


The heavily wooded banks of the upper St. Croix valley are predominantly birch, maple, oak, aspen and basswood. The extensive forests of white pine that once covered the slopes disappeared during the valley's logging boom in the last half of the 19th century.

Below the Dalles the St. Croix River flows through a heavily wooded, steep-sided valley with occasional sandstone and limestone bluffs. Winding side channels and shaded backwaters offer opportunities for quiet exploration and channel catfish angling. Springs and small streams entering the river create miniature deltas and valleys.

Below the William O'Brien State Park the St. Croix flows through a heavily wooded, steep-sided valley with occasional sandstone and limestone bluffs. Dozens of islands, winding side channels and shaded backwaters offer opportunities for quiet exploration. The Soo Line Railroad bridge (river mile 31) is an imposing steel arch bridge more than 150 feet above the river. Towering stone piers a mile downstream are all that remain of another old railroad bridge.

South of the railroad bridge is the St. Croix Boomsite Park, several long narrow islands where millions of logs were sorted and floated downriver to mills during the state's logging heyday in the last half of the 19th century.

On the precipitous sandstone cliffs bordering the west bank of the river three miles north of Stillwater the Dakota Indians carved and painted vermillion figures and images, long since erased by time and man. Indian burial mounds were once numerous in the lower St. Croix valley, but over the years most have been lost to agriculture and construction.

At Stillwater the river widens and deepens into Lake St. Croix, formed by a natural bar at the river's junction with the Mississippi. The lake is bounded by steep wooded slopes, whose bluffs are topped with numerous permanent and seasonal homes. However, south of Bayport to Afton the bluffs recede on the Minnesota side, and large, nearly level terraces take their place.

Fish and wildlife

The St. Croix has little prime waterfowl habitat and hunting pressure is light. However, waterfowl which may be found in the area are mallard, wood duck, ring-necked duck and blue-winged teal. Upland game birds include ruffed grouse and woodcock.

The most plentiful game animal is the white-tailed deer. Other wildlife along the St. Croix include beaver, raccoon, otter, mink, muskrat and fox. In addition to catfish, the St. Croix harbors walleye, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskie and sauger. According to the 1997 Fish Consumption Advisory, women of childbearing age and children may eat only black crappie and bluegill sunfish. Other people should eat only one meal a month of other fish species.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to the Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.


The beautiful character of the St. Croix has earned the river its status as Minnesota's first stream in the national wild and scenic rivers system. Administered by the National Park Service, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was designated in 1968 to preserve the scenic qualities of the river and to provide adequate access for recreational users.

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