Put-in is via carrying down from Lutsen Ski Area parking lot, or (alternatively) by driving (or hiking) further up toward the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) bridge and carrying down to wherever it looks survivable (an awesome stretch of serious cascades precedes the runnable reach).
Action starts with busy technical continuous class II+ water. A few larger individual drops are interspersed. The biggest drop is Bilek's Surprise and the gorge immediately below (1st descent was by accident, Surprise!). This is the (V) in the rating description at anything other than low water. Beyond this is more fun boogeying until the golf course bridge. Just beyond this bridge a very significant drop exists. While it may be runnable, it seldom is run due to putting the paddler into a deep gorge with poor egress.
There are a couple of choices for your put-in. The easiest is if you park at the ski lodge, where you can carry/drag (or snow kayak?) down the ski slope to the river. Otherwise, our coordiantes are based upon driving about 1/4 mile up the road to park in a (maybe 3 or 4 vehicle sized) pull-off. You will bushwack about 125 yards downslope to the river to be rewarded with an incredible view upstream of a steep rock-filled cascade. (A bridge for SHT (Superior Hiking Trail) crosses at the head of this suicidal gradient.) Put in where meet the river (or as high up as you feel comfortable), to have a great rip-roaring class II technical start.
If you park/start from the base of the ski area, carrying/sliding downslope under a ski-lift, you'll come to a bridge across the stream for your put-in. This skips about a quarter-mile of fine technical warm-up rapids.
Not far downstream, you pass under a second ski-area bridge.
Fine rapids continue and precede the third ski-area bridge.
After a good paddle (leaving the ski area), you encounter a fourth bridge, which marks your entrance into the golf course.
As you round an 'S' bend, passing a clearing in the golf course, you encounter the fifth bridge.
Almost just around the corner from the prior bridge, as you see this sixth bridge, you will probably wish to get out (river-right) to scout Bilek's Surprise, a somewhat steep sliding drop, often with a pretty good wave/hole at its base.
Not far below Bialek's, you enter a gorged out section of river. At moderate-to-high flows, this is heavy-duty technical water, at least class IV, perhaps verging into class V.
Most folks will take out above this bridge. Per some folks, it's possible to run the next drop and take out before all H### breaks loose. The remainder of the run to the lake is the stuff only for the more elite (class V) boaters.
A USGS gauge which existed here (from 1912-1961) listed drainage area of 112 square miles (making this fifth-largest among the NorthShore rivers which have USGS info).
The drop after the golfcourse bridge is run fairly often and there exists an eddy below on river left where the paddler can easily (with adequate technical skills) can egress back to the vehicles on a trail.
The Gorge below (under hwy 61) has been run by a variety of paddlers usually at lower flows (late summer/fall). John Kiffmeyer and a SE crew first descended this section and gorge in the early 2000's, naming the feature drop directly under Hwy 61, "Sauza Falls." Safety is best set directly under the bridge either with climbing anchors (cams/nuts into features) or with extra rope, a harness, etc for the person with the bag. It's sporty.
A USGS staff gauge (no internet listing) used to exist in the gorge downstream of the usual takeout for this reach. Levels between about 3.7' and 5.0' are runable, with 4.2' being perhaps 'optimum'. Bridges in ski area become hazards around 5.0 and higher. As of Spring of 2001 it appears the gauge has either washed out or been destroyed. As a result, the best 'gauge' may be to park at the Lutsen Ski Area and hike down the ski slopes to inspect at the bridges. If the rapids look runnable, and the bridges are sufficiently above water to duck under, the level should be good.
Minnesota DNR maintains a gauge for this river. Click Here to see that gauge.
Note: You can use the pull-down menus to change the graph from 'Preliminary Stage' (feet) to 'Discharge' (cfs), and to change the numver of days of data displayed. Once you make your selections, press the "Update" button for the changes to take effect and a new graph to be displayed.
Correlation to the former USGS gauge is not known. Recommended flows are not known.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Lutsen National Hike-in
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