Among the many aptly named rivers this one ranks well up there. From well up in its headwater areas to its final plunge toward Lake Superior, it takes chunks of its gradient in spectacular fashion, creating marvelous cascades to behold (and to boat).
This reach starts well up toward the Boundary Waters lake area. While there is some additional gradient upstream, the next convenient upstream access would necessitate miles of lake paddling. However, from our listed put-in, it appears that those interested could paddle upstream about 1/3-mile to check out an upper drop. Similarly, downstream of the listed put-in, it takes just over a half-mile before the first significant drop is encountered, as the river drops at least 20' in a very short distance. This could be done as a 'park-and-huck' (if/when runnable), as the road is close by. Downstream, gradient is mostly much more gentle (no apparent big drops), interspersed by ponded areas.
(NOTE: All 'Rapid/Feature names' here are not proper names, but merely descriptions. Similarly, any/all difficulty ratings are merely conjecture at this point. If anyone knows of local names or boater names for the features or has seen/boated them, please help out your fellow boaters by providing more accurate names and ratings via "Add a Comment" button or via a report or (better yet) a photo or video of the feature(s) with your description.)
Upstream of the listed put-in, there is what appears to be a massive rocky prominence in the stream. There is something less than 20' of total drop (contour intervals of 20' are not clustered near together), but (via online aerial views) it looks like it could be interesting enough to check out. It appears the river should be slackwater enough to make paddling upriver (about 1/3rd of a mile) not too problematic to scout, portage upriver, and run this drop. Also, it appears there may be a minor additional drop upstream of the larger drop you'd first encounter.
From the put-in, expect flatwater/pond paddling to start this run. McDonald Creek will enter from the left (perhaps not conspicuously) as the river bends from Easterly to more SouthEast, and then Southerly. Almost immediately thereafter (with only a few minor warm-up riffles and waves) you'll encounter what appears to be a dog-legged steep sliding drop of at least 20' in a very short distance. (Likely to be at least class IV, perhaps more.) (Editorial comment: On the topo map view, this is marked "Rapids". These same topo maps often mark "Falls" in places which have much less drop! Almost laughable.)
Near the confluence with Thompson Creek (at the intersection of Bally Creek Road/158 & Devil Track Road/57) the Cascade River Campground is on river-left, and could serve as alternate access for shorter trips.
USGS lists a sampling site "AT FOREST RD. 45 NR GRAND MARAIS", however, the coordinates (from two different listings, using two different formats) map it at 157/Cascade River Road. Either way, it lists drainage area of 88 square miles (compared to 111 sq.mi. at mouth of river).
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Permits are not required for this reach.
This shuttle is somewhere near a half-hour (each way). We highly recommend meeting at take-out, gearing up, swapping boats and boaters to as few vehicles as possible (to leave 'drop vehicles' there), then driving to put-in to run river. This gets you on water without the delay which would result from meeting at put-in, having to run shuttle down and back up (while some boaters wait somewhere near a full hour) before putting on river!
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