Wild Rivers Conservancy Outside: Paddle Prep

The weather is getting warmer and the river is opening up! It’s time to get ready to paddle the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers this summer. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting ready for a day trip on these wild and scenic rivers.


Note: Be sure to follow any safety regulations regarding COVID-19 and practice social distancing on and off the river. Visit the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway webpage for updates.


Step 1: Gather your gear

The first step to planning a successful paddling trip is making sure you pack more than enough water, food, and sun protection to keep you going throughout the day. 

Be sure to wear water-resistant layers and water shoes or sandals with sturdy soles. You may also want a couple of ‘dry bags’ to keep your gear and valuables from getting wet. Remember to  pack a map, first aid kit, and any other safety gear—such as tow ropes—as well.

Of course, you will also need a kayak or canoe, paddle, and Personal Flotation Device (PFD)! If you don’t have this gear, you can rent it from a local outfitter.

On the St. Croix, you can rent boats and some gear from: 

Eric’s Canoe Rental, Taylors Falls Canoe and Kayak, Wild River Outfitters, St. Croix Canoe Rental, Riverwood Canoe, and more.

On the Namekagon, you can rent boats and some gear from:

Camp Namekagon, Jack’s Canoe Rental, Log Cabin Resort, Pardun’s Canoe Rental, Bear Country Rentals, and more.


(Photo: C. Mosher)

Step 2: Plan your route & know before you go

Following a map and planning your route can be the difference between a leisurely day-long float and paddling frantically up river for an extra hour because you passed your take-out point. Section maps can be found on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway website.

Make sure you decide where you are putting in, taking out, and how you plan to shuttle your gear. Once you have a plan, tell someone that is not on the river with you where you are going and let them know your estimated time of return.

Be sure to check the weather and water levels before departing on your expedition as well. Prepare yourself for possible winds, cold water temperatures, storms, or varying water levels. To find out about current water levels and conditions, visit the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (SACN) website. 

There are many sections with spectacular views on the St. Croix and Namekagon that are easy floats for beginners. Try starting at Minnesota Interstate State Park and head down to Osceola Landing, passing through the Franconia Bluffs on the St. Croix. Or head up to the Namekagon and try Springbrook to Big Bend to experience some true northwoods beauty. For more information, check out the section maps on the SACN website.

You can also look into paddling some of the smaller tributaries of the St. Croix, such as the Apple River, Kettle River, or the Willow River.


Step 3: Fuel up!

Good snacks and lots of water can make the difference between a leisurely river float and a “hangry” disaster. Always be sure to bring more than enough for everyone in your group so you have some extra food and fluids if you get into a bind.

Fruit, trail mix, nuts, jerky, and granola bars are all easy and nutritious snacks to take with you on the river. It’s also fun to bring a picnic lunch to eat at a landing during a paddling break.

For more snack and food ideas, check out Paddling Magazine’s article on healthy camping snacks

It is even more important to bring more than enough water. Paddling can be an intense cardio workout and hydration is key for a successful trip. If the day is hot, it is also important to replenish your electrolytes. You can easily do this by adding a packet of Propel or Gatorade to your water bottle. This is a simple way to prevent dehydration during long days on the river.

Just remember, proper fuel and hydration are key to making your trip a success!


(Photo: C. Mosher)

Step 4: Grab your friends and family and head out!

Remember to follow any regulations related to COVID-19 when you’re planning who you will embark on your river adventures with.

That being said, time on the river can be a great bonding experience to have with your friends, family, or significant other. Without the distractions of phones or TV, this can be a great time to have an engaging conversation or just enjoy taking in the silence and the scenery.

Older children with some paddling experience may be able to handle some of the calmer sections of the St. Croix and Namekagon as well. Make sure you test their stamina and comfort level on the water before going out, and as always, provide them with a PFD that fits them securely. 

Once you are on the river, be sure to respect the area and wildlife by following all Leave No Trace (LNT) regulations. To learn more about LNT, visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ website

Make sure to take plenty of pictures on your trip and tag us on Facebook and Instagram at @stcroixriverassocation for a chance to be featured on our page!


If you have any questions or want to learn more, please contact us.

Thanks for reading and happy paddling!


Header Photo: J. Van Tatenhove, NPS
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