Kayaking the St. Croix River

Taylor’s Falls/Chisago County to Osceola Landing • Daily or annual state park pass needed if you park at Interstate State Park

kayaker along the cliffs of the st croix river
The second section of cliffs, a couple miles south of Interstate Park (photo courtesy of Kirsten Voorhees)

This stretch of the St. Croix River—Taylor’s Falls down to Osceola Landing—is one of the most beautiful river sections in Minnesota to kayak or canoe.

About the St. Croix River

The St. Croix, combined with Wisconsin’s Namekagon River, is a designated National Scenic Riverway, all 200ish miles of it.

This particular segment is very accessible from the Twin Cities and hosts the dramatic cliffs the Interstate Parks (both Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s) are famous for.

What We Loved about Kayaking the St. Croix River

Taylor’s Falls is such a popular area for Twin Citians, and it’s wonderful to see the area from a different angle—from on the river and not just by the river. The St. Croix is known for its beauty, and for good reason.

kayaking the st croix river among the cliffs
The second section of cliffs, a couple miles south of Interstate Park

We purposely chose a week day rather than a weekend so we wouldn’t be competing with motor boat traffic, of which there can be a lot!

When this post was first published in 2019, there weren’t many others on the river with us. I recently did the trip again in August of 2022, and there were several other groups, even on a Tuesday afternoon. I imagine it’s VERY busy on the weekends.

Launching in Interstate Park and taking out at Osceola Landing are both a piece of cake. They have beautiful shallow beaches that are wide enough for many boats. There’s a nice parking area and (non-plumbed) restrooms at both spots, too.

There definitely is a current on the St. Croix, but it’s quite easy to paddle upstream, at least late in the season when we were out. Spring may be different when the water is higher and the current is swifter.

You have the option, after launching at Interstate Park, to paddle upstream to the Taylor’s Falls Dalles area—the potholes and high cliffs segment. It’ll add an hour or so to your paddle, so be sure you’ll be able to handle that…but is well worth the extra time for its beauty.

That area, plus the second set of high cliffs on either side of the river a couple miles downstream, gives us some of the most scenic paddling in the Twin Cities, hands down.

kayakers on the st croix river

There are several campsites along this stretch of the river, including a group site with restrooms on the Minnesota side. That would make a fun adventure with kids old enough to swim but young enough to enjoy playing in the mud and rocks along the shore 🙂

What We’ll Do Differently Next Time

We’ll keep a better watch for the shallow spots. We got stuck on a sand bar at one point. We were able to wiggle our way off of it without a problem, but being aware of it is easier!

kayakers on st croix river

Be careful getting in and out of your kayak or canoe at some of the campsites. The water gets deep quite quickly in spots, and with the current—gentle as it is—it can be tricky to keep your kayak steady enough to brace you as you get out.

One of us ended up with an unintentional dip in the river! (not naming any names)

Bring Your Own Boats or Rent Them

The National Park Service has a page about the St. Croix/Namekagon riverway that has great information about planning your trip and local outfitters, including maps and local outfitters.

You can either bring your own canoe or kayak or rent.

Like any river, if you launch at one spot and paddle down to another with your own boats, you’ll have to work out the logistics of getting both them and you back to your vehicle.

kayaking under the bridge coming up to the osceola landing
Kayaking under the bridge—kinda cool! (photo courtesy of Kirsten Voorhees)

One option is to park, launch and simply paddle upstream for awhile first then back to your starting spot.

The rental places offer shuttle services, which is super handy. They’ll bring you back to your car and take care of getting the boats back.

Taylor’s Falls Canoe & Kayak Rental operates in Interstate State Park. Rent from them, launch there and they’ll pick you up either at the Osceola Landing (3-ish hour trip) or at William O’Brien State Park (6ish-hour trip) if you’d like to make a longer day of it.

This company has been around for decades and does a great job for their paddling customers.

osceola landing
Osceola Landing boat launch area, with a beautiful view downriver

How to Get There

The entrance to the boat launch at Interstate State Park is a mile or so before you reach the town of Taylor’s Falls, on Highway 8, on the right. You’ll see signs for both Taylor’s Falls Canoe & Kayak and Interstate State Park, Once you pass the ranger station, hang a left and you’ll drive into the large parking lot where the launch is. The rentals are also at the far end of that parking lot.

Osceola Landing is just this side of the river from Osceola, Wisconsin. You’ll be on Highway 243 driving toward Osceola, and turn right shortly before crossing the bridge. Look for the sign for Osceola Landing.

(2022 UPDATE: Osceola Landing is getting a facelift this year by the National Park Service, to be finished spring of 2023. There will be limited parking and no day-use at the landing, although there will still be river access during construction.)

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Sharon Brodin