Published: Feb 02, 2016

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: High Water versus Low Water on the St. Louis River

water levelThe St. Louis River is runnable all summer long—runnable, meaning you can raft or kayak it. It can be low or we can get heavy rains and it can be high. One thing the St. Louis River does, as all rivers do, is fluctuate depending on precipitation. Peak run off for the St. Louis River from snow melt is typically late April, and May and June rains keep it at high flows until summer. And yes, there is whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota!

I have seen 12 to 15 foot waves at peak flows in May or June. The highest water I have ever seen was on June 24th, 2012 a couple days after the flood event that inundated the Duluth region. At 60,000 cfs (cubic feet per second which is a measure of volume) the ‘Electric Ledge’ rapid was a 25 foot wave with more monster waves behind it! It was like the Congo! Of course that level is three times higher than the level we stop running trips because the water is too high to run a safe trip. My point: the Louis can and does get big.

July and August are great times to go whitewater rafting when in Duluth, Minnesota–even if it isn’t high water. Typical summer flows still supply waves and challenging rapids and the weather is much more amiable. The first couple of rapids are easy class II+, the first wave we turn into a surf session. Then the last few get more challenging, class III to III+ range, with larger waves and more maneuvering is required. The “Electric Ledge’ gets people excited at all water levels.

Expectations and attitudes have a lot to do with having a good time rafting, on the Louis or anywhere. If you expect high water in August, you will probably be disappointed. I remember a conversation I had with a rafter a couple of years ago:

“I was rafting on the Arkansas River in Colorado in June and the waves were bigger,” she said to me.

“Well, yeah, no kidding” I responded with a smile. “It’s late August now (on the St. Louis River) and early June is the peak run off in the Rockies. The water is high here too in early June. If you were to raft in Colorado late August you might be disappointed by the low water. Most places the later in summer it is the lower the water.”

Every rapid has its magic water level and rivers are ever changing from one day to the next.

My two cents to those that only want high water but its late summer: regardless of the water level, on a hot summer day wouldn’t you rather be paddling on a river where you can swim, get splashed, enjoy fantastic scenery, and run some rapids then be walking around Canal Park or some other tourist hot spot sweating away the day?

If you scare easy, have never been rafting, or just want a fun whitewater and wilderness paddle then August rafting is for you! If you are a hardcore paddler that lives for high water then you want to ride with us in May or June.

Regardless of what time of the season it is, high or low water, our goal is to deliver a safe and fun whitewater trip! If you want to go whitewater rafting in Duluth, Minnesota give us a call!

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