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13 Fun & Best Things to do on St. Croix River

13 Fun & Best Things to do on St. Croix River

The St. Croix River is a national scenic riverway that runs across Wisconsin and Minnesota nestled in the St. Croix Valley, near the Twin Cities. This 169-mile river runs along the border of these two states and was one of eight original rivers listed under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in the 1960s.

The St. Croix River, in conjunction with the Namekagon River, offers beautiful sights, top attractions, and tons of family fun outdoor activities for you to explore.

From camping to tubing, to hiking and biking tours in state parks, to wildlife watching and taking photos of historic sites, an ambitious rock climb, cross country skiing, or just basking on the beautiful beaches, there are plenty of things to keep you busy in St. Croix Valley.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I loved these 13 things to do on the St. Croix River, and I’m sure you will too!

Fun & Best Things To Do On St. Croix River

1. Fishing for the Family

Fishing

The St. Croix River is packed with several species of game fish that you can catch, making it the ideal adventure location for any fishing enthusiast. The fish range from easy to catch to difficult to pull in, so there’s a little something for everyone.

If you’re interested in kid-friendly shore fishing, you can hook and reel some crappies, rock bass, and bluegills.

While visiting, I wanted a more challenging experience and searched for some smallmouth bass, northern pike, and muskellunge.

The river also offers monsters like the flathead catfish and the lake sturgeon – ideal for anyone who really wants to catch something worth bragging about. Other common fish species include common carp, buffalo fish, white bass, freshwater drum, and longear sunfish.

2. Kayak on Namekagon/St. Croix Confluence

A Group Kayaking

Water lovers can find all kinds of canoeing and kayaking opportunities across both the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers. St. Croix is an excellent riverway to choose from because there are several different locations at varying difficulty levels.

The Dalles of the St. Croix will give you smooth sailing and a stunning, scenic view. On the other hand, Nelsons Landing will start with some slow stretches and then introduce you to some fun rapids.

Middle St. Croix is where you’ll find fast-moving water that sometimes reaches Class II. Lower St. Croix is much easier on beginners, with broad stretches, many islands, and calm waters.

Both rivers have campsites posted along the way, so you can do a day trip or plan a multi-day excursion for some summer fun with your little boat. 

See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Midwest

3. Check Out St. Croix Visitors Center

Before you get too far into your adventure, it’s always a great idea to check out the St. Croix Visitors Center. This building is the park’s headquarters and is full of free information and people that can help guide your visit.

The visitors center is ideal for newcomers looking for help planning a trip. It has a museum, a full park map, descriptions of wildlife areas, and a native pollinator garden that’s super interesting.

The visitors center is also the place to obtain your camping permits. The center’s employees were happy to help me plan my camping trip and ensure I knew all the park rules and available activities.

You can also check out the bookstore and any of the educational resources at the center. It’s home to the Junior Ranger Program, which teaches kids what it’s like to work as a park ranger. And while you’re there, visit the covered picnic area to refuel for your trip.

4. Visit the Soo Line High Bridge

The Soo Line High Bridge, also known as the Arcola High Bridge, connects Wisconsin and Minnesota by stretching across the beautiful St. Croix River. This steel deck arch bridge was built in 1911 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge itself is gorgeous with impressive architecture. It was also highly innovative at the time of its construction and was a critical transportation avenue between the two states.

Today, you can visit the bridge, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to snag a coveted campsite with a great view of the historical landmark. You can also paddle or kayak right under the bridge, making for spectacular views and pictures.

Of course, driving over the bridge is a cool experience in itself – but it’s over fairly quickly!

5. Geocaching in St. Croix Valley

Geocaching

With the boost of technology and phones that have service even in the middle of nowhere, geocaching has become more and more popular. Whether you’re a seasoned participant or new to the activity, you can always practice geocaching in the St. Croix Valley.

For those who don’t know, geocaching is basically outdoor treasure hunting. Participants use a GPS to search for a geocache at a specific set of coordinates. The geocache is usually a marker or a container – sometimes those containers have some nifty items inside, and sometimes they’re just benchmarks.

The benchmarks the geocachers look for are kinds of survey marks that make up the National Spatial Reference System, and they are crucial in mapping activities in the United States.

These markers have been placed by both public and private organizations, and geocachers actually help the system by locating and reporting them after the search.

Because the St. Croix River is so large and surrounded by so much land, it’s a great place to explore and spend the day geocaching.

6. Visit the Scenic Overlook

Things To Do On St. Croix River

Just a few blocks from the St. Croix Visitor Center, you can find a beautiful scenic overlook that gives you a wide view of the river and its surrounding vegetation. Out over the edge, you can take in the massive river as far as the eye can see.

It was a good thing I brought a good camera because this scenic overlook is the perfect photo opportunity. It may not be a very long activity, but it lets you see some pretty spectacular nature at its finest, which stretches of water, trees, blue skies, and rock formations.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Wisconsin

7. Picnic at Osceola Landing

Osceola Landing is one of the busiest places on the St. Croix. It’s a popular place for kayakers and canoers to take off onto the river for a fun paddle.

But Osceola Landing also offers an excellent resting point for families to spend a little bit of extra time. The picnic area here is perfect for a lunch break. You can sit and enjoy your food while you watch the boaters come in and go out of the water.

The sandy beach is a nice spot to relax and dip your toes in the water. You can also fish at Osceola Landing, making it a great spot for a pit stop.

The National Park Service recently spent a lot of time and resources updating Osceola Landing, giving it a nicer, more functional layout and beautifying the area’s trees and landings.

It will soon be equipped for motorized boats as well as other comfort items and amenities, so be sure to keep an eye on this diamond in the rough.

8. Hike the Riverway Trails

Trail in St. Croix River

There’s plenty of hiking to do right along the St. Croix River. This river, along with the Namekagon River, boast a total of seven hiking trails – all of which are beautifully maintained by the National Park Service.

These trails are open year-round, so whether you’re a winter hiker or a summer hiker, you can give this area a try.

The trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate. You can settle for a leisurely walk or take things up a notch with a moderate trail, but none of them are considered difficult or expert-level experiences.

The longest trail is the St. Croix Trail. This hike is 12 miles one way and goes from Stevens Creek Landing to Snake River Landing and was a real workout. There are several campsites along the way for hikers who want to complete the trail over a couple of days.

The shortest trail is the Indian Head Flowage Trail, which is a short and easy ¾ mile hike that crosses bridged streams and some wetlands leading up to the river. It’s sprinkled with colorful wildflowers and beautiful summer blooms and sits near Lion’s Club Park.

See Related: Epic Midwest Road Trips

9. Bird Watching on the River

Woman Bird Watching

The St. Croix River is home to tons of different wildlife, making it an ideal location for lovers of nature. One animal group the river is not lacking in is the bird species. In fact, bird watching is a popular and rewarding activity done at St. Croix River.

You can birdwatch from pretty much anywhere in along the St. Croix Scenic Byway. You can walk the trails and Riverway on foot to spot over 240 species of birds. Or, you can do what I did and rent a kayak and watch for birds on the calm parts of the river.

The Riverway is home to many different specialty species, including the Bald Eagle. There are currently more than 30 pairs of known eagles between the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers.

Other bird species to look out for include Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawks, Golden-winged Warblers, Trumpeter Swans, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Great Blue Heron.

There’s a good chance you’ll spot some of these species anywhere along the St. Croix Valley, but some great bird-watching spots are the Gordon Dam, Boom Site Landing, and Namekagon Barrens.

See Related: Best Lake Towns in Minnesota

10. Bicycle Over the River

Bicycle

If you’re into biking or just want to try a new outdoor activity, look into bicycling over the St. Croix River on the Gandy Dancer State Trail.

The Gandy Dancer State Trail is located in Northwestern Wisconsin and offers 47 miles of well-maintained trail to all people-powered activities, including hiking, running, and biking.

The long trail connects a string of local communities along the way, leaving you with plenty of places to stop and rest. It has a hard-packed limestone surface that keeps it solid and level.

The trail leads right up to the St. Croix River. You can start your day there and head towards the towns and all they have to offer, or do it in reverse and finish your day at a campsite or a picnic location.

The Gandy trail also links up with the Ice Age Trail, which is a famous 1,200 miles path that crosses over the entire state of Wisconsin. You never know what determined hikers you might run into here!

11. Camping at Sandrock Cliffs

A Group of Campers

Sometimes, the only activity you need is a big campfire, some campfire treats, and some good company. You can get all of that right on the St. Croix River with one of their many campsites.

One campsite we love is Sandrock Cliffs. These campsites are first come, first serve, so they don’t take reservations. But you can drive up at any point.

These scenic sites have fire rings, picnic tables, drinking water, and bathrooms. They also have RV hookups and even WiFi, so you can camp in comfort if that’s your style. Pets are welcome too, so I was really happy to be able to bring my whole family along!

Sandrock Cliffs has 30 campsites. They sit along the St. Croix River, so you can include as many river activities as you want during your stay. A campsite like this can make for a nice home away from home during the summer.

See Related: How to Pack for a Camping Trip

12. Float Down the River

We get it – paddling and rowing in a wee boat isn’t for everyone. While some people enjoy an active, working vacation, others prefer to sit back and relax.

If that sounds like you, then you should consider floating or tubing down the St. Croix River. The scenic riverway is the perfect spot to drift with the current and enjoy the captivating views around you.

Unlike kayaking or canoeing, you don’t have to do much to enjoy the river this way. Wear a swimsuit and some sneakers. So long as you don’t have any glass and don’t litter, you can even bring your favorite drink along.

It’s a good idea to wear a life jacket – just in case (especially if you’re drinking adult bevs) – and sunscreen is an absolute must. You can bring food with you too, but again, never litter in the water or along the banks of the river.

Gather a big group of friends and get floating. It’s such a blast, and there are tons of outfitters in the area that rent tubes, so you don’t have to bring your own.

13. Take a Dip at Country Road O Landing

Country Road O Landing is another launch, landing, and campsite along the river, so it’s another location that’s great for paddleboarding, kayaking, tubing, and hanging out.

But we also love this spot for its little riverside spring. It’s perfect for testing out the waters on a hot day and getting a little wet. Whether you’re on a pit stop or renting a campsite here, the spring is great for cooling off.

Dip your toes in or get all the way in. It’s a beautiful little gem that can wrap up a wonderful day in the sun. Dry off next to your very own campfire afterward and enjoy your view of the river – it was a magical experience doing it myself.

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