Educational Adventure Trips with Swiftwater Adventures

It might sound like a tired cliché, but seriously, learning can be fun! Our January blog discussed that our  Eco-Adventure trips are educational adventure trips, primarily whitewater rafting, that utilize an experiential approach as students are immersed in a wilderness environment. In this follow up blog we want to talk more about how an ecoadventure trip can help schools, teachers and students by discussing more specifics and examples. Learning can really be an adventure when you are immersed in an actual adventure!

Fortunately for us, you (the instructor) and your students the St. Louis River corridor supplies a myriad of educational opportunities for life and earth sciences, as well as physical and cultural education. Through this place-based learning approach, we believe we can help participants foster a connection with their local environment and learn science. Additionally, students gain physical skills, problem-solving skills, build relationships and have fun!

From a purely educational standpoint we can help teacher and instructors hit on some of the necessary benchmarks within Minnesota Department of Education Standards, or science and physical education standards in your college curriculum. Our education director, Cliff Langley, has a Master of Arts in Education Degree in Natural Science and Environmental Ed. Over the last five years he has implemented educational standards into our adventures. Let’s discuss a few examples below:

Standard: Science. Concepts: Living systems and Human Interactions. Goals we can accomplish: Gain an understanding of the flow of energy in a northern coniferous forest or river ecosystem. Discuss defining characteristics of a coniferous biome. Discuss interactions within a river ecosystem and monitoring water quality.

For certain high school environmental science and biology classes we have provided some relevant background information prior to the trip on bioindicators in a river ecosystem, in this case macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates are insects that start out their lives living in the bottoms of rivers and lakes, such as dragonflies and mayflies, that later emerge as adults. Certain macroinvertebrates are highly sensitive to pollution and need high levels of dissolved oxygen to survive. The presence, or absence, of certain species is a bioindicator of a healthy river ecosystem.

On these whitewater rafting eco-adventure trips we stop halfway down the river and we collect and identify these little critters using a kick net along the river bottom. The students are taking a hands-on approach as they collect and identify insects understanding methods used by scientists to collect and interpret data. This not only increases student engagement but helps to create a connection to their local environment as they are assessing the health of the river they live nearby or visit.

Other trips focused on forest ecology we take advantage of the second generation old-growth pines along the St. Louis River. Some of these huge pines are over 170 years old or older! As we paddle down the river students get to see towering pines on both sides of the river with life interacting within, such as belted kingfishers taking flight or a majestic eagle taking a break. We stop at one stand of giant red and white pines and discuss how forest fires shape the ecology of coniferous forests. It’s one thing to see a picture of a huge pine in a classroom but it is another to stand underneath one and look up as it rises over a hundred feet towards the sky. Such interactions create emotion and connection that help create a unique and more complete learning experience.

Those are just a couple of examples of what we can do in life sciences. We are able to do this for other education standards too such as Earth Science, such as discussing evidence of plate tectonic movements in the exposed Thomson Formation bedrock of the St. Louis River, or evidence of glacial activity. For physical education, participants are able to demonstrate an understanding of movement by learning to paddle and work together while whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River. Additionally, we can also cover social studies concepts such as the cultural history of the St. Louis River and the interconnectedness of the environment and human activities.

By taking an experiential approach to science and adventure education we feel we can give students a superb interactive experience. We can share in an adventure that gives us all a break from all the things that demand our attention in the modern world and just be in the moment.  Besides safety, fun and learning we hope that we can help students connect with their local environment in a way that creates value. Whatever the value, whether it is intrinsic,

life-supporting, economic, recreational, scientific or spiritual.

Also, if the eco-adventure is whitewater rafting you can count on some thrills too!! We have special discounted rates for school groups.

Please call or email us to discuss how we can help you plan an eco-adventure trip with Swiftwater Adventures and help supply you with any necessary resources to help in your educational adventure!


Ecoadventure—Adventure and Environmental Education: Whitewater Rafting Trips near Duluth, MN

While 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.

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!


Experiences Are the Best Gift to Give AND Get!!

Most of you reading this probably aren’t seven year old kids hoping for a new Frozen 2 action figure or a Baby Yoda under the Christmas tree this year…well maybe the Baby Yoda or whatever he actually is, he is pretty cute. Anyways, what are you planning to give as gifts this holiday season to those you care about? With that in mind: How many of the gifts that you have received over the years did you actually need, actually ever used, or even remember? Sure, some are practical like socks, or a new coffee maker, but a lot of it piled up in your closet, basement or garage never again to see the light of day or is now taking up space in a landfill. Simply put: things don’t last but experiences create memories that do.

A 2010 study by Cornell University and the National Science Foundation concluded that the joy from new material possessions is short lived while memories of an experience lasts as does the joy and happiness of it. Not only do these positive experiences create lasting memories but they also help foster lasting social connections. Overall, you get more enduring happiness from experiences than things.

When it comes to experiences, ADVENTURE is the ultimate memory maker.

I recall a post raft trip conversation from this past September. Back at Swiftwater head quarters as guests are milling about, I overheard a family talking. One of the younger kids, about 12 years old said,

‘Hey dad, remember when aunt Debra got turtled at the Electric Ledge!?’

The dad says, ‘That was hilarious! All I remember is crashing into that wave and then Debra was like two seats back!’

Don’t worry Debra is alive and had a blast! This family is likely to laugh or tell stories about this at family get togethers for who knows how long? Quick side note:  the Electric Ledge can at times have a rather powerful wave that can push people over or out of the raft: this is why we preach leaning into waves. Getting turtled is when a person gets knocked backwards in the raft, ending up on their back with their arms and legs flailing around, like a turtle on its back. Don’t worry, it’s normal.

When we take people out on our whitewater rafting trips our mission is to give people a memorable, interactive adventure. Besides training our guides in reading whitewater, swiftwater rescue techniques, and of course being capable raft captains, we also train them in giving you an immersive experience. We want you to interact with your surroundings as much as possible to enhance your personal adventure.

We try to give you multiple mini adventures within the raft trip, from surfing to swimming, running the rapids, to our knowledge of natural history of the river, if you put in the effort you will get a positive experience.

This Holiday season, or anytime this winter, give the gift of an adventure experience and be sure to invite yourself along too! Purchasing a gift certificate is easy with Swiftwater Adventures, its digital. On our home page scroll down to the green ‘Buy Gift Card’ button, click on it and follow the easy online purchase process. Your gift certificate can be gifted electronically via email so you don’t have to mail or wrap anything!

Create a lasting memory with your friends and family! See you on the river!


Inflatable Kayak Whitewater Adventure

Whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River, just 15 minutes from Duluth, MN and about 2.5 hours north of the Twin Cities is our bread and butter.

Heck, you could say it’s our crown jewel. And our staff is passionate about whitewater. We paddle the different sections of St. Louis River for fun when we aren’t working and we run other rivers in the region when they are in. Our goal is to share that passion for whitewater and nature with you all, so we are always looking for new ways to keep that stoke up.

Since Swiftwater’s inception we have offered whitewater kayak lessons and trips, and although rafting can be for just about everyone, whitewater kayaking might not be. Whitewater kayaking can have a steep learning curve for some and until you dial in the strokes and concepts, like rolling, you will probably swim a lot and that can get exhausting. When you flip and can not roll back up you have to wet exit and swim. Most often this requires your kayak instructor of paddling partner to rescue you, and tow you and your boat to shore. Then you have to pull that kayak up on shore and drain the water out. Repeat that a few times and you are exhausted.

The above description of learning to kayak isn’t to deter you, anything worth a dang is hard to do at first, it’s just a reality of learning. So what we do with our Intro to Whitewater Kayaking is introduce you to the basic strokes and concepts and employ a challenge by choice philosophy where you get to try a few rapids that have easy rescue scenarios if you yard sale (swim and gear goes everywhere!). This is one way to get a taste for kayaking with out having an exhausting experience. More on the Intro to Whitewater Kayaking trip:

We have noticed that some people want to experience the freedom of piloting their own whitewater boat, unlike a raft, and feel what it is like to whitewater kayak. Our new inflatable kayak adventure can let people experience this with out as much work, and easier rescue than a standard hard shell kayak.

New Inflatable Kayak Whitewater Adventure: A Quick Summary

This whitewater and wilderness kayak tour is for the adventurous paddler! This inflatable kayak experience is customized to you and your paddling partner. Depending on water levels and your objectives we run either the Upper or Lower St. Louis River on inflatable whitewater kayaks letting you control your craft! Paddle through rapids, surf waves, side hikes and incredible scenery!

This 2 ½ to 3 hour trip requires participants to be able to paddle for a couple of hours, carry a kayak, hike across rugged terrain and more! With a professional kayak guide                    leading you, this trip provides one on one instruction and guidance. Learn about the natural history of the area as you immerse yourself in this whitewater and nature adventure! Trip link:

$100/person. Includes professional guide service, all necessary equipment and shuttle service to and from the river. Bring snacks and a water bottle.

Call now or book online to experience your Inflatable kayak whitewater adventure!


Swiftwater Adventures: What’s New for 2019!

For those that have whitewater rafted with us before on the St. Louis River, and those new to whitewater rafting in Minnesota, we have some changes for the 2019 season! 

New Swiftwater Headquarters and Facilities

We have now fully converted our office at 121 Vermilion St. in Carlton, MN into our meeting spot and facility headquarters. People coming rafting with us meet at this location to get outfitted for their trip. We have a full service restroom with plumbing as well as a portapotty tucked away. We new men and women’s changing rooms, and plenty of parking for large trips.

Rafters, once outfitted, load on our bus to our new put in land on the St. Louis River just north of I-35 then raft back to their vehicles. At the end of the trip this allows groups to paddle as quickly as they like or take their time paddling across the reservoir. So no one has to wait for us to load up rafts and the bus. This also staggers people so there aren’t long lines for the restroom or changing rooms. And after your trip enjoy food or drink from the Magnolia Café food cart or local Carlton restauraunts!

Local Food and Drink Deals

Come get fueled up before or after you go mountain biking, or hiking, or whitewater rafting, or whatever floats your boat, or stop by downtown after your adventures for dinner or a cold adult beverage. Swiftwater Adventures has food and drink specials with several of the following Carlton businesses:

Magnolia Café Offers up great coffee and treats as well as excellent sandwiches, soups, tacos, burritos, and craft beers. Enjoy inside their quaint café or outdoor seating. You can also use their online order system to order food ahead of time. Most days of the week, especially weekends Magnolia Café runs a food cart at Swiftwater Adventures for rafters and passers by.

The Third Base bar has a fun atmosphere, good food and great drink specials, bands, and even a Sunday Funday during the summer with live music from 4 to 8 pm. They also offer party bus services on busy weekends to and from the River Inn Bar and Grill in Scanlon, just up the road.

Across the way the, Street Car Kitchen and Pub offers great food and a large variety of craft brews. The walleye wild rice burger is my favorite along with a side of sweet potato fries! Oh, and did I mention a large selection of craft brews!

New Inflatable Kayak Whitewater Adventure

This is a new trip we added for those that have whitewater rafted with us and are looking for even more adventure. This trip is a great way to feel out if whitewater kayaking is for you!

This whitewater and wilderness kayak tour is for the adventurous paddler! This inflatable kayak experience is customized to you and your paddling partner. Depending on water levels and your objectives we run either the Upper or Lower St. Louis River on inflatable whitewater kayaks letting you control your craft! Paddle through rapids, surf waves, side hikes and incredible scenery!

This 2 ½ to 3 hour trip requires participants to be able to paddle for a couple of hours, carry a kayak, hike across rugged terrain and more! With a professional kayak guide leading you, this trip provides one on one instruction and guidance. Learn about the natural history of the area as you immerse yourself in this whitewater and nature adventure!

$100/person. Includes professional guide service, all necessary equipment and shuttle service to and from the river. Bring snacks and a water bottle.


Ready for a Fun 2019 on the River!

With these new changes, we are as determined as ever to give our clients an interactive whitewater and wilderness experience. Call or book online to experience your whitewater rafting adventure with Swiftwater today!


Carlton, Minnesota: Small Town Charm, Big Time Fun!

Duluth, Minnesota has a reputation as an outdoor MECCA thanks to all the recreational opportunities created by the rugged landscape, numerous rivers and lakes, and the big attraction: Lake Superior. This well-deserved reputation is also due in no small part to the wonderful community and businesses that have promoted the Zenith City. At Swiftwater Adventures, a lot of our clientele are Duluth tourists looking to seize adventure opportunities like whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River, so we love Duluth—and all its craft beer options! We also love Carlton and its proximity to a wonderful landscape of adventure opportunities and the community that makes it a great place to live or visit (Don’t fret Esko and Cloquet, we love you too). Carlton has small town charm but is big on recreational opportunities.

Just 15 minutes south of Duluth, Carlton is the gateway to Jay Cooke St. Park and whitewater rafting in Minnesota. The town was founded in 1881 after starting out as a shanty town known as the ‘Pacific Junction’ for railroad workers completing the railway from Hinckley to Duluth. Today, this quaint little city is the county seat of Carlton County. Although sporting a population of only about 1,200 there is a lot of activity going on in and around Carlton.

Whitewater Paddling

If you want to go whitewater rafting in Minnesota or try out kayaking we can recommend an outfit that will take you down (subtle wink). Swiftwater Adventures runs whitewater trips on the Upper and Lower sections of the river. Our trips take about 2 ½ hours and provide you a whitewater and wilderness experience. Besides its whitewater opportunities, the St. Louis River is the life blood of Jay Cooke St. Park.

Jay Cooke St. Park 

Jay Cooke St. Park is one of the most popular state parks in Minnesota, and for good reason: It is beautiful and hosts a multitude of recreational opportunities. Comprised of over 9,000 acres the park has outstanding trails, and numerous vistas that wow the beholder. There are over 50 miles of hiking trails, 32 miles of cross country skiing trails, and over 13 miles of mountain biking trails. Also, the park boasts the infamous Swinging Bridge: the suspension bridge that crosses over the St. Louis River originally created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

More info:


The Munger Trail runs right through Carlton so if you are biking the trail stop in town for some refreshments. Or come to town to bike! Carlton Bike Rental and Repair is just off the Munger Trail and rents an assortment of bikes from 10 speeds to mountain bikes to fat tire bikes . If you like single track, then just down the road are the Mission Creek Trails sporting miles of flowy single track through gorgeous northern hardwood and coniferous forests.


Food, Drink and Amenities

Come get fueled up before or after you go mountain biking, or hiking, or whitewater rafting, or whatever floats your boat, or stop by downtown after your adventures for dinner or a cold adult beverage. Swiftwater Adventures has food and drink specials with several of the following Carlton businesses:

Magnolia Café Offers up great coffee and treats as well as excellent sandwiches, soups, tacos, burritos, and craft beers. Enjoy inside their quaint café or outdoor seating. You can also use their online order system to order food ahead of time. Most days of the week, especially weekends Magnolia Café runs a food cart at Swiftwater Adventures for rafters and passers by.


The Third Base bar has a fun atmosphere, good food and great drink specials, bands, and even a Sunday Funday during the summer with live music from 4 to 8 pm. They also offer party bus services on busy weekends to and from the River Inn Bar and Grill in Scanlon, just up the road.

Across the way the, Street Car Kitchen and Pub offers great food and a large variety of craft brews. The walleye wild rice burger is my favorite along with a side of sweet potato fries! Oh, and did I mention a large selection of craft brews!

Also, down the street the VFW has a nice deck, cold drinks, yard games, and friendly people.

Oldenburg House is just off the main drag, highway 210, in Carlton. The beautiful, and historic Oldenburg House hosts events, weddings and is also a Bed and Breakfast:

Looking for last minute amenities? If you are camping in Jay Cooke St. Park and need some brats and burgers, or maybe fixings for S’mores then head to Carlton Meat and Grocery. There is also a laundry mat right in town in case you need to do some last minute laundry.

Whether you are looking to stay in or near Carlton or are in Duluth and come here for a day trip, Carlton’s small town charm offers big time fun! Come visit us!


Guide Series Part II: Accepting Defeat on the Vermilion River….Twice!

Labor Day for most people is a time spent relaxing with friends and family, usually centered around a barbecue. So it may seem an odd time for two brothers to set out on a river trip that would span almost 50 miles in 2 days. However, in my mind it seemed somehow appropriate to celebrate the hard work of the American laborer by setting off on a trip that would be sure to provide ample physical and mental pain. This would be no relaxed weekend eating baked beans.

The idea to paddle the Vermilion had been brewing between myself and my brother Donald for a few years. Really, ever since my ill-fated bachelor party, the thought of returning to complete the trip had been rattling around in the back of my head. You see, years earlier a small group of friends set off down the Vermilion river to celebrate my pending nuptials. Not having much experience in whitewater, we’d planned to portage all of the big rapids and spend a few days leisurely floating from Lake Vermilion to Crane Lake. Solid plan….until we came to the first rapid at Shivley Falls which was swollen from spring melt and rains. One member of the party who shall remain anonymous decided that he would just go for it. Long story short: this ended in 1 out of 3 kayaks broken, 1 of 3 paddles broken, all food lost (except for a soggy loaf of bread, which would later be consumed as toast over a campfire), and some serious bumps and bruises to both egoes and bodies. Instead of carrying on downstream, we decided to paddle 2 miles back upstream, and then 15 miles across Lake Vermilion, stopping every hour to empty water from the broken kayak. One member of the party paddled the entire way with a leaking kayak and half a paddle. This is what defeat looks like, and also served as the biggest motivator to really dive into paddling whitewater.

Now, I’ve returned to the Vermilion with friends in the years between, knocking off the big sections of whitewater. It’s a magical place. Table Rock falls and the gorge that follows is among my top 3 favorite places in the world. The view from an eddy while in the midst of the narrow canyon is second to none and the whitewater can hardly be beat. Mossy walls rising straight out of the rapids, cedars overhanging the canyon, and an occasional beaver riding the rapids provides an out of this world experience. The taste of defeat is bitter, and having had so much fun on the sections of whitewater we missed, I began to think that we should attempt the run again and link all three major sections together.

Fast-forward to 2017. My brother and I found our schedules aligning over the labor day weekend. 3 days to paddle 50 miles should be no problem after coming off a summer of paddling all day, 7 days a week. However, work obligations would turn our planned 3 days into 2. Still 25 miles per day seemed reasonable for 2 young men in good shape. So with excitement we packed our kayaks with food, hammocks, sleeping bags, and headed to the northwest corner of Lake Vermilion to get a second chance.

Right away we knew the boats were heavy. Much more than the standard safety and camera gear I was used to carrying. Still, we were able to roll our kayaks with ease and we set off. Running the dam rapids as the river leaves Lake Vermilion was a test of the handling of our kayaks that now handled more like tanks than the usually nimble whitewater machines. As we worked down towards Shively Falls–the rapids that had wrecked our dreams before–we were wondering what we’d find. Once there, we found beautiful, easy class II and III rapids unlike the swollen continuous big water we had experienced before. Running through this section had us feeling great and thinking that we were in for miles and miles of beautiful scenery and rapids.

As this section of whitewater comes to an end, the river widens and becomes mostly a lake and void of any current for the next 7 miles. Wild rice as far as the eye could see, would make navigation difficult at times, but nowhere near as much an obstacle as the wind that soon kicked up from the north. As we began the 7 mile paddle north across the now widened river, the wind began and soon developed whitecaps bearing down on us head on. For hours we struggled into the headwind, hardly making progress. Now, the other sections of whitewater I had paddled fooled me into thinking the whole river would have the same beautiful scenery. High rock cliffs and outcrops, tall pines, and solid ground–much like my day to day guiding whitewater rafting trips on the St. Louis River. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once the river passes Shively Falls, the surrounding landscape is swamp. Swamp for as far as the eye can see. Without the wind, this wouldn’t present any problems, however after battling gusts for hours we were ready to have a rest before continuing on. The swamp and wild rice would provide no cover for us and there would be no rest until we reached Table Rock Falls.

We reached the falls hours behind schedule, now with the realization that we wouldn’t be able to just pull over and camp wherever we wanted due to the surrounding swamp. This would prove to be a problem being that there are limited official campsites and we were paddling over labor day. Table Rock–normally my favorite rapid–loomed large in my mind with the exhaustion of our battle in the wind. Add to that our heavy boats and limited time, and the decision was made to portage the falls and run the canyon below. It did not disappoint! As soon as my boat slipped into the current and I braced through the first play hole, the pain of the earlier struggle disappeared and my mind was ecstatic. Table Rock Canyon is a place where the world outside ceases to exist while you’re in the midst of its rapids.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. At the end of the canyon is a single campsite. It would put us behind schedule, but we’d be able to rest on good ground for the night and pick up the next day. The people occupying the campsite we’d staked our fortunes on waved as we floated by. This left us with two options. Pull over in Buyck and sleep at the boat ramp, or carry on downstream and hope that we’d find some high ground to camp on before dark. After not seeing any high ground for more than 15 miles, we decided not to gamble and pulled over in Buyck.

Rising early the next morning, we were faced with paddling almost ⅔ of the mileage in a day, instead of the ½ that we had planned. Still, the mileage seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, the river between Buyck and Crane Lake is slow and meandering, not providing much current to help our journey. We slogged on through more swamp and wild rice, pausing only to eat handfuls of trail mix and beef jerky. As the sun made a wide arc across the sky, we both began to do mental calculations. We would be reaching the only mandatory portage on the trip (a spectacular class VI waterfall) and the ensuing gorge which spills into Crane Lake right as the sun would be disappearing below the tall north country pines. Normally, running this gorge at dusk wouldn’t present such a challenge, however we would be coming off 45 miles of hard, constant paddling, and running in overloaded kayaks.

As we drew the the Gold Mine Resort, discussion ensued. We were within 6 or 7 miles of Crane Lake, but those last miles presented the greatest challenge. Deciding to stop for a break from paddling at the resort, we hopped onto the beach and it was immediately clear–the Vermilion would defeat us a second time. We humbly walked up the hill and found the resort owner tending to his daily routine. We asked if he’d be willing to give 2 tired, broken down paddlers a ride back into Crane Lake. Graciously, he agreed to return us to civilization and our waiting truck.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I’m not sure if that saying continues for a third time, but it doesn’t matter. Next time we’ll make it.


Swiftwater Adventures: Guide owned and operated

If you’re going on a high adventure trip, you want to know that you can trust and depend on your guides. That’s why at Swiftwater, we feel it’s so important that our owners are also guides. In fact, one of them is on every trip that we run. This allows us to provide the most fun, most informative, and safest experience possible.

You see, guiding whitewater isn’t a commodity that can be bought. It must be earned through years of paddling, training, and running different sections of river, often across the United States and beyond. Sure, it might be possible to bounce down the river not knowing what you’re doing, but it’s the skill gained through years of experience on all levels of whitewater that allows us to show our customers a great time while keeping them safe. You have to know how to get it right, but it takes years of experience to know how to handle things when it doesn’t go according to plan.  As you’ll see below, our owners have devoted their lives to paddling whitewater and learning lessons from mother nature.

Swiftwater Adventures is the brainchild of our founder, Cliff Langley. In 2014, he had a vision to continue providing wilderness/whitewater experiences to the people of Minnesota and beyond. I say ‘continue’ because Cliff Langley had previously guided on the St. Louis River for over a decade before the closure of Superior Whitewater. Not content to let the experience of whitewater rafting near Duluth, MN fade away, he decided to form a company that would provide both a wilderness AND whitewater experience. This point is one that sets us apart, and one that Cliff feels strongly about. People coming to see us will get an awesome ride, but also an immersive experience in nature, often learning about the flora, fauna, and geology of the area. Did I mention that Cliff holds an advanced degree in Natural Science and Environmental Education? We think he’s pretty smart! Aside from paddling the rivers of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, he’s spent the last 20 years guiding and paddling in the Rockies, Alaska, Canada, and Central America. In short, he’s the kind of guy that will make sure you have a good time, stay safe, and come away having learned something about the natural world, and maybe even yourself.

Lucas Aker was born on the shores of the St. Louis River just outside of Duluth and was baptized in the whitewater of the river at an early age. He started paddling at age 13, and guiding for Superior Whitewater at the age of 15, working over 20 years before starting Swiftwater. As a young paddler, he learned from the elders in the community by paddling the rivers of the north and south shores of Lake Superior. Luke grew up camping, fishing, hiking, paddling, and exploring the wilderness, and as an adult, he continues this lifestyle. In addition to guiding tens of thousands of people down the St. Louis River, he spends his fall working in the woods and swamps of Northern Minnesota. What I mean to say is that nature is his natural environment and where he’s most at home! Always a student of people and the planet, Luke spends his winters exploring the globe, concentrating on Southeast Asia over the last decade or so. His broad experience with paddling and people of all kinds makes him a great asset.

Brian Pfeifer was raised in Northern Minnesota’s iron mining region—the Iron Range. Surrounded by wilderness and growing up on a lake made for an inescapable love affair with the woods and water. He has been paddling the rivers of Minnesota and Washington for over 10 years, also guiding with Cliff and Luke before forming Swiftwater Adventures. In the off-season, Brian teaches music at the University of North Dakota. To deal with the long winters on the prairie, he builds furniture and other woodworking projects using only hand tools. Most important to him and his wife Carrie, is passing on the feeling of deep connection with the forces of nature gained through whitewater to his three sons, Michael, Collin, and Henry.

If these brief resumes weren’t enough, Cliff, Luke, and Brian are also certified Wilderness First Responders/First Aid, BLS certified, and swiftwater rescue trained. Being able to trust your guide is the most important part of a rafting trip. Choose Swiftwater for your next adventure and know that you’ve made the right choice! And come say hi to us on your next trip, we’re friendly people!



Teamswiftwater: Whitewater Paddling Adventures

Whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River near Duluth, Minnesota is our passion and our bread and butter. We love the St. Louis River and its whiskey colored water, its beautiful rocky shorelines, tall pines and amazing rapids. We also love to take our skills and our friends on adventures elsewhere too. This is what Teamswiftwater is about: skilled paddlers and those with a penchant for adventure chasing whitewater across the Lake Superior watershed and beyond!

There are two divisions to our Teamswiftwater program: expert whitewater kayakers AND our friends and frequent customers that have proven their paddling proficiency to take on more challenging adventures.

Expert whitewater paddlers from Minnesota and Wisconsin that are sponsored by us (some are also Swiftwater guides and instructors) share their paddling adventures with you. Their stories are all unique yet they all share a passion for paddling. For example, Ryan Zimny is a high school physics and chemistry teacher, an alpine ski coach, and a whitewater kayaker for over 20 years. Before he starts guiding on the St. Louis River in the summer, Zimny chases the spring melt of the nearly 20 streams that plunge into Lake Superior’s north shore.

John McConville is another longtime whitewater paddler who has traveled the country and the globe to chase amazing whitewater. A specialized farmer in southern Wisconsin, John takes time off from tilling and planting to chase the streams of the Lake Superior basin. John also won the 2018 Lester River kayak race on April 28th this year: a fast, steep and rocky stream that sports class IV and V rapids.

Look for these guys and gals, and other Teamswiftwater paddlers like Clint Massy, Brian Robin, Cory Mooney, Joerg Steinbach, and Joel Decker and more to share their paddling adventures with you on Facebook and Instagram using #Teamswiftwater.

A sweet video featuring some Teamswiftwater paddlers at the 2018 Lester River Race by Blue Forest films:

Our Friends and Frequent Customers #Teamswiftwater program works a little bit different. Those that have whitewater rafted or paddled with us on the St. Louis River enough to have honed their paddling skills and merit basically you have proven to be a strong and proficient paddler and can mentally handle chaotic situations…we take on new adventures.

Teamswiftwater trips are generally in late April to early June or in September or early October when we have more rain falling in the region, so more rivers are on the whitewater menu. These trips are generally short notice, involve more effort and or time, and generally cost more than a traditional rafting trip because of all the logistics involved. They are never dull, to say the least!

In addition to special/customized St. Louis River whitewater rafting trips, we have guided trips on the Knife River several times, Kettle River, and the Temperance River on Lake Superior’s north shore. We are always planning and exploring new adventures to share with you!

If you haven’t experienced an adventure with us yet book a whitewater rafting trip with us on the St. Louis River, just 15 minutes south of Duluth, MN and let’s see where things go from there! See you on the river!


Kayak, Canoe, and Paddle Board Rental on Thomson Reservoir

Those of you that have whitewater rafted the upper St. Louis River with us probably remember paddling on the Thomson reservoir to end the rafting trip.  Rafters paddle across the narrower north-south expanse exploring only a fraction of the 470 acre manmade lake. There is much left to see and explore as the reservoir expands quite a ways to the east and west featuring half a dozen rocky, boreal forest covered islands and miles of shoreline. In addition to the St. Louis River flowing into the reservoir (created by the Thomson dam), the Midway River flows in as well.

With islands, scenic shoreline, and the mouth of the Midway River there is a lot to explore. Paddlers can spend hours or a whole day paddling and exploring. If paddling itself doesn’t float your boat the small mouth bass fishing is pretty good on the Thomson reservoir.

Swiftwater Adventures rents canoes, sit on top kayaks and stand up paddle boards for 2 hours, half day and all day. Rates are as follows:

                 2 hours      ½ Day       Full Day

Kayak      $30            $40            $55

Canoe      $30            $40           $60

SUP         $30            $40           $60

We strive to offer the best whitewater rafting and kayaking adventures in Minnesota. To show our appreciation to those that have whitewater rafted or taken a whitewater kayak lesson with us we give $5 off per craft for rentals.

Call us or stop by our Office and Kayak/SUP Center at 121 Vermilion St. Carlton, MN 55718 to get your rental gear.

Hope to see you on the St. Louis River this summer!