Monthly Archives - December 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!