Straddling the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the St. Croix River is a popular destination for a weekend wilderness trip. The start point at Interstate Park is only an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities. You will be amazed at the diversity of wildlife you’ll see in a short three-day camping trip so close to home. Easy paddling makes this a great option for all ages and abilities.
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About the AreaThe beautiful Saint Croix River allows visitors to paddle and experience a wild and scenic waterway that forms the Minnesota and Wisconsin border just east of the Twin Cities. Congress designated the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway system as an original river in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1968. This designation protects 255 miles of river corridor for its scenic and recreational values, including the Saint Croix and its major tributary, the Namekagon. While paddling this river system visitors experience several ecosystems and abundant plant and animal life.
Aquatic mammals such as otters, mink, beavers, and muskrats make their homes in the riparian zone and feed on the river’s fish and vegetation. During the mornings and in the evenings paddlers may glimpse white-tailed deer, or the shy black bear, as they forage along the riverbanks. Overhead visitors can spot eagles, osprey, hawks, and vultures.
Human occupation began as early as 10,000 years ago. Burial mounds, campsites, chipping stations, quarries, wild rice processing areas, rock art, and village sites offer evidence of the seasonal and complex nature of prehistoric life along the rivers. Historic American Indian archeological sites also tell of the coming of European people and culture. Native peoples and early fur traders alike liked the Saint Croix River/Brule River as a favored fur trade route from the Mississippi River to Lake Superior. Interaction took place between traders and Dakota and Ojibwe and other Indians as they traveled the rivers and traded. In 1837 a treaty opened the area to settlement by Euro-Americans.
A mixed forest of maples, cottonwoods, willows, and pines attracted 19th century loggers to the region. They cleared much of the timber and used the river to transport the logs. In 1872, for example, 3,500 men, 1,600 horses and 250 oxen logged off 35,000 acres cutting some 200 million board feet of logs, according to the Taylor’s Falls Reporter. In 1883 the Boom in Stillwater, Minnesota, which collected logs coming down the Saint Croix River, reported 1,397,417 logs for 217,045,647 board feet.
In the early 20th century, farming provided the livelihood for most settlers as the forests were all but cleared. The farming industry lasted only a short time due to poor soil conditions and the ensuing Great Depression. In the mid-1930s government relief programs assisted the farmers and the failing local economy by purchasing their lands and creating recreation areas. Acquired farmland became known as the Saint Croix Recreational Demonstration Area and an era of preservation and conservation followed.
The National Park Service manages the Saint Croix Riverway, and seeks to preserve, protect, restore, enhance, and interpret the riverway’s exceptional natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations. With the 1968 National Wild and Scenic River designation, the Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers will always be preserved as a ribbon of wildness for all to enjoy. The river is great for canoeists of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.
Camping is available at local parks for a base camp style or expeditionary style trip. For those interested in a family vacation that provides kid-friendly camping, this is one of the best vacations with teens and younger children. Our experienced staff members will help give your group unforgettable memories along the river.