Difficulty II-III at this flow (II-V normally)
Length 3.25 Miles
Flow Range 3000 - 4500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 37 minutes ago ~ 1350 [CFS] ℹ️
Next Release
Reach Info Last Updated 12/06/2019 5:07 pm

River Description

Information on events is available at UMD's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program page.

Greater than normal release flows for select weekends are a result of cooperation between American Whitewater and UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program, Kayak and Canoe Institute.


Note that all flow information below is actual flow in the reach, not flow as measured by the online gauge.

A quarter mile stretch just below the dam at Hwy.210 (situated in a scenic, dark-rock gorge) is site of slalom/rodeo each August. A series of ledges and waves exist at virtually any water levels. 'Fish flow' of 250 cfs is great for rodeo play on some of these waves. The "210 drop" is a pourover feature just downstream from the Hwy. 210 which allows for good spectating.

Approximately 1/4 mile downstream from the highway, a former railroad trestle spans the river, affording bikers and roller-bladers on the Munger Trail an impressive view of the gorge. This paved "rail-trail" bike path connects to the outskirts of Duluth, and makes a fine recreational alternative for non-paddlers, or paddlers taking an 'off-river' day. There is a fairly steady 2% grade downhill from Thomson to Duluth. (Or, conversely, a steady 2% uphill grade from Duluth to Thomson.)

Downstream, flatwater is punctuated by random boulder bed rapids and minor waves until a small, twisting ledge drop, Twisted Sister is reached which is a fairly straight forward proposition, with the usual line running down the center and twisting off to the right on a small curler. A short pool follows before reaching Second Sister, dropping 4 feet into a strong hydraulic which can be snuck on the left, or at levels over 3000 cfs by following a flood channel around the right. After the second sister, you will see a horizon line signifying Octopus, a class V puzzle best scouted (or portaged) river left. Octopus starts off with a dike of rock. River left, a slot exists through which the river is twisted and falls into a pool below. Some boaters may choose to run this route known as The Beak, but most will slide down a steep-faced rock far to the right, into a pool below. Following this, the river is immediately funneled down between parallel splines of rock leading off to the left. Numerous routes are possible, though tight right (staying high, then 'boofing' into a potentially sticky hole) or well to the left (losing a bit more elevation, with tricky 'trip-rocks' en route, before dropping over a slightly smaller ledge into a slightly smaller hole (beware the rock slightly underwater in the hole). (The name Octopus reportedly derives from eight smaller holes feeding into one larger one.)

Surviving that, additional wide easy rapids and flatwater lead to the island above the Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park. Two very viable choices exist here:

(1) Staying to the left of the island, stay tight to the left shore (you'll probably want to scout, if you haven't ahead of time; Be careful of poison ivy on shore!) to drop through a pourover between shore and a large boulder choking the channel. Boaters may be backendered out of the hole at its base before paddling across a short, highly aerated pool. The usual route then drops out of this hanging pool, over a short ledge, into a mush of water to the right coming from another steep (seldom (or never?) run) slide. An alternate route staying tight to the left wall is not advised, as it contains a couple of 'power-piton' rocks. Before reaching the swinging bridge, one more ledge/wave/hole exists. Do not be deceived by this rather innocuous looking ledge. It is particularly hungry, often munching boats until their owners abandon them. Skirt it to river right or paddle hard off the left.

(2) The other option is to stay to the right of the island, keeping to the right shore as you round the backside of the island. Take out on the right bank to scout the vertical falls, which drops (12-15') into water pouring down a stairstep slot closer to the island. Run fairly close to the right shore, off a slight sloping lip, angled slightly right to plunge into the pool below. Great air! Note that this river right waterfall is only runnable at levels over approximately 1800 cfs. A short channel brings you to the swinging bridge, and rejoins the flow from the other side of the island.

This is the usual low-water, high-water, or less-than-advanced paddler takeout.

Just downstream, you will run down a short rapid ending in a playful hole known as Playpen. After a short play session, prepare for the action to pick up significantly as one enters a long, difficult rapid. This large river drops 180 feet in the next mile, over a bizarre stretch of jutting bedrock. Fin Falls is the entrance to this stretch. The river twists to the right and trips over a short ledge (with upturned lip to provide an auto-boof) into a mushy hole below. Immediately, the flow is diverted left down a narrow channel, through a couple of diagonal waves and holes, tripping around a couple rocks, than dropping through a large, gnarly hole sitting tight against a slightly overhanging wall of rock. At levels above 800cfs the recommendation is to attempt to skirt the hole to the left.

A brief recovery pool leads to another couple boulder choke and ledges, best run down the left. Below this point, the action is hard to describe. The river is wide, and scouting from shore is nearly impossible. Occasionally, one may be able to beach on rock/islands midstream for a breather. In general, the usual route stays well to river right, where the boater trips, slips, and slides down river and rock to work their way down.

The last 50-100 yards gets even steeper, entering The Wall, as some (more advanced) boaters may work back to center river to slide down a large sloping wall of rock. Most will stay to the right to work down more gradual (but still demanding) sluices and ledges to reach the boney pool at the end.

Take out is on the left, climbing over rock jumble on shore, then heading up a small trail, across and through a gully, and climbing (and climbing, and climbing) up to Oldenberg point. (Hope you're in good shape, and have a light boat!)

When you reach the top, take a look back upstream from this overlook for an amazing view (from on high) of the incredible stretch of water you have just survived! In the distance, you will just make out the slot which is Fin Falls.

Check out some helmet-cam footage of Octopus and Swinging Bridge on this YouTube video:

Rapid Descriptions

Slot Machine

Class - IV+ Mile - -0.01

Most boaters are quite content to just look at this slot/drop (from the river-left parking area) before carrying across the highway bridge to put in down the river-right road embankment. When flows are right, a few intrepid boaters will take the challenge of running this chaotic slot. Each year, as part of a weekend river festival, numerous boaters take on this challenge. Results are about a 50/50 mix of successful runs vs. total meltdown munchings.

First Rodeo Hole

Class - III Mile - 0.09
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Viewable from the CR210 bridge, the first rodeo hole is a pourover as the river is squeezed between flanks of rock. There are some shallow rocks to contend with, but a good pool below offers repeat play.

Second Rodeo Hole

Class - III Mile - 0.17
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The second rodeo hole might be best viewed from the old railroad bridge on the what is now the Munger Trail (a fine paved trail for biking, hiking, or rollerblading). There are also some overlooks on the river-left bank which provide good overhead viewing.


Class - IV Mile - 1

While gung-ho gonzo paddlers have been known to run a slot to the left (at some flows), most paddlers will enter this drop far right, grunging down a steep rock slide (usually with minimal water to 'grease' the rock) and into an eddy to set up for the main body of the drop.

Transverse splines of rock divert the flow diagonally to the left before it spills across a final ledge. Reportedly, (if I recall correctly) the name Octopus stems from (by some count or exaggeration) as many as eight different holes, one waiting to catch you virtually no matter where you run this drop.

Swinging Bridge

Class - IV Mile - 2.13
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

A decent sized low rocky island splits the river. Probably the most common route is to take the left channel, and stick tight against the river-left wall, to drop down a slot (into what can at some flows be a somewhat sticky boiling hole before the pool), paddling across the brief 'hanging pool' to boof to the right, back into the slightly wider channel.

Numerous other lines have been run (at various flows, either accidentally or intentionally).

Watch out for (and seriously think about skirting) what can be a very sticky/keepy hole just before the suspension footbridge ("Swinging Bridge").

At somewhat higher flows, a sweet alternative is to take the river-right channel around the island, sticking well to the right, where you will then plunge over a sweet vertical drop (somewhere in the 10' range, if I recall correctly).

There is another route on the river-right channel, staying to the left (tighter to the island). It has been run at some high flows, but generally contains some wicked, meaty pourovers and holes that love to just munch boaters.

The Miracle Mile

Class - IV+ Mile - 2.25
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

I'm not sure what anyone else may call this stretch, or the names for many individual features or drops (I know there are a few which are named), but I like to call just call the whole stretch below Swinging bridge 'The Miracle Mile'. From the suspension bridge to where the gradient peters out (and you begin your arduous climb, carrying your boat to your vehicle at Oldenburg Point) there is a full mile of river dropping 180 feet (!!!) across jutting transverse splines of rock.

The river is very wide (it takes a virtual minimum of 800-1000 cfs to be runnable!) and nearly impossible to effectively scout any part of it, so I highly advise first-timers to go with someone who is well-experienced in running this part of the river so you can just follow them down. The best/usual routes are generally well to river-right. There are places you will probably have to go on blind faith, slipping out of a hanging pool to drop over a 5-8' slide into the next pool. When you finish I think you probably agree this is some of the most bizarre boating you will find in the entire upper Midwest.

Fin Falls

Class - IV+ Mile - 2.39

Other routes can open up at certain flows, but the usual route starts out with a 'launch' off a ledge (hoping to land and paddle clear of the hole which can form at flows over 800 cfs). Flow is then diverted sharply left, down an alleyway of rock, through offset waves, and into a final looming hole which tends to flip paddlers and try to stuff them into the river-right wall of rock.

For anyone unfamiliar with this run, I strongly advise scouting this before running the river. Scouting (and portaging) are not easy, as the shore is all very upthrust angular rock. If you are not running this drop, you are best served by taking out right at the suspension bridge.

Oldenburg Point Viewing Deck

Class - N/A Mile - 3.25
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

From a parking lot which is part of Jay Cooke State Park, a (somewhat long but easy) trail leads to a viewing area, high over the river. From here you can see upstream all the way to Fin Falls (in the distance). Boaters running this lower part of the river (who did not get out at Swinging Bridge/Fin Falls) have a long, steep, rather grueling climb up a rugged (unofficial) trail to make their way up to this viewing area and back to their shuttle vehicles.


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Tony Nigon
10 years ago

Fish Flow of 250 CFS from May 1st to October 1st. Levels will be higher when Upper St. Louis is releasing a lot of water from rain/snowmelt. Generally, here are the lines for varying water levels: Run left at octopus from fish flow to 600 cfs. Run right line from 600 to 1500 cfs. Fin Falls good to go from 350-1000 cfs (gets really beefy about 900, use judgement). Oldenberg generally run from 600-900 cfs. River right waterfall above swinging bridge good starting at 1900. Sneak 2nd sister above 1500 cfs. Sneak octopus above 1800 cfs. These are all approximate guidelines, and obviously some will choose to run these rapids differently. Good luck, shred gnar.

Release Schedule

We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.

Gage Descriptions

Visit https://www.mnpower.com/Environment/WaterTable and look at Thomson Dam for current flow.

Call (after 7AM each day) 1-800-582-8529 or (218)720-2777 to get the flow info through the two dams. The Scanlon and Thompson flows are the last 2 on the message.

Generally the lower will flow at a minimum of 650 cfs until about June 1. Additional releases are typically scheduled one or two weekends each in June, July, and August, subject to in-flow constraints) at flows typically on the order of 475-1000 cfs.

Section down to Swinging Bridge is marginally runnable at 'fish flow' of 350 cfs which is virtually always present.

Min and Max figures reflect flows desirable for running the entire reach. Higher flows are paddleable with discretion.


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.

No Accident Reports



article main photo

Penobscot River Dams to be Removed!

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.

Brian Robin




Thomas O'Keefe


Ryan Zimny


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1213977 12/06/19 Brian Robin updated image position
1196546 11/18/09 Rob
1196614 11/21/09 Rob Remove dead link.
1197581 04/17/10 Rob Eliminate broken links.
1198783 11/27/10 Rob Embed YouTube video and add a few rapids.
1200392 07/10/11 Thomas O'Keefe photo added
1211809 04/02/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213487 08/12/19 Brian Robin updated description
1190756 09/29/08 Ryan Zimny n/a