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St. Croix

National Scenic Riverway

Wisconsin & Minnesota

cover of park brochure

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scenic photo of the river
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, Wisconsin & Minnesota

Free flowing and unpolluted, the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers flow through some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest. Today 405 kilometers (252 miles) of these rivers are preserved as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which includes the Namekagon, was established in 1968 as one of the original eight rivers under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was added to the system in 1972. Together they form a Riverway that offers outdoor enthusiasts achance to enjoy a wilderness-like experience and a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities within easy reach of a major metropolitan area. On the upper St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers rapids challenge the canoeist, although none of the Riverway's waters are classified as whitewater. At the lower end, where the river widens out as Lake St. Croix, power and sail boating are popular. Campers, picnickers, swimmers, and birdwatchers enjoy its variety of scenes throughout. Anglers are attracted by the variety of fish lurking in the rivers, from trout and bass to muskellunge and sturgeon. The Riverway is managed through the cooperative efforts of

  • the National Park Service,
  • the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources, and
  • the Northern States Power Company.

Upper St. Croix and Namekagon
The upper St. Croix and Namekagon part of the Riverway offers varied canoe environments on 322 kilometers (200 miles) of rivers. The Namekagon River begins at Namekagon Lake dam. It lies entirely in Wisconsin, flowing 158 kilometers (98 miles) south and west to join the St. Croix River near Danbury. The Namekagon begins as a narrow trout stream closed in by forest and meanders through a wide valley for much of its length. The river occasionally widens into marshy or swamp-like areas popular for waterfowl watching. The lower Namekagon passes through an area of high sandy banks with many sharp bends. This stretch offers canoeists a wilderness-like experience because there is no development visible from the river. At four areas, dams form lake-like stretches called flowages. You can end canoe trips above these flowages, to avoid the slack water, or sort below the dams, to avoid having to portage.

The St. Croix River is designated as the St. Croix River National Scenic Riverway starting at a dam near Gordon, Wisconsin. It flows southerly for 164 kilometers (102 miles) to the dam at St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. It lies in Wisconsin for its first 40 kilometers (25 miles) and then becomes the border river between Minnesota and Wisconsin until it flows into the Mississippi River. The St. Croix begins as a small spring. It is narrow and shallow until joined by its major tributary, the Namekagon, 32 kilometers (20 miles) downstream. It then becomes wider, deeper, and slower. For most of its length it flows through a wide valley with low banks, formed by the glacial activity that shaped both rivers' watersheds. The St. Croix passes two Minnesota State Parks that provide developed camping areas. (The Namekagon and upper St. Croix offer primitive sites). The upper Riverway’s last 16 kilometers (10 miles) are the Indianhead Flowage created by the 18-meter-(60-foot) high St. Croix Falls hydroelectric dam. Most canoeists take out upstream of the flowage to avoid the slack water. Small powerboat activities such as water skiing and deeper-water fishing take place on this flowage.

Many low and medium hazard rapids and a few high hazard rapids exist on the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, but they are not considered whitewater rivers. Recreation here includes fishing, hunting, inner tubing, picnicking, and canoeing, with small powerboating on the flowages. Most camping is at canoe-access primitive sites. Recreational vehicle camping areas can be found within the state parks or private campgrounds located near the Riverway.

Lower St. Croix
The Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway covers a narrow river and shoreline corridor for 84 kilometers (52 miles) from St. Croix Falls dam to Prescott, Wisconsin, where the river joins the Mississippi. The lower St. Croix is wider, deeper, and slower than the upper, its flow controlled by the hydroelectric dam at its upstream end. Downstream of the dam are the high cliffs of the Dalles, which formed as meltwaters from retreating glaciers cut a deep, vertical-walled gorge through bedrock. For about 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) here the St. Croix, in places 21-30 meters (70-100 feet) deep, flows its fastest. The Dalles mostly lie within two Interstate State Parks. Both offer short hiking trails to geologic features, and developed campgrounds, swimming beaches, picnic areas, and boat launch ramps. On the Minnesota side you can rent a canoe or take a boat tour to see the scenic Dalles from the best vantage point, right on the water.

As it leaves the Dalles, the river becomes wider and shallower and passes between high banks for the next 32 kilometers (20 miles). Although development is visible from the water for 24 kilometers (15 miles) on this stretch, it is popular with canoeists. The shallower water, lack of rapids, and absence of large powerboat waves make it suitable for beginning canoeists.

About 35 kilometers (22 miles) below the dam the Apple River flows into the St. Croix, creating a large sandbar. Near here the river becomes deeper and slower-moving. Large powerboating becomes the major use. Forty-three kilometers (27 miles) downstream the valley widens still more and, for the last 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Riverway, the river is known as Lake St. Croix. Here you enter the state-administered area. From near Stillwater, Minnesota, the Riverway's largest city, south to Afton, Minnesota, shoreline development is more visible and the area is classified recreational. Near Hudson, Wisconsin, south of Stillwater, the river reaches its maximum width, 2,255 meters (7,400 feet) and sail-boating predominates. Further south the river passes two developing state parks, one on either side.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album has not been prepared for this park.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway still has much to learn about the Riverway and the species that inhabit it. Park staff and researchers set up studies to establish baseline inventories and monitor population trends. Inventories are a snapshot in time of a particular population. Monitoring looks at those populations and track how they change over time.

Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/sacn/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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