The St. Louis River watershed is large, covering 3,650 square miles. The St. Louis River begins in the Superior National Forest and flows southwest to Floodwood, where it turns to flow southeast to Lake Superior. Between river miles 72.5 and 37.1 (Floodwood to Cloquet), this river features the only whitewater rafting opportunities in Minnesota. Many of the rapids along the river should only be attempted by experienced paddlers. Between river miles 20.4 and 0 (Fond du Lac Dam to Lake Superior), the lower segment of the river has been designated as a national water trail. Considered the nation's largest freshwater estuary, this section features 11 loop trails for paddlers of all skill levels and abilities.
Water trail segments and maps
- Map 1 - Round Lake to Floodwood (Map, GeoPDF Map)
- Map 2 - Floodwood to Duluth (Map, GeoPDF Map)
- What is a geoPDF?
- Map 1 - Round Lake to Floodwood
About the water trail
The St. Louis River watershed is large, covering 3,650 square miles. Parts of the St. Louis are wild; other are dotted with farms, homes or small towns. Stream flow usually peaks in late April and falls throughout the summer, but there is generally enough water for paddling. The upper section has some shallow rapids, Class I or less.
- Map 2 - Floodwood to Duluth
About the water trail
The lower section of the St. Louis River offers the only whitewater rafting opportunities in the state of Minnesota. Adventurous paddlers will enjoy the exhilaration of nature's power, and be awestruck by the spectacular scenery. In the lower part of the river from Floodwood to Cloquet, rapids range from Class I-III.
- River character
Stream flow usually peaks in late April and falls throughout the summer. The river's flow is affected by the regulation of reservoirs on tributaries, particularly the Whiteface and Cloquet rivers. From U.S. Highway 53 to Cloquet the river falls 136 feet, an average of 1.5 feet per mile. The river varies in width from 75 to 600 feet.
Parts of the St. Louis are wild; other are dotted with farms, homes or small towns. Cloquet is the most developed area. Though bluffs and wooded hills are common in the upper reaches, the middle section of river is flanked by low-lying woods and bogs. The watershed is bordered to the north by middle Precambrian ores of the Mesabi Iron Range. Underlying the St. Louis itself are mid-Precambrian argillite and graywacke. In its middle reaches the St. Louis flows across silts and clays that once formed the nearly level bed of glacial Lake Upham.
- Fish and wildlife
Walleye and northern pike are the principle game fish, though smallmouth bass are common from the mouth of the Whiteface River to Cloquet, and channel catfish from Floodwood to Brookston.
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.
Timber wolves, bobcats, lynx, beavers, otters, bald eagles and osprey are occasionally sighted. Big game includes moose, black bears and white-tailed deer.
For centuries before Europeans came to the St. Louis River basin, the area was the home of Woodland Culture Indians (Dakota tribes in historical times). Probably the first white man to explore this area was Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, who traveled here in 1679 and for whom Duluth later was named. The St. Louis River linked Lake Superior with trading posts on the Mississippi River and Vermilion Lake. White settlement of the area began with the La Pointe Treaty of 1854. Increasing settlement and the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad westward to the Red River valley required huge quantities of timber, much of which was cut in the St. Louis River valley. Iron mining on the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges further increased the demand for lumber and rail transportation. Many settlements along the St. Louis River, including Brookston, Forbes, Paupores, Peary and Zim, began as railway villages.
St. Louis and Carlton Counties, northeastern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northeast Regional Office: 218-328-8980.