The Best Whitewater in the Lake Superior Basin

Scott White
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Minnesota may not be widely recognized for its whitewater kayaking, but head north and you’ll find a vast system of waterways that attracts paddlers from around the world. Particularly in the spring when the snow is melting, the rivers and streams that eventually make their way to Lake Superior offer world-class whitewater. It is the most experienced kayakers looking for waterfalls and raging rapids that head to rivers like the Baptism, Devil’s Track, and the Cascade on the North Shore. You can get a little preview here.

We consulted Cliff Langley, the founder of Swiftwater Adventures based in Esko, Minn., to pick some of his favorite whitewater on the North Shore. Having been a whitewater guide and naturalist for more than 14 years, Langley’s adventures have taken him from Lake Superior to Alaska, Northern Canada and back.

When it comes to the best whitewater in the area, Langley points to the creeks of the Lake Superior Basin, saying, “I’m a creek boater above and beyond any other form of paddling, so my favorites reflect that: The steep creeks of Lake Superior.”

He suggests checking American Whitewater for flow information and put in and take out details prior to heading north. He also emphasizes that these waterways aren’t for beginners. If you’re a newbie, you should start by signing up for one of Swiftwater’s trips to learn the basics. Even then, it’ll likely take years of practice before a paddler should attempt one of these incredibly challenging runs.

Scott White

1. Cascade River on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior :
Distance : .5 miles
Class: V+
“The Cascade is arguably the most challenging run on the shore, chalked full of sporty class IV and V rapids,” says Langley. “The first major rapid, Hidden Falls, might be the fastest rapid on the shore and when the river gets on the low side the final five falls are runnable—for the daring.” Map

2. East Fork of the Beaver River:
Distance: 2 miles
Class: IV-V+
“There are three waterfalls in a row! Enough said,” Langley says. Map

3. Baptism River:
Distance: 5.2 miles
Class: I-III (IV)
“This has classic north shore scenery, beautiful canyons, a mountain like feel, classic rapids, and Illgen Falls, a beautiful and clean 33-foot falls, my favorite waterfall,” says Langley “Paddle into Lake Superior and see the 200-foot lava bluffs of Palisade Head and to the north Shovel Point.” Map

4. Lester River:
Distance: 2 miles
Class: IV-V
“This is a sporty, short run right on the edge of Duluth, Minnesota,” explains Langley. “It is the host river of the Lester River Race. This spring will be the third annual with lots of action." Map

5. Final Mile of the Presque Isle (U.P. of Michigan):
Distance: 1.1 miles
Class: IV-V
“This is full on action: multiple waterfalls, such as Menebozho Falls, and it ends with the infamous—and hard to stay upright—Zoom Flume into Lake Superior,” says Langley. Map

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