St. Croix River Family Canoe
Family Memories on a Scenic River Trip Close to the Twin Cities
Share a fun-filled camping experience with your family along the beautiful and historic St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Paddle 24-foot Voyageur canoes down the easy-flowing water, viewing ancient petroglyphs on the cliffs along the way. Close to the Twin Cities, the river is a great location for a weekend family getaway. Relax and enjoy games and activities on the banks of the St. Croix, covered with pine, balsam, and birch that offer respite from the warm sun. This is a great vacation for those who want to enjoy a scenic and easygoing getaway with the family. The St. Croix offers something for everyone.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
DAY 1: Meet at Minnesota's William O'Brien State Park in the morning and travel together with your group to your first campsite at Interstate State Park - Minnesota. Unload gear, repack into Duluth packs, and get to know your surroundings among towering white pines and spruce trees. Enjoy lunch before participating in a canoe orientation out on the water. Explore the pristine Dalles of the St. Croix—large basalt walls, carved into a canyon by ancient glacial meltwaters. Enjoy camp games around the fire after dinner.
DAY 2: Travel downstream past sandstone cliffs where ancient petroglyphs have been preserved on rock walls. Be on the lookout for bald eagles that grace the trees and sky. Great Blue Herons wade silently near the shoreline and Peregrine Falcons watch as we progress down the river. Take a break from paddling to stop for lunch and go for a swim. Arrive at your campsite near Osceola Landing. Set up camp, enjoy dinner and a fire under the stars, right on the banks of the river.
DAY 3: Enjoy a delicious early breakfast, then paddle to your take-out point at William O'Brien State park. Look for wintergreen and wildflowers. Eat one last lunch together before packing for the trip home. The trip officially ends in the early afternoon. Those who use WI's van transportation will return to Minneapolis in the late afternoon.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE CHOICES: The river banks are generally low throughout this section of the river. Sand bars are frequent, and some rocks are scattered along the route. There are no portages. Routes will depend on the water levels at the time of the trip.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: This trip is recommended for families with children age 3 and older. Travel in 24-foot cedar strip canoes, which hold 4-8 paddlers, a boat captain, and all necessary gear. They are fast and stable boats, designed specifically for trips on big water. An average day's travel will consist of 2-5 hours of paddling depending on the weather. The total distance travelled will be 15 - 18 miles.
WEATHER: Temperatures in the summer months range from 35 F to 100 F. Rainfall can vary and you should expect the possibility of rain.
YOUR GROUP: The group size ranges from 7 to 14 participants, plus 2 or more Wilderness Inquiry staff. Each group consists of people of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities. If you are looking for a family-friendly vacation this is a great choice. Our trips are cooperative in nature. WI staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can. Part of the adventure involves learning about daily camp activities.
ACCOMMODATIONS: At night, you will sleep in 4-person tents with 3-4 people (although other arrangements can be made). Bathroom facilities consist of a foldable commode chair or an outhouse. We make every effort to ensure privacy and cleanliness.
MEALS: The fun of camping includes cooking in the wilderness, a challenge with great rewards. We pride ourselves on providing healthy ingredients for simple, plentiful dishes everyone will enjoy. Count on hearty breakfasts, trail lunches, plenty of snacks, and wonderful dinners, finished off with campfire s’mores.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all group equipment. You will need to provide your personal gear as outlined in the packing list. If you are new to outdoor activities, you do not need to spend a lot of money. Wilderness Inquiry can usually arrange for you to borrow most items.
FISHING: If you would like to fish on the St. Croix trip, we suggest bringing your own fishing pole and tackle. You must have either a Minnesota or Wisconsin fishing license.A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
The 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.
For those interested in a family vacation that provides kid-friendly camping, this is one of the best vacations with teens and younger children. This family-friendly vacation is one of the active family vacations that will give adventurers a lifetime of memories.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is there a discount on family trips?
Yes. All youth participants under the age of 18 pay 50% less than the adult rate on all family trips. Adult fees are typically lower than on our "adult" trips to the same destination to help family affordability. Click here to see a list of our available family trips.
What is the minimum age for kids on your family trips?
There is no minimum age requirement to participate on a WI trip. For a paddling trip, we require participants to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when on the water for safety. The smallest PFD we provide for children requires a minimum weight of 30 pounds. A child smaller than this weight limit would need to provide their own PFD or would be unable to participate on the trip. For most family trips, children should be able to sit comfortably in a canoe or kayak for 1+ hour at a time. This should guide whether or not a child would be a good fit on any particular trip. For a non-family trip, youth under the age of 18 must attend with an adult family member or friend who is over the age of 18.
Will age-appropriate activities be offered for children on a family trip?
Absolutely. Your trip leaders will offer age-appropriate activities for children at different points during the trip.
For more information, visit these links:
Standard Meeting Places and Times
Start: William O'Brien State Park at 10:00 AM (local time)
End: William O'Brien State Park at 1:00 PM (local time)
This trip begins at William O'Brien State Park in Minnesota, at 10:00 AM. The trip ends at 1:00 PM at the same location. You can take your own transportation or use WI’s van transportation from our headquarters in Minneapolis. By car, it is a 1.5-hour drive north from Minneapolis to William O'Brien State Park. Most people meet us for the van leaving from WI headquarters in Minneapolis at 7:30 AM on the first day of the trip. The WI shuttle will return to headquarters in Minneapolis at approximately 3:00 PM on the last day of the trip. Detailed meeting place instructions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. Booking a Flight? We recommend flying in to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport the night before your trip, and flying out no earlier than 5:30 PM on the last day of the trip.Want to Ride With Us?
We typically provide transportation for this trip from the following places (make your selection when you register):
- Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters FEE: $30 per person