Washington County’s Parks & Rec website isn’t a fount of information about their parks, including paddling opportunities. But they have a downloadable brochure that’s very helpful. Download it here.
Washington County is home to some great paddling including several lakes and the beautiful St. Croix River.
You’ll need a daily or annual park pass for all of these state and regional parks. A Washington County Park Pass is also good in the Anoka County and Carver County parks, so that’s a plus. And the Minnesota State Park Pass is, obviously, good for all the state parks.
Afton State Park (Hastings)
In the southeast corner of Washington County is Afton State Park situated on the St. Croix River. There are either one or three watercraft campsites along the River (the website says one, the map shows three!). You can reserve one if you’d like to take an overnight trip—a very cool experience.
There’s no boat launch in the Park, but there’s a marina in Afton you can use for a fee. Find other area launches here (scroll down to “Boat Access”).
You’ll need a Minnesota State Park daily or annual pass to get in the park. Here’s the Afton State Park map.
Big Marine Park Reserve (Marine on St. Croix)
Big Marine Lake is a popular boating and fishing lake. There are two DNR public accesses (north and south ends) plus this Reserve. Because of a lot of natural shoreline and very clear water it’s a great paddling lake.
There’s a very nice boat launch with two docks and a large parking area. You may have to compete with motor boats to get in and out! Here’s the Big Marine map.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve (Lake Elmo)
Lake Elmo Park Reserve has two lakes open to paddling: Lake Elmo (has a general boat launch) and Eagle Point Lake (canoe and kayak access only). Eagle Point will offer you quiet paddling since there isn’t a motor boat launch. Here’s the Lake Elmo map.
Lower St. Croix River State Water Trail
The entire St. Croix River is part of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, which also includes the Namekagon River in Wisconsin. The Lower St. Croix is one of two Minnesota state water trails on the river (the other, aptly enough, being the Upper St. Croix State Water Trail).
There’s some discrepancy on the Minnesota DNR website as to where this Lower portion starts—one page says at Highway 70, another page says at Taylor’s Falls (Highway 8).
Regardless, this designated Wild & Scenic River portion is super scenic. It includes the 200-foot palisades just downstream from Taylor’s Falls (which you’ll portage around unless you’re a whitewater paddler).
Square Lake County Park (Stillwater)
Square Lake has some of the best water quality in Minnesota, so this small county park is focused on water activities: kayaking, canoeing, stand-up. The lake is open to motor boats, too, but there are wake restrictions. A nice boat launch next to the beach makes entry easy, although you have to park up the hill a bit and walk back down. Not a biggie.
Read: Kayaking on Square Lake
St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park (Hastings)
St. Croix Bluffs has a boat launch into a protected inlet and then right onto the beautiful St. Croix River. Be aware of water levels and the force of the current, as it’ll vary depending on the time of year and rainfall.
There are rustic campsites along the shore, which get heavy use during summer weekends. Here’s the St. Croix Bluffs map.
William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix)
The other state park in Washington County, William O’Brien, is also on the St. Croix River and offers wonderful paddling.
The Park has one of the longest rental seasons around, from mid-May to mid-to-late-October. In the summer they even offer shuttle service on the weekends. Here’s a short video from the Park Service that gives you a glimpse: Paddling the St. Croix (scroll down a bit).
Here’s the William O’Brien map.