St. Louis River State Water Trail

Paddling the St. Louis River

The St. Louis River State Water Trail has one of the largest watersheds in Minnesota, covering 3,650 square miles. It begins in the Superior National Forest and flows southwest to Floodwood, where it then turns southeast to meet Lake Superior. River width varies from 75 to 600 feet.

The upper river features the only whitewater rafting opportunities in Minnesota, with many rapids that should be attempted only by the most experienced paddlers. Part of the lower river has been designated as a national water trail and is the nation's largest freshwater estuary.

River locator map


River segments and maps

Get maps and more information for this river's three segments:

  1. Seven Beaver Lake to Meadowlands
  2. Meadowlands to Highway Two
  3. Highway Two to Lake Superior


Some stretches are quite wild, while others are dotted with farms, homes or small towns. The most developed area is around Cloquet. Bluffs and wooded hills are common in the upper reaches, while the river's middle is flanked by low-lying woods and bogs.

The watershed is bordered to the north by mid-Precambrian ores of the Mesabi Iron Range, including argillite and graywacke. In its middle stretch, the river flows across silts and clays that once formed the nearly-level bed of glacial Lake Upham.

Fish and wildlife

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


  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Smallmouth bass (Whiteface River to Cloquet)
  • Channel catfish (Floodwood to Brookston)


  • Timber wolves
  • Bobcats
  • Lynx
  • Beavers
  • Otters
  • Moose
  • Black bears
  • White-tailed deer


  • Bald eagles
  • Osprey
  • Songbirds


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.

Euro-American expansion into the area began with the La Pointe Treaty of 1854. The establishment of new towns 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. Towns along the St. Louis River - including Brookston, Forbes, Paupores, Peary and Zim - began as railway villages.

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