Yearly Archives - 2015

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Ecology of the St. Louis River

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Geology of the St. Louis River

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Ecology of the St. Louis RiverChances are if you decided to click on the link for this blog you might laugh at bad geology puns like the simple but proven oldie “geology rocks”. Really? You want geology puns? Let me dig some up! Insert laugh. You are not a nerd if you like puns or want to learn about geology. At Swiftwater Adventures we love to share our knowledge of natural history with those that are curious. Whitewater rafting in Duluth, Minnesota can be a great way to learn and experience the geology of the St. Louis River. Let’s drift (pun intended) back into time.

While whitewater rafting or kayaking along the St. Louis River you will notice huge exposed rock outcrops, some that are long vertical slabs that run east to west for miles. This jagged rock is like nothing else in northeastern Minnesota and besides the Ely Greenstone (aged 3.2 billion years) is some of the oldest rock in the state.

The geology of the St. Louis River dates back about 1.8 billion years, just as primitive life was beginning on Earth, referred to by geologists as the Precambrian Era. During this time ancient seas deposited silt, sand, and gravel that built up into layers over millions of years. The immense weight of these layers compacted the silt to form shale and the sand and gravel into sandstone, sedimentary rocks. Then, millions of years later, heat and pressure from tectonic movements converted the sandstone into graywacke and the shale into slate, both metamorphic rocks.

Today, geologists have coined the bedrock of the St. Louis River as the Thomson Formation. The same tectonic actions that created the Thomson Formation are also responsible for folding, tilting, and exposing these rocks. These formations are angled towards the north and south and can be easily observed while whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota on the Louis. Some of these folds run for miles.

During the last glacial period, Glacial Lake Duluth deposited thick layers of red clay, silt, and sand over this landscape. Once the Superior Lobe, a huge ice dam, broke the St. Louis River, now swollen with glacial melt waters, ripped away the glacially deposited sediments and once again exposed the Thomson Formation. Skyline parkway in Duluth runs along the shoreline of Glacial Lake Duluth which was about 500 feet higher than present lake levels. Lake Superior has only been in its present form for less than 7,500 years.

Sediment loads deposited where the river meets Lake Superior, in cooperation with wave action and deposition, formed Park Point, the largest freshwater spit on Earth.

Along the river you can see different colored and sized boulders that are obviously different than the slate and graywacke known as Thomson Formation. Many of these are boulders were deposited into the St. Louis River from glacial action. As glaciers moved across the landscape they would freeze and thaw. Through this process glaciers would rip chunks of rock from the bedrock in Canada and the north shore of Lake Superior. Then through glacial movements (advance and retreat) were deposited in the St. Louis River.

Today, this section of river flows through the lowest points of the angled bedrock— water follows the path of least resistance. Drops in elevation create the rapids you will run if you go whitewater rafting while in Duluth, Minnesota on the beautiful and ancient St. Louis River. Call to book your trip!

St. Louis River

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Ecology of the St. Louis River

St. Louis RiverWhitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota on the St. Louis River will take you through northern hardwood and coniferous forests, typical of the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion. Majestic red and white pines tower over the river like sentinels of the past. Giving us an idea of what northeastern Minnesota forests looked like before the axe befell most of the old growth pines across the state. Along the riverbanks northern white cedars stretch towards the sun and the occasional stand of paper birch and sugar maple interrupt the backdrop of evergreens and pines.

This boreal ecosystem is home to a diverse array of life. Within this section of river there are several species of predatory fish including northern pike, small mouth bass, and walleye. There are also channel catfish and sturgeon, an ancient fish millions of years old. Fish aren’t the only critters in the river. Macroinvertebrates, such as dragonfly and mayfly larvae, live in and around the river’s bottom—don’t worry, they are too small to attack you! These seldom seen creatures begin their lives underwater feeding on dead and decaying matter, actually helping to improve water quality.

Macroinvertebrates are extremely useful bioindicators for scientists that research aquatic ecosystems and monitor water quality. The presence or lack thereof specific species are indicators to scientists on the health of the river ecosystem. For example, stonefly larva are very sensitive to even the lowest levels of pollutants in the water and need high levels of dissolved oxygen to survive. Their presence is the St. Louis in relatively abundant numbers indicates a healthy river ecosystem.

Although there are not many mammals that live in the river, there are a few that do or spend a great deal of time in it or near it. Beavers and river otters are common to the St. Louis River. Beavers more so in back water bays, ponds, and where small tributaries pour into the Louis—beavers are driven by the sound of moving water to damn it up. River otters are highly aquatic and move as family groups (mother and pups) up and down the river, traveling more than 25 miles a day! They feed on fish, cray fish, frogs and other various critters. It is always a pleasure to see a family of otters while whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota.

Within the watershed of the St. Louis River, which ranges from the Superior National Forest to Lake Superior, are all the mammals typical of the boreal forests. The gray wolf, coyote, bobcat, black bear, red fox, whitetail deer, occasional moose and red squirrel are among the 45 species of animals that call these woods and Jay Cooke State Park home. There are also several species of reptiles and amphibians such as the painted turtle, the eastern red belly snake, and the wood frog, to name a few.

There are over 180 species of birds that either reside here or migrate through. On this section of river you have a good chance of seeing: bald eagles and osprey soaring above the river, belted kingfishers and blue herons leap frogging their way downriver, and common mergansers swimming and diving for fish.

While you are whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota on the St. Louis River you may wonder why does the river look like ‘Rootbeer?’ The St. Louis River gets its ‘rootbeer’ color from tannins released from decaying leaf and plant matter from the wetlands with in its watershed. This is typical of north woods lakes and rivers.

So if you like wildlife, forests, and adventure then our whitewater rafting trips on the St. Louis River are for you! Give us a call to book your trip today!

whitewater paddling

Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking in Duluth, Minnesota: 7 Essential Reasons to Whitewater Paddle

whitewater paddlingWhitewater Rafting and kayaking in Duluth, Minnesota is actually easy to get into with the abundance of lakes and rivers. I first got into paddling by canoeing with my father as a little kid. I enjoyed cruising along in the canoe watching the shore pass by. I loved the beautiful places it took us; each place was a new adventure. In my early 20’s I got into whitewater kayaking because of the beauty and challenge of the river. Once I charged deeper into the sport I began to find more and more reasons I loved paddling.

If you have ever tried a paddling sport or are thinking about it, here are 7 essential reasons to grab a paddle and let the good times roll!


Paddling in any form is a great work out. Paddling not only strengthens and tones the upper body, but also your core—shed that belly! Most people would rather paddle along a lake shore or a river rather than be on a rowing machine: paddling is an outdoor sport. Many serious paddlers are in serious shape!

Also, as an activity it can easily be merged with hiking, running, or biking. Many of my friends, when we set shuttle to run a river, will bike, run, or hike back to the put in rather than drive. When we go whitewater kayaking or whitewater rafting on the St. Louis for fun we use the trail systems in the area for biking or running.

Personal ChallengeWhitewater paddling

Whether it is the challenge of a rapid, a canoe or kayak race, or just going for as many miles as you can in a day, paddling can afford one personal challenges to overcome. Overcoming challenges builds our confidence and brings us a sense of well-being that can be hard to come by in this day and age.

Experience Nature

Paddling allows you to see nature from the perspective of being on the water. On the river you can see wildlife in its element and float quietly towards critters that would otherwise run from you. I have seen wolves, bears, moose, bobcats, and other secretive animals while floating down a river. Not to mention cool insects like dragonflies buzzing past.


Paddling can take you to some awesome places. Many of the paddling adventures I have been on have taken me into inaccessible canyons, deep jungles, or remote stretches of river. From the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to charging off of a waterfall, paddling is an adventure!

Whitewater rafting in Duluth, Minnesota can afford participants both adventure and a nature experience.

Whitewater paddlingRelaxation/Meditation

Paddling in any form can be relaxing. For a whitewater kayaker, even in the chaos of a rapid, paddling can be a form of active meditation. It forces one to be in the moment and focus on what they are doing and only what they are doing. Paddling can be a great way to clear your head after a long day. Hop in a whitewater raft with us and paddle your troubles away!

Meet People

Paddling sports can help you meet like-minded people. Grab a paddle and a boat, maybe make a new friend too!

Our whitewater raft trips on the St. Louis River bring a lot of people together, from complete strangers to people you knew but now have formed a new bond while paddling together!

Fun, Fun, and More Fun!paddlemania

Paddling is fun! Try it to know it!

If you are thinking of getting into paddling we can help give you a push in the right direction. We offer whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota as well as whitewater kayak lessons and trips! Contact us to book your experience today!


Ecoadventure—Adventure and Environmental Education: Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota

EcoadventureWhile we were whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota on the St. Louis River, a large dragonfly landed on the side of the raft. A young woman sitting in the middle of the raft amongst her family raised her hand intent on squashing the insect.

“Wait! They eat mosquitoes, deer flies and horse flies!” I said.

“What? Really?” she asked looking perplexed. “How do you know that this one does?” she prodded in a fun yet challenging tone as she gripped the paddle once again.

“Well, all dragonflies prey upon insects. This particular species, the Swift River Cruiser, hunts along the river most of the summer. Its emerald green eyes and the observable yellow spot on the 7th abdomen segment is a tell-tale sign of its species. It lives and hunts along large streams or exposed shore lines.”

And, just like that, the trip had become an unintentional ecoadventure trip.Ecoadventure

So what is an ecoadventure trip? I have spent many hours thinking about the definition and purpose of an ecoadventure. For starters, it was the subject of my Master’s Thesis—which is a monstrous task itself. Being that there isn’t an exact definition for the term ecoadventure the meaning is open to interpretation—heck, we may have even coined the term. What is for certain is that any adventure experience that allows one to experience and explore the beauty and processes of nature can be an ecoadventure.

From an educational standpoint an ecoadventure trip is a trip that implements aspects of adventure, physical, environmental (and/or outdoor) and experiential education into an adventure trip such as whitewater rafting the St. Louis River while in Duluth, Minnesota. I will shed some light on these aspects and how they are implemented:

Adventure and physical education to learn the skills necessary to participate in the adventure, such as paddling techniques, how to swim a rapid, rescue a swimmer, all while being immersed in a wilderness adventure setting.

Experiential education where you learn from experience: do what you are hoping to learn or improve upon. Participants are engaged in the adventure and learn from an actual experience.

Environmental and outdoor education is presented as a mix of interpretive nature education as the group explores the flora, fauna, or geology of the area (guided discovery). Participants ask questions about what they are interested in which leads to discussions rather than lectures. The trip leader has extensive knowledge of the area to facilitate these discussions. For schools this can be more specific to their curriculum if desired.

Fun this experience is all about having a fun adventure while being physically and mentally engaged in the experience.

Many adventure trips are so focused on getting from point A to B that the guides and trip leaders don’t truly allow their clients to appreciate where they are. An ecoadventure trip provides an adventure experience that encourages people to explore their surroundings, ask questions and want to learn more while having fun, known as guided discovery.

An ecoadventure can suit a multitude of audiences from school groups or camps, to the vacationer that appreciates nature and wants to learn more about the natural history of the area. For example, last July we did a whitewater rafting trip on the St. Louis River for a college Environmental Science class. We discussed common flora and fauna to be seen, the coniferous biome the river flows through, the river ecosystem and its health (such as bioindicator species like stoneflies), and we had fun. We did all this while running rapids and exploring the beautiful St. Louis River.

We work with secondary schools and colleges to adapt their curriculum into the trip. We can present at your school or supply background information relevant to the trip that fits the classroom subjects or education initiatives such as S.T.E.A.M. Feel free to contact us if you would like to learn about how we can implement your curriculum into our trips.

An example of an ecoadventure trip that can happen anytime for anyone is on any of the whitewater rafting or kayaking trips we offer to the average tourist. Most trips I (Cliff) lead employ roving interpretive techniques and discuss whatever peaks the client’s interests, such as a bald eagle flying overhead or a dragonfly landing on someone. If the client shows interest we can talk about what it is, its niche or function in its ecosystem, and more. On these trips we often do a side hike to explore old growth pines, wildflowers, or cool geology.

Whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota can be an ecoadventure for your class, youth group or camp, family or just a bunch of friends. At Swiftwater Adventures we can adjust the experience to your group. If you want to go on an adventure contact us today!

In-raft guide

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: The Benefits of an In-Raft Guide

In-raft guideA lot of tour and adventure companies have professional guides. Being a professional is a label that can be assigned to those that deserve the status and, unfortunately, to those that don’t. It seems that in this day and age if you get paid to do something then you are considered a professional at that task or service. There for if you get paid to guide then you are a professional guide. There are many ways in which one can be a professional guide and many ways in which professional guided can mean and be interpreted. When it comes to whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota we aim to set the bar for what a professional guide is.

When it comes to whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River at Swiftwater Adventures we have professional guides in several capacities while you are on the river with us. For starters, each raft has a professional in-raft guide. In addition to this, each trip has a safety kayaker who is the trip leader. These trip leaders have a minimum of 5 years experience raft guiding, are certified in Wilderness First Aid or First Responder and are certified in Swift Water Rescue. On larger trips with several rafts there may be two trip leaders on the river. So every trip there is decades of experience on the river. Our trip leaders have over 50 years of combined experience guiding on the St. Louis River and also across the world!

There are several benefits to having an in-raft guide to steer you down the St. Louis River:

Professional In-Raft guide

First off, you have a professional in raft guide that has been trained by experienced trip leaders steering you down the river. We train our guides to not only to steer you effectively, efficiently, and safely down the river but to also maximize your fun. Our guides are out to give you a personable, fun, and safe experience.

Our goal to define what a professional is to achieve the things above, and go beyond!

Increased Safety

How could any logical argument be made claiming that there is any safer way to run a raft trip than having a trained in raft guide steer you down? Obviously someone who is trained and has run the river multiples will be more effective and safer than someone with little or no prior experience steering a raft.

Think of fun and safety like this: if you are hurt or angry you are less likely to have fun. With an in raft guide you are (way) less likely to get stuck on rocks, flip a raft in high water because nobody leaned into a wave or because you hit it sideways, and to hit the smoothest lines in a rapid. Having an in raft guide increases you safety and fun.

Focus on Fun

Obviously being safe will increase your fun. Not to mention there will be less stress and arguing amongst the group if the guide is managing the ship and everyone is working together. This means seldom getting stuck on rocks or not at all, more efficient use of your group’s energy, hit the best waves, and run the safest and most fun lines in the rapids.

If you come whitewater rafting while in Duluth, Minnesota with us you will see that our goal is to give you a fun and safe trip.

More Interaction

Having an in raft guide and other guides enhances your ability to interact with us and learn more about the river or region. We can offer you, if you like, an interpretive experience. Our river genies can quickly answer questions you have about the next rapid or about the river or the area. Our trip leaders are knowledgeable of the river ecosystem from geology to flora and fauna to history we have stories and knowledge to share with you!

Our trip leaders have taken thousands of people whitewater rafting near Duluth, Minnesota on the St. Louis River. I, Cliff, have personally guided on the St. Louis since 2002 teaching whitewater paddling and guiding rafts from 2003 to the present. Lucas Aker has been a guide and trip leader since 1997! No one has run the St. Louis River more than him! From high to low water Lucas has seen it all!

Give us a call and book your whitewater rafting trip today!


Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Paddlemania—St. Louis River Rendezvous

It seemed different but not out of place to be giving a safety speech on the Lower St. Louis River to a group of rafters. It was the first commercial whitewater rafting trip on the Lower section of the St. Louis River. Quick side note if you are going whitewater rafting in Duluth, Minnesota the St. Louis River is where you would go. Anyways, we had rafted the Lower with our team several times to train our guides and dial in the trip. Now here we were doing a trip to kick off to the 2015 Paddlemania—St. Louis River Rendezvous.

Paddlemania—St. Louis River Rendezvous is a two part name because it is the marriage of two whitewater events. Paddlemania was established 16 years ago through the efforts of Joerg Steinbach and support through whitewater kayak outfitters and companies. It began on the St. Croix River and eventually made it to the St. Louis River four years ago. the goal of Paddlemania was to bring kayakers together to demo boats, have a fun race, and to hang out.

The St. Louis Rendezvous has been around since the 1990’s. It originated as a slalom event and later added a whitewater freestyle competition. Since then whitewater playboats have changed and the highway 210 feature was no longer desirable for playboaters to demonstrate their freestyle moves. The flood of 2012 had also put the kibosh on it.

In 2014 Swiftwater Adventures teamed up with UM-Duluth’s Recreational and Outdoor Sports Program to bring back paddling events to the region. Through the support of dozens of great sponsors and volunteers Paddlemania—St. Louis River Rendezvous was back in a new way. Our goal was to showcase whitewater rafting and kayaking near Duluth, Minnesota and to bring the paddling community together.

The 2015 Paddlemania—St. Louis River Rendezvous featured a great line up for experienced and newbie paddlers as well serve as a resource for those looking to get into whitewater paddling. The event was planned to coincide with a scheduled release through the Thomson Dam (the section of the St. Louis River that flows through Jay Cooke St. Park). Here is what the event offered:

Blast to the Bridge Downriver Race

This race was for experienced whitewater kayakers as they raced through challenging class III to V rapids from below the Thomson Dam to the Swinging Bridge in Jay Cooke St. Park. In 2015 there were 28 racers, complete with a women’s division. The swinging bridge was packed with spectators as the winner, Johnathon Sisely, paddled under the finish line.

Team Rafting

Team whitewater rafting? Yes! Teams of five paddled through a ¼ mile slalom course then paddled the remaining miles to the take out. Four paddlers and a guide in the back navigated their way through several slalom gates. That Saturday over 80 people competed in the rafting event.

Slalom Competition

Many kayakers competed in a for fun slalom competition. Additionally, a special slalom event was set up for the youth paddlers to show case their skills. These same hard working and hard charging kids were the ones who set up the slalom course.

Paddling Community

Overall this event was about bringing the paddling community together. The variety of events allowed for expert boaters to have a challenging race, newbies paddled the Upper and parts of the Lower sections of the St. Louis River, people of all whitewater skills participated in the team Rafting, and everyone shared in the fun. The event proves that whitewater rafting and kayaking near Duluth, Minnesota is top notch!

To learn more about Paddlemania—St Louis River Rendezvous visit: