From the Forest Service campground, easy boulder garden paddling leads about a quarter mile to a small canyon with a fine III+ drop, leading to a good recovery pool. Easy paddling for the next mile and a half leads to the next significant drop. Increased gradient leads to a large boulder (just right of center) which can be run to either side.
A brief paddle brings one to an irregular short ledge, followed by boiling 'funny water', as the river is immediately diverted ninety-degrees to the left.
Be prepared to take out a short distance downstream, as a horizon line looms, and the thundering of Illgen Falls is heard. Small diagonal ledges lead in to this 35' vertical drop, which has been run routinely since the 70's. A narrow 'goat-trail' portage for the less adventurous (?) clings tenuously to the river left rim, over the boiling cauldron at the base of the falls. Illgen Falls can be run as low as 200 cfs, but 300 to 450 cfs is optimal! Above 500 cfs there are serious consequences for being offline!
Resume paddling for a short distance, getting out river left above the Superior Hiking Trail footbridge. High Falls, a 50-60' vertical drop, landing almost uniformly shallow, has been survived (with broken bones) by a hiker who was swept over it. Boaters will follow the trail to a boardwalk down to the river below the falls.
The next significant drop, Two Step, consists of a 12' ledge (boof river left), followed by a short recovery area, then a second ledge. Center river drops more gradually, across irregular bedrock, and into a particularly sticky hole. The usual route is tight right, through a couple easy waves, almost brushing the vertical rock wall, as one drops blindly into the river right eddy below.
Paddle cautiously 1/3 mile downstream, as the river increasingly narrows heading into The Cascades. Take out river left before it's too late, and start bushwhacking your portage around about a half mile of nastiness. (Leave your boat on the 'trail', and take a couple side-trips back to the river to see it squeezed and tortured as it flows through the contorted channel.) Some may choose to put in at the small pool above the last tricky pitch.
A few more III-III+ drops punctuate the remaining run, until the mouth of the river is reached. A boardwalk from the wayside/park provides a (relatively) easy carry back to your vehicles, where the park building restrooms provide a handy (warm) place to change.
Running from Eckbeck then taking out after Illgen Falls has become a poplar, quick run, allowing for paddlers to run this section (shuttle included) in about an hour or so. Typically, if the Baptism is running the Beaver River has water also. The East Fork is a great follow up, a quick run also to get in four waterfalls for the day!
The following is NOT a comprehensive list of the rapids, but merely the features which I could easily identify from memory and from the aerial views on Google. Perhaps someone else can provide more detail on these and/or other drops on this run.
After the first 'warm up' rapids, the river takes a 90-degree left bend. Not far downstream, it picks up gradient again. The current takes you straight into a large rock which splits the flow well down this stretch, necessitating a decision -- left or right?
Class IV? Class V? A fairly straightforward approach (ok, a couple of potentially tricky ledges, rocks, holes, and waves) leads to the brink of this 35' (more or less, depending who you talk to) drop into a large boiling cauldron of a pool. Not really that much of a 'skill' move . . . more of a 'guts' move. Or, a portage for those not taking the big drop.
The Superior Hiking Trail bridge is the take-out point to begin the portage around High Falls, which is just downstream, and is a MANDATORY PORTAGE for all mortal, sane boaters. Carry a ways down the hiking trail, and to a trail back down to the river below the falls, where you'll have a good view of this falls (as shown in the photo).
About a 6' (+/-) ledge (some piton potential if you don't hit your boof), a short pool, then a sliding drop into a particularly munchy, keepy hole. The second drop is generally best run WAY to river right (almost rubbing elbow against the rock face flanking the drop), boofing into the eddy, avoiding dealing with the hole.
Again, most mere mortal and sane boaters will want to get out (river left) and portage the next stretch of river. A series of ledges and holes lead to a major constriction where a huge rock splits the flow to spill down contorted rock before resuming a more reasonable path below. While this has been run, it is not generally advised.
A USGS site at this location lists drainage area of 140 square miles (which ranks this third-largest among North Shore rivers which have USGS sites, behind Brule at 264, and Temperance at 185 sq.mi.).
10 years ago
To find the USGS stage marker, walk down from wayside at Hwy.61 bridge and walk upstream (river right). Gauge is on a cement face, and may be easy to miss first time you look for it.
Most runs on this river are good around 2.6' on this gauge, give or take 0.3' or so.
However, boaters are reporting (Spring, 2009) that the gauge has apparently changed. Now, readings of 3.3' (give or take 0.3') would appear to be optimum.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources appears to be taking stage readings at this site. Reportedly, 12.5' on their gauge correlates to 2.5' on the old stick gauge. MDNR data is available at DNR Gauge You can use a pull-down list on the graph (and hit the 'Change' button) to get the flow (CFS) values. For what it's worth, 12.1' is about 200 cfs, and 12.3' is about 250 cfs.
Minimum flows for this section are about 200 cfs, where as 300 to 450 is optimal flow, especially for running Illgen Falls. Flows above 500 cfs would be considered high. Above 700 cfs the river has a "big water" feel, and Illgen Falls becomes a huge flume (best portaged on river left).
Gauge/flow analysis based on data from 1928-08-01 to 1993-09-30:
Drainage area at gauge: 140 sq.mi.
Minimum mean daily flow during stated period: 0 cfs (Jan/Feb, 1977)
90% of time flow exceeds: 15 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 430 cfs
Maximum mean daily flow during stated period: 6,860 cfs (1972.05.02)
10/90 ratio: 28.6 ('flashy-ness': under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Average days per year over 200 cfs: 80
Average days per year over 600 cfs: 24
Average days per year over 1000 cfs: 10
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