Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, National Park – Trip Planning

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, photo from the National Park Service.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, photo from the National Park Service.

Many people don’t realize that the Namekagon and Saint Croix River together form the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, and that it is in fact one of our National Parks.  That’s right, both rivers form a beautiful National Park with over 200 miles flowing water through forested landscapes.

Do you like to hike?  How about camp?  Maybe you like to canoe trip?  Or just day trip on your boat, kayak, or canoe?  Is fishing your thing?  Maybe you would prefer to visit the scenic and historical towns in and around the riverway, such as Stillwater, MN, or Hudson, WI to name a few.  All of those activities and more can be found within the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.

In this post I am going to share with you a little information about this unique, interesting, and little known National Park.  I will also get you started on how you can enjoy it as I make plans for a three day canoe trip down a small section of the Riverway.

The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway National Park

Located in Northwest Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is administered by the National Park Service.  It’s relatively free flowing and unpolluted.  Both the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers flow through incredible scenery in some of the least developed country in the Upper Midwest.

The Riverway was included as part of the National Park Service in 1968 when Congress established the St. Croix National Riverway.  It was one of eight rivers protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

Ariel view of a tiny section of the St Croix National Scenic Riverway National Park.
Ariel view of a tiny section of the St Croix National Scenic Riverway National Park.

The purpose of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway is to protect, preserve, and enhance the value of both the Namekagon and St Croix Rivers for the immediate enjoyment and benefit of present and future generations.  Its value is as a ‘wild and scenic riverway’; free-flowing character, exceptional water quality, recreational, cultural, historical, geologic, and aesthetic values are present in both rivers.

While the Namekagon and the upper section of the Saint Croix River are solely in Wisconsin, most of the Saint Croix River from about two miles west of Riverside, Wisconsin is along the Minnesota & Wisconsin borders and serves as a boundary water.

Things To Do Visiting The Saint Croix River Nation Park

  • Canoe
  • Kayak
  • Camp
  • Fish (trout, bass, norther, walleye, sturgeon, pan fish, the list goes on and on)
  • Bird Watch
  • Hike
  • Wildlife Photography
  • Picnic
  • Go Tubing
  • Attend National Park Events
  • Visit Nearby Historical Towns
  • Drive The Scenic Riverway Valley
  • Snowshoe
  • Backpack
  • AND ON AND ON….List of 50+ things can be found here

Living Near The St. Croix River

I live very close to St. Croix River in the southern quarter section.  Further up north I have an off grid cabin in the woods about 1.5 miles away from the upper section of the river.  Sadly I’ve not spent a lot of time of the St. Croix over the years.  Sure, I have had day long canoe trips on it once in a while, have fished it with my father and friends from motorboats and shore.  I have even relaxed and ate dinner on a couple paddle boats.  As I write this blog post I also recall that I learned to swim in the St. Croix when I was just a little kid.

Photo taken of the St Croix National Riverway near St Croix Falls, WI & Taylor Falls, MN.
Photo taken of the St Croix National Riverway near St Croix Falls, WI & Taylor Falls, MN.

But to be honest my time on the Riverway has been limited.  I want to explore and experience more of it, and I am in the stages of planning a three night solo canoe trip.  Wisconsin has some of the best canoe tripping rivers in the country.  It surprises me when I stop and really think about it that I have not experienced any of them; especially since I live within minutes of the Saint Croix River.

Planning A St. Croix National Park Canoe Camping Trip

The National Park Service makes it really easy to plan a day enjoying the Riverway.  And if you want to plan a longer stay, as many as 12 days canoe tripping, you can do that too and they help you out.  Click on the following link to jump right into your trip planning:  ST. CROIX NATIONAL PARK.

There is also a specific visitor center that is worth checking out if you are in the area or passing through St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  It is located at 401 North Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, WI. 54024.

The nice thing about this particular National Park is that it is largely free.  No fees are charged for use of landings, campsites, and other facilities on federal lands within the boundary of the Riverway.  There are State Parks that border the Riverway, and those have fees.  Also, there are private and county campgrounds that border the Riverway was well, and they charge fees.

Image taken is a middle section of the St Croix Scenic Riverway.
Image taken is a middle section of the St Croix Scenic Riverway.

By and large though, for a canoe camper there are scores of landings were you can put in and take out your canoe.  And scores and scores of free to use campsites you can stay at on a first come first serve basis.

For canoe campers, like what I plan to do, the Saint Croix Nation Scenic Riverway does not get a lot of overnight traffic.  Specific areas do see a lot of day use.  But for the most part finding a camping site is not going to be a problem at all.  This National Park does not see a lot of heavy use from multi-night canoe trippers.

Maps are available of the Riverway for free (read further below) that show all campsites and other areas of interest.

A Relatively Cheap Canoe Camping Trip

People looking to experience a rustic and scenic river canoe camping trip can easily plan one through a variety of outfitters that serve the Riverway, for a fee of course.  Luckily I have all my own gear and bring along my own food.  So I don’t need to worry about any of that.  I also have my own canoe, an old ‘battleship’ aluminum 17 footer.

Sure, I could use that canoe I own, but I don’t want to.  I’ve been spoiled renting and using poly and Kevlar canoes recently, and for me that is the way I would go.  Yep, I would rent a canoe for this trip, which is going to cost me roughly $48 per day.

To me the expense is worth it.  Along with the canoe rental I get dropped off at my put-in location, and picked up at my take-out location three days later as part of my rental cost.  For $146.00 I get four days and three nights of solo canoe tripping.

If I had my own Kevlar ultralight canoe I wouldn’t even have that expense.  As I mentioned above there are no fees to use the Federal National Park landings or their campsites.  Just grab my gear and go, gas expenses for my vehicle would be about $15.00 total.

Have your own gear but are looking for an outfitter that can help plan and provide some basic requirements for a St. Croix National Scenic Riverway canoe trip?  Check out Wild River Outfitters.  They can easily set you up with the basic canoe & kayak gear, as well as shuttle rides to and from various landing sites.

Various Sections For All Canoe Kayak Experience Levels (Rapids!)

Yep, there are sections of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway that have rapids.  Most are class one, but there are a few sections that have class two.  In high water after long heavy rains some class two rapids can turn into class 2+, which is not quite class 3 but pushes it.

Class one+ rapids that can be found occasionally along the St Croix National Scenic Riverway. Photo by the National Park Service.
Class one+ rapids that can be found occasionally along the St Croix National Scenic Riverway. Photo by the National Park Service.

Classifications of rapids found at some locations on the Riverway:

  • Class 1:  Easy rapids with small waves that are good for novice paddlers.
  • Class 2:  Waves up to 3 feet high with some obstacles that may require maneuvering around.
  • Class 2+:  Usually this is what is classified for class two rapids after higher water from heavy rain and spring melting.  A little more critical than class 2.

The Upper St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers are considered recreational paddling rivers at normal water levels.  There are a few Class 1 and sometimes 2 rapid areas that are doable for beginner skill level paddlers.

More Information About The St. Croix Scenic Riverway National Park

I could go on and on about this fantastic National Park.  However, if you are looking for more information and FREE MAPS, then you should go straight to the best information source there is; the website for the Riverway.

The website the National Park Service has set up for the Saint Coix Scenic Riverway is fantastic.  Like I said you can download and print free maps.  There is also updated and current ‘alert’ information on the two rivers.  High water, low water, where are the rapids, What classification are the current rapid conditions?  All good things to know, especially after a few days of hard and steady rain.  Check out the website by clicking here.

You can also check out a lot of great information on the Wisconsin Trail Guide online here.

Saint Croix Scenic Riverway – Conclusion

As I write this post I am not sure when I will be doing my 3 night canoe trip.  Likely it will be sometime this Autumn.  Currently I am putting together an itinerary for myself and making plans.  As I get closer to fleshing things out I will of course share the details here.

I was surprised to learn that the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway is not heavily used by canoe trippers.  That fits my needs and desires to have a more secluded canoe camping experience.



TD is the owner and publisher of TD All Outdoors. He has been enjoying the outdoors since since he was a child. Over the years he has spent as much time as he can solo wilderness canoe tripping, overlanding, hiking, fishing, bushcrafting, hunting, hammock camping, and more. Aside from this blog, he also own his own coffee brand,

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