Published: Mar 30, 2023

High Water, Low Water, Spring, Summer, Fall

After a near record snowfall year for northeastern Minnesota there will be plenty of water in the St. Louis River watershed this spring for a great and splashy start to the rafting season! We definitely hope to see you on the river this season. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of whitewater rafting with Swiftwater Adventures, we are located in Carlton, MN about 15 minutes south of Duluth.  

There are two sections of the St. Louis River that sport whitewater, the Upper section from our put in location in Scanlon, MN to the Thomson Reservoir in Carlton, and the Lower section from Carlton, MN into Jay Cooke St. Park. The Upper section we run most of the summer, some years all summer long. This section sports class II and III rapids. When the Upper gets too low we sometimes do the Lower section that sports class III rapids, many of them drops. When the Upper gets low we can safely raft the canyons on the Lower section. 

People ask us the best time to go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. Of course, the answer is subjective as it varies from person to person. Some people love big waves and don’t mind chilly water, others want some splash but moderately warm weather and water, others want hot summer days and just being on the water. Most years there are the prototypical high water early season, medium flows late June and July and low water in August.  

We typically tell people if they want big water May is the best shot at big waves but the water can be chilly.  We supply rafters with wetsuits and/or splash suits this time of year. May flows can sometimes boast waves over 8’ tall. The average 2.5 to 3 hour trip can run as fast as 1.5 hours at these flows as the river is moving fast and the rapids are stacked closer together.  

June can have flows just as high or sometimes higher than May as June is the wettest month in northeastern Minnesota. Water temperatures are warmer than May and you still get big waves and fast flows. 

July flows are usually medium flows, which are 3’ to 6’ waves in many of the rapids. Late July and August is typically low water season as there isn’t as much precipitation as previous months. Waves still exist on the river and some of the rapids become more of a drop, such as the ‘Electric Ledge’ rapid. In high water the Electric Ledge rapid is a tongue of water feeding into a powerful crashing wave. In low flows it’s a cascading waterfall. Every rapid has its magic levels and the river is always changing. 

Usually isn’t always though and sometimes a late July thunderstorms can dump some serious rain and we are at high flows in late July. Thats why we try not to say always and never when referring to nature, other than the river is always changing. Typically though, all the above is true.

We asked some long time Swiftwater guides what their favorite water levels are for rafting.

Brian, “I love the big waves of May and June! I love crashing through breaking waves. I also really like the technical rapids of late summer and surfing waves in August.” 

Luke, “It’s tough to beat the fun of paddling through a big wave train (series of waves) on Lil Kahuna rapid. I also really like mid summer where there are fun waves but we can still slow down and offer the extra adventures in the trip like the side hike to old growth pines and the adventure swim. I mean it’s always fun no matter what.” 

Andy, “As a kayaker I love the big crashing waves and powering through them, being connected to that awesome power of nature. I also love summer flows too when the water warms up, we get swim more, more raft surfing, and I like the Electric Ledge when it turns into a waterfall and the look on people’s faces when the bottom drops out!” 

There you have it folks! Get out there rafting on the St. Louis River with Swiftwater Adventures this summer! 

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