Difficulty II-III at this flow (II-V normally)
Length 3.25 Miles
Flow Range 3000 - 4500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 21 minutes ago ~ 1490 [CFS] ℹ️
Next Release 2020-08-22
Reach Info Last Updated 07/06/2020 2:29 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.

Fish Flow (250 CFS) should be available at all times from May 1st to October 1st.
Levels will be higher when (upper and lower dams are) releasing a lot of water from heavy rains or spring snowmelt.

While some will do (at least parts of) the run at fish-flow, I find it marginal at anything under 600 cfs, with 800-900 preferable. Generally, here are suggested lines for varying water levels:
Octopus: Run left from fish flow to 600 cfs, run right line from 600 to 1500 cfs, run sneak above 1800 cfs.
Second Sister: Run sneak above 1500 cfs.
Swinging Bridge river-right waterfall: good starting about 1900 cfs.
Fin Falls: good from 350-1000 cfs (gets really beefy about 900, use judgement).
Oldenberg ("Miracle Mile"): generally run from 600-900 cfs.
These are all approximate guidelines, and obviously boaters will each have their preferences (I.E., may choose to run these rapids differently).

Check out some helmet-cam footage of the run (ending with Fin Falls) on this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/8FSkgzNLE_o

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.


Class - N/A Mile - 0
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A quarter mile stretch just below the dam (starting upstream of  Hwy.210), running though 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" (First Rodeo Hole)

Class - III Mile - 0.09
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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
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Approximately 1/4 mile downstream from Hwy.210, a trestle spans the river. This former rail line is now the multi-use "Munger Trail", affording hikers, bikers and roller-bladers an impressive view of the gorge. This paved "rail-trail" 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.)

The old railroad bridge on the Munger Trail (as well as some overlooks on the river-left bank) provide good overhead viewing of the Second Rodeo Hole in the heart of the gorge.

Twisted Sister

Class - N/A Mile - 0.85
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Downstream of the Entrance gorge, flatwater is punctuated by random boulder bed rapids and minor waves until a small, twisting ledge drop, Twisted Sister.

This is a fairly straight forward proposition, with the usual line down the center then twisting off to the right on a small curler.

A short pool follows before reaching Second Sister, dropping 4 feet into a strong hydraulic. There is a 'sneak' on the left, or (at levels over 3000 cfs) a high-water channel is available around the right.


Class - IV Mile - 1

After the second sister, you will see a horizon line which signals Octopus, a class V puzzle best scouted (or portaged) river left.

Octopus starts off with a transverse dike of rock funneling most of the water off to river left, where 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 (often barely water-slicked) 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).

As I understand it, the name "Octopus" derives 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.

Downstream, wide easy rapids and flatwater lead to the island above the Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park.

Swinging Bridge

Class - IV Mile - 2.1
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Multiple options exist here:


(1) Staying to the left of the island, stay tight to the left shore:
You'll probably want to scout this (if you haven't ahead of time), but be careful of poison ivy on shore!

This line starts with a 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 (to the right) out of this hanging pool, over a short ledge, into a mush of water coming from "The Taint". An alternate route staying tight to the left wall is not advised, as it contains a couple of 'power-piton' rocks.

(2) Left of the main island, but keeping more center-river: "The Taint"
You'll likely want to scout this by beaching on the island and carefully walking the irregular splines of rock to get a view of the steep slide called "The Taint".

Regardless which of the above two options is taken, 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.

(3) Staying to the right of the large island, keeping to the left shore as you round the backside of the island:
Take out on the left bank (the island) to scout the falls. This has been run at some high flows, but generally contains some wicked, meaty pourovers and holes that love to just munch boaters (and most boaters will prefer option#4 below).

(4) Staying to the right of the large 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 the outflow from option#3 above.
This vertical falls is usually 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 (options#1&2) above.

The Swinging Bridge is the usual low-water, high-water, or less-than-advanced paddler takeout.

"The Miracle Mile"

Class - IV+ Mile - 2.25
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I'm not sure what anyone else may call this stretch (or the names for many individual features or drops, other than the first, "Fin Falls"), 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.

YES, that's 180 FPM, on a BIG WIDE river! Best runnable at 800-1000 cfs, perhaps "E.L.F" boatable  (Extreme Low Flow, I.E., boat abuse) down to 500-600 cfs.

And it is 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.

Play Pen

Class - N/A Mile - 2.34
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Downstream of Swinging Bridge, about 600' of minor rapids ends in a playful hole (with pretty fair pool) known as Playpen. Be aware that below this pool, action picks up significantly as one enters a long, difficult rapid.

Fin Falls

Class - IV+ Mile - 2.39

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.

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, it may be best to take out at the suspension bridge.

"The Wall"

Class - N/A Mile - 3.15
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After Fin Falls the river (as stated before) is a myriad of splines of rock, forming short steep slides too numerous to detail. The river is wide, and scouting from shore is nearly impossible, though occasionally one may be able to beach on rock/islands midstream for a breather and mid-river scout. In general, the usual route stays well to river right, where boaters will slip and slide down river and rock to work their way down. First-timers will want to be in the company of boaters well-experienced with lines down the final gradient.

The last 50-100 yards gets even steeper, entering "The Wall". More advanced boaters may work to center-river to slide down a large steep-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.

Whatever routes taken, AS SOON AS THE GRADIENT SUBSIDES, get to river-left for your take-out and carry up to Oldenberg Point! Climb over the rock jumble on shore, head up a small trail, across and through a gully, and climb (and climb, and climb) up to Oldenberg point. (Hope you're in good shape, and have a light boat!)

When you reach the top, take a look upstream from the 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.

Oldenburg Point Viewing Deck

Class - N/A Mile - 3.25
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From a parking lot which is part of Jay Cooke State Park, an easy trail leads (maybe 250 yards) to a viewing area high over the river. From here you can see upstream all the way to Fin Falls (in the distance).

Boaters who have run this lower part of the river (who did not get out at Swinging Bridge/Fin Falls) have a long, steep, grueling climb up a rugged (unofficial) trail up a gully to make their way up to this viewing area and back to their shuttle vehicles.

Topo maps list the summit height near the parking area as 973', whereas your river-take-out is something near 710', so you are making about a 260' climb in  about a quarter-mile!


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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

More Information
Date Start Time End Time Flow
08/22/2020 10:00:00 18:00:00 0-700
08/23/2020 10:00:00 18:00:00 0-700

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
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.
1213977 12/06/19 Brian Robin updated image position
1215410 07/06/20 Rob updated description
1215411 07/06/20 Rob updated description
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