The Snake River offers scenic, challenging, and–in several places–serious white-water canoeing midway between the Twin Cities and Duluth. To help canoeists plan their paddling we list and describe the River sectors and major canoeing access points on the River. Please check the river gauges information from this website before attempting canoeing in the steeper gradients (Sectors B and G) of the River because low water means dragging your canoe over rocks for miles without escape.
Upper Snake River
Sector A: East Branch source to MN65 bridge at McGrath
The Snake River begins north of McGrath near Pliny in Aitkin County, where two small streams merge. This stretch of the River is 16.5 miles, drops 56 feet (3.4 foot drop per mile), is 3 to 75 feet wide, and is 1 to 4 feet deep. This stretch of the Snake River is not normally canoed.
Sector B: MN65 bridge at McGrath to Ford Township bridge east of Woodland
High water permits challenging canoeing in most of this sector. This stretch of the River is 13.1 miles, drops 159 feet in elevation (12.1 feet per mile), is 20 to 85 feet wide, and is 1 to 5 feet deep. This stretch contains the Upper Falls and Lower Falls that skilled kayakers and some canoeists can manage, but most who want to survive intact will probably want to portage. Warning: canoes are destroyed in the Upper and Lower Falls nearly every year, dumps cause loss of paddles and equipment, and the River water is very cold during spring snow-melt run-off. There is NO help immediately available when this happens.
There are many canoe launch sites along this stretch, but almost no convenient egress points for those that get into trouble. The major launch sites are: MN65 bridge at McGrath, Silver Star Road and Aitkin County Park (below which tributaries add considerably to stream flow where the River enters the chutes of the Upper and Lower Falls. About 1/2 mile below the lower falls is the Ford Township bridge where many canoeists leave vehicles at the end of this stretch, or begin further downstream floats.
Sector C: Ford Township bridge east of Woodland to CSAH 3 bridge on Hinckley Road
This stretch of the Snake River is 13.7 miles, drops 60 feet (4.4 feet per mile), is 35 to 125 feet wide and 1 to 7 feet deep. This stretch begins with the Horse Shoe of the Snake River, flowing east then west before resuming its southward flow. The old Bean Logging Company dam is located where the River assumes its southward flow. The rock remnants of the dam hold back a 3 foot head of water creating a large pool above the dam.
The launch point is the Ford Township bridge east of Woodland. There are no intermediate public egress points from the River in this stretch. There area a few cabins and farms near the River on this stretch.
Middle Snake River
Sector D: CSAH3 bridge on Hinckley Road to CSAH 6 bridge at Mora
This stretch is 14.5 miles, drops 78 feet (5.4 feet per mile), is 30 to 100 feet wide and 1 to 8 feet deep. This stretch includes rapids/pools sequences and moves southward through increasingly agricultural lands.
Sector E: CSAH 6 bridge at Mora to MN70 bridge at Grasston
This sector is 14.3 miles, drops 7 feet (0.5 feet per mile), is 40 to 150 feet wide and 1 to 10 feet deep. The River shifts from south to east flowing. There are a few small rapids and pools, but most of the River is long stretches of sandy-bottomed shallows. At mile 31 (measured from the mouth) is the Big Eddy, where the River makes several sharp bends, forms a large backwater, is up to 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep.
Lower Snake River
Sector F: MN70 bridge at Grasston to CSAH 9 bridge near Pine City
This sector is 15.7 miles, drops 14 feet (0.9 feet per mile), is 50 to 600 feet wide and 1 to 12 feet deep. Here the River flows east past the south ends of Pokegema and Cross Lakes. The widest point in the River is located just above Pine City. The deepest point is located at mile 21.2–the Bear’s Ear–where there is a very sharp bend in the River.
The remains of the old Chengwatana Dam are on the Snake River at the outlet of Cross Lake. This was a hydroelectric dam and its use was discontinued in 1943.
Sector G: CSAH 9 bridge near Pine City to mouth at St. Croix River
This sector is 12 miles long, drops 124 feet (10.3 feet per mile), is 25 to 190 feet wide and 1 to 20 feet deep. Except for a 2 mile long pool between miles 7 and 9, this stretch consists entirely of rapids and small pools. The deepest point in the entire River is 20 feet, found at mile 8.25.