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Difficulty II-III(IV)
Length 2.8 Miles
Gauge KETTLE RIVER BELOW SANDSTONE, MN
Flow Range 400 - 4000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 4 months ago 546 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 01/03/2018 11:39 am

River Description


Quick Facts:

Location: Sandstone, MN, about 82 miles N of Minneapolis/St.Paul, 56 miles SW of Duluth.
Shuttle Length: 7.4 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: Bedrock riverbed creates wonderful waves and holes. The rivername is appropriate as there are areas with various sized 'kettles' scoured out in the bedrock.
Drainage: 868 sq.mi. (at gauge site 2 miles downstream of take-out).

Put-in is approximately 1000' elevation.
Take-out is approximately 960' elevation.
Thus total elevation change is approximately 40'.

General Overview

A popular playboating reach, with a few good surfing waves and holes. Caution should be exercised due to shallowness at most levels, and the existence of undercuts.

Put-in as listed is a roadside public access at the Hwy.23 bridge. However, the run from from there begins with 1.5 miles of flatwater paddling. Therefore, many (most) boaters opt to pay a park entrance fee at Banning State Park, to drive to a launch site which puts you in the river immediately above the first drop sequence, resulting in a run of 2.8 miles. Total elevation change is so little effected (no appreciable gradient loss in the 1.5 miles of flatwater), so overall gradient comes up to 14 fpm.

The first major rapids on this reach is Blueberry Slide. Two steeper pitches create a couple good holes and standing waves, including Shoulder Hole, Teachers and Teacher's Pet. Next up is Mother's Delight, and Dragon's Tooth, where the river rushes through steep boulder-bed rapids into a short, narrow canyon with sandstone walls which are severely undercut. This should not cause any problems under 1000cfs. In high water, large waves and holes may form here.
Caution: Holes in both parts of this dells tend to feed paddlers into the undercut right wall. Stay well to the left (at high water) to avoid this fate.

This is followed by a series of boulder-bed rapids, Little Banning Rapids, which fill the next half mile.

Passing the ruins of the town of Banning, you reach Hell's Gate, a long, boulder-bed rapids leading to the end of the Dalles. At levels up to about 1000cfs (more-or-less, depending on your tastes), this offers some of the best play on the river, with generally enough push and depth for surf and squirt maneuvers. Shortly downstream, Wolf Creek enters from the right. A waterfall (about 10-15') may be found shortly upstream on this side-creek. If you are here during peak runoff or after a good rain, carry a ways up this creek to have a fun flush with a great almost goof-proof whoopie at the end. About a mile of flatwater paddling will bring you to Quarry Rapids, a broken-down dam/rubble-field, class II with sharp boulders churning the flow. A wide smooth wave normally forms at the top of this drop. Bottom left of the drop (at higher levels) tends to form a somewhat sticky looking hole, while the right is a fine flush into great swirls in the pool below.

This is the end of the usual run.

However, a mile-and-a-half further downstream lies Big Spring Falls. (Some of the local boaters refer to it as Triple Drop, in reference to there being up to three separate falls (across the width of the river) to take your pick from when deciding to run this area.) At times of high flow, a far-right channel provides a fun 'bypass' route. An island splits the main channel. The right side cascades over a waterfall, with a steep, fast 'tongue' alongside the island. At the base of this tongue, a hole forms, which changes greatly at different water levels. By some reports, it has been a sweet, friendly surf at levels around 2500-3000cfs, but sticky and nasty between 2000-2500. The leftmost channel of the river drops over a ledge and twists through boulder-filled ledges. Again, there are some bad undercuts, so caution is advised for any who venture down here.

Not far below, Sandstone Rapids and three additional boulder-bed rapids are encountered. A few more low grade rapids follow before the gradient peters out.

Google Maps has excellent resolution aerials of this reach. We highly recommend going to the "Map" tab, clicking 'Satellite', double clicking near (not on, but near) the put-in location icon, zooming to the maximum resolution (without losing image), and doing a 'virtual tour' to 'walk' down the reach.

A great helmet-cam video of the run (including Wolf Creek Falls), courtesy 'MnktoDave' and YouTube:

Rapid Descriptions

Banning State Park Access (Alt.Access)

Class - Mile - 1.47
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Rather than using the listed public access (at Hwy.23), most boaters opt to pay the entrance fee to use this access in Banning State Park. Doing so cuts off 1.5 miles of nothing but flatwater.

Blueberry Slide

Class - II+ Mile - 1.52
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This 'entrance drop' lies immediately downstream of the river access in Banning State Park. Deepest flow is to river-left, through a great sequence of waves and holes. Named features down this stretch include Shoulder Hole, Teachers, Teacher's Pet, Mother's Delight, and Dragon's Tooth.

The following video (courtesy MnktoDave and YouTube) shows some great open-boat surfing at high water.
It also shows the undercut at Dragon's Tooth, as a kayaker deftly paddles by.

Hell's Gate

Class - III Mile - 2.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Passing the ruins of the town of Banning, you reach Hell's Gate, a long, boulder-bed rapids leading to the end of the Dalles. At levels up to about 1000cfs (more-or-less, depending on your tastes), this offers some of the best play on the river, with generally enough push and depth for surf and squirt maneuvers.

Wolf Creek Falls

Class - III Mile - 3.33
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Shortly downstream from Devil's Gate, Wolf Creek enters from the right. Land on shore a ways before the mouth of the creek for the shortest carry across a narrow spit of land to get to Wolf Creek Falls A waterfall (about 10-15') drops into a fine pool. If you are here during peak runoff or after a good rain, put-in just above the drop, or carry a ways up this creek to have a fun flush with a great almost goof-proof boof at the end.

Quarry Rapids

Class - II Mile - 4.18
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Quarry Rapids is formed by a broken-down dam/rubble-field, creating a class II with sharp boulders churning the flow. A wide smooth wave normally forms at the top of this drop. Bottom left of the drop (at higher levels) tends to form a somewhat sticky looking hole, while the right is a fine flush into great swirls in the pool below. Many cautious/timid boaters forego any play here over concerns about flipping onto the shallow rocky rubble.

Big Spring Falls

Class - IV Mile - 5.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

A mile-and-a-half downstream of the usual take-out lies Big Spring Falls. (Some of the local boaters refer to it as Triple Drop, in reference to there being up to three separate falls across the width of the river to take your pick from when running this area.) At times of high flow, a far-right channel provides a fun 'bypass' route. An island splits the main channel. The right side cascades over a waterfall, with a steep, fast 'tongue' alongside the island. At the base of this tongue, a hole forms, which changes greatly at different water levels. By some reports, it has been a sweet, friendly surf at levels around 2500-3000cfs, but sticky and nasty between 2000-2500. The leftmost channel of the river drops over a ledge and twists through boulder-filled ledges. Again, there are some bad undercuts, so caution is advised for any who venture down here.

Sandstone Rapids

Class - II Mile - 6.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

One more bit of gradient, before things peter out.

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Summary of Gauge Readings

Paddlers have historically referred to a stage reading taken from the Hwy.23 bridge. However, with USGS gauges now online, confusion arises because the gauges do not directly correlate. In an effort to modernize and standardize, the more accurate and unmistakable gauge (cfs) reading will be used here.

Translation between paddlers "bridge gauge" and the USGS 'Sandstone gauge' is roughly -3 feet. Bridge gauge levels above 2' (5.2' on USGS) are runnable, though many paddlers will suggest better play begins at 4' on the bridge (6.72' on USGS).

A somewhat more detailed statistical analysis of the data suggests the following conversion:
23 Bridge Level = ( 1.31 x Internet Sandstone Level ) - 4.8'

"Maximum" as given here (2300 cfs) is only an indication of a level above which the character of the run will change from 'friendly play' to more pushy and having more consequence. The river is runnable much higher, with the understanding that holes will become 'keepy', and undercuts will become dangerous (deadly).

A local boater suggests the following ratings:

1,250 CFS = 5.57' (on USGS) = 2.5' (on Bridge Gauge) = Class II+
2,000 CFS = 6.34' (on USGS) = 3.5' (on Bridge Gauge) = Class III-
2,300 CFS = 6.72' (on USGS) = 4.0' (on Bridge Gauge) = Class III+
4,500 CFS = 8.63' (on USGS) = 6.5' (on Bridge Gauge) = Class IV-
5,500 CFS = 9.01' (on USGS) = 7.0' (on Bridge Gauge) = Class IV

These are conservative ratings. At levels over 2300 CFS (4 feet bridge gauge), the undercuts become active, drawing the class IV ratings.

Gauge/flow analysis (based on USGS data, 1968-2009):
Drainage area at gauge: 868 sq.mi.
Minimum daily mean flow (1976.11.12): 43 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 123 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 1,690 cfs
Maximum daily mean flow (1972.07.23): 16,400 cfs
10/90 ratio: 13.7 ('flashy-ness')(under 3 is quite steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')

Gauge NameReadingTimeComment
KETTLE RIVER BELOW SANDSTONE, MN
AW Gauge Info
546 cfs ℹ️ 120d18h28m Gauge (868 sq.mi. drainage) is just downstream of Sandstone (usual take-out), so very accurately portrays flow in this reach.
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Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

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Date Flow Result Factor  
1982-08-15 Medium Fatality One Boat Trip Read More

Alerts

News

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Penobscot River Dams to be Removed!

2003-12-01 00:00:00-05
Kevin Colburn

Atlantic Salmon and other imperiled fish species will soon have hundreds of additional miles of habitat. A recent decision between a power company, NGO's, tribes, and government agencies calls for the removal of two dams on Maine's Penobscot River and the bypassing of a third. American Whitewater applauds this huge win for rivers and is recruiting volunteers to assist with our work on the project. There is a public meeting December 2nd.
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Rob