Poplar - Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles)

Poplar, Minnesota, US


Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles)

Usual Difficulty II-IV+(V) (for normal flows)
Length 2.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 170 fpm
Max Gradient 200 fpm

Bilek's Surprise

Bilek's Surprise
Photo of Andy Lichtenheld by Ryan Zimny taken 04/14/06

River Description

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-03-12 15:04:59

Bialek's Surprise

Detail Trip Report  Bialek's Surprise  Poplar, MN(2.29MB .wmv)

Bilek's Surprise

Detail Trip Report  Bilek's Surprise  Poplar River, MN(992.21KB .jpeg)

Bilek's Surprise

Detail Trip Report  Bilek's Surprise  Poplar River, MN(956.13KB .jpeg)

Andy McMurray

Detail Trip Report  Andy McMurray  @Poplar Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles), MN(923.92KB .jpeg)

Lutsen National Hike-in

Detail Trip Report  Lutsen National Hike-in  @Poplar Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles), MN(1.01MB .jpeg)

Gauge Information

Gauge Description:

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.

Report - Reports of Poplar Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles) and related gauges

Reports give the public a chance to report on river conditions throughout the country as well as log the history of a river.


When River/Gauge Subject Level Reporter
Poplar [MN] Bialek's Surprise 3.7' (Low) Rob
3y234d19h35m @Poplar Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles) [MN] Lutsen National Hike-in n/a Andy McMurray
3y234d19h36m @Poplar Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles) [MN] Andy McMurray n/a Andy McMurray
> 10 years Poplar River [MN] Bilek's Surprise n/a Ryan Zimny



User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 1 2014 (1329 days ago)
acmcmurray (152713)
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.

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Carry DownN/APutin
0.3Alternate Put-in/First BridgeN/AAccess
0.4Second BridgeN/A
0.6Third BridgeN/A
1.2Fourth BridgeN/AAccess
1.6Fifth BridgeN/A
1.6Sixth Bridge/Bilek's SurpriseN/A
2.3Seventh BridgeN/ATakeout
2.3USGS Gauge siteN/A
2.4Lutsen Trail Bridge/Hwy.61N/A
2.7 BeachN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Carry Down (Class N/A)

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.

Alternate Put-in/First Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 0.3)

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.

Second Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 0.4)

Not far downstream, you pass under a second ski-area bridge.

Third Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 0.6)

Fine rapids continue and precede the third ski-area bridge.

Fourth Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 1.2)

After a good paddle (leaving the ski area), you encounter a fourth bridge, which marks your entrance into the golf course.

Fifth Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 1.6)

As you round an 'S' bend, passing a clearing in the golf course, you encounter the fifth bridge.

Sixth Bridge/Bilek's Surprise (Class N/A, Mile 1.6)

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.

Gorge (Class N/A, Mile 1.7)

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.

Seventh Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 2.3)

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.

USGS Gauge site (Class N/A, Mile 2.3)

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).

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 Lutsen ski hill to golf course bridge above Hwy 61 (2.2 miles), Poplar Minnesota, US (mobile)