Minnesota, Wisconsin

St. Louis River Estuary Water Trail

The St. Louis River Estuary Water Trail is a unique opportunity to explore one the world's largest freshwater estuaries. A major tributary to Lake Superior, the trail covers 16.5 miles of the St. Louis River shoreline and over 12,000 acres and sports 11 distinct routes that cover 73 miles. Visitors can immerse themselves in the river's varied landscapes ranging from the working port of Duluth and Superior to complex, diverse, wild ecosystems.

photo: Explore Duluth's best kept secret.

Length: 16.50 miles
Loop Trail? Yes
Type: National Water Trails System
Agency: Nonprofit
Entry Fee? No
     The City of Superior Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department issues boat launch permits. Either a daily or annual pass is required for both motorized and non-motorized water craft. The State of Minnesota requires any resident using a canoe or kayak

Parking Fee? No

Allowed Uses:

Boating, Motorized
Boating, non-motorized: Canoeing
Boating, non-motorized: Kayaking
Boating, non-motorized: Rafting
Boating, non-motorized: Sailing
Heritage and History
Ice Skating
Wildlife Observation

     Ice fishing, Stand Up Paddle-boarding, geocaching, kite sailing.

See more details.


Location: Southwestern most tip of Lake Superior between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
State(s): Minnesota, Wisconsin
Counties: St. Louis, Douglas
Longitude: -92.1005
Latitude: 46.7867

Driving Directions

From Minneapolis/St. Paul take Interstate 35 North to Duluth. From Thunder Bay, Ontario take US Hwy 61 South to Duluth. From the Upper Midwest, visitors can access Duluth via US Hwy 2. Minneapolis/St. Paul is accessed via Interstate 94.


The St. Louis River, the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, becomes a 12,000-acre freshwater estuary as the river approaches Duluth and Superior. The upper section is characterized by wilderness-like areas, while the lower section is characterized by urban development and an industrial and international port. A freshwater estuary is ecologically unique. The current is slow and its wide expanse allows for small water and big water experiences as well as varied paddling experiences for all skill levels. It's easy to forget that the river is in an urban environment. There are many, well placed put-in and take-out points along the river that provide access to food and water and other recreation options. Figure 1. St. Louis Estuary.

National significance
This diversity of experience of river’s varied landscapes, ranging from the working ports to complex, diverse ecosystems creates a powerful experience that makes the estuary significant both regionally and nationally. Paddlers feel as though they are in a pristine and remote place while in the middle of a population center. Please see Attachment A - Diversity of Experience.

Trail’s history and evolution including concept.
The St. Louis River was designated a state water trail in 1967. The state water trail connects to the Lake Superior State Water Trail that was designated in 1995. Water Trail is a unique opportunity to recognize a premier paddle destination that appeals to a wide range of skill levels and interests. Representatives from the two local municipalities and counties, state regulatory agencies, economic development & tourism groups, and user groups provided input for the concept. Designation as a National Water Trail will target and capture segments of the recreation and tourism markets.

Main features
The Water Trail is a unique opportunity to explore one the world's largest wild and scenic freshwater estuaries. Routes includes backwaters and bays, white water rapids, wide open water, and wetlands and sloughs all providing scenic views surrounded by accessible public lands. The trail extends 16.5 miles from Fond du Lac Dam to Lake Superior and sports 11 distinct routes that provide up to 73 miles of exploration, most of them in loops. Visitors can immerse themselves in landscapes ranging from the working port to complex, diverse, wild ecosystems. Users can do as long or as short a paddle experience as they want. The urban nature provides exceptional access to information, both hazards and opportunities. Visitors can access accommodations, outfitting, guides, food and beverages, shopping, museums, equipment rental, and even health care within a few miles. Figure 2 - River Collage

The trail benefits visitors and locals. If one is looking for exercise, adventure, or solitude, appropriate activities are available year round. The immediate area has everything one could want in an outdoor experience as well as every amenity. Warm weather activities include kayaking, stand up paddling, rowing, fishing, duck hunting, birding, swimming, camping, and picnicking. Winter activities include skiing, skijoring, snow shoeing, ice skating, ice fishing, and ice boating. Surrounding the estuary one can access hiking, biking/mountain biking, dog sledding, and snowmobiling. It educates locals who may have negative feelings toward the river left over from the river's industrial past. It will be an outdoor classroom for those who are disenfranchised from natural experiences. Planning and management creates communication across communities and user groups. Please see Attachment B - Diversity of Activities.

Additional Details

Primary Surface: Not Available
Secondary Surface: Rock, boulders
Rock, smooth
Snow or ice
Water, still

Elevation Low Point: Not Available
Elevation High Point: Not Available
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available

Year Designated:

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Brochure: Brochure examples.
Brochure: Visitor bureaus
Map: Description of trails and trail maps
Map: Location map
Other: Matrix of access sites and corresponding figures.
Other: Brochure attachment
Other: Attachment showing restoration actions and map.
Other: Matrix illustrating how partners address BMPs.
Other: St. Louis River Estuary Master Plan
Other: Letters of Support

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Public Contact:
Kris Eilers
Executive Director
St. Louis River Alliance
394 Lake Avenue South
Suite 405
Duluth, MN 55802 -2338
(218) 733-9520
[email protected]



Down river from HWY 23 bridge. Photo by Fred Morgan.

Down river from HWY 23 bridge. Photo by Fred Morgan.


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Submit an Edit

Trail Managers: please use the official NRT update form to update your trail for any of the following changes:

  • Change in trail mileage through trail extension
  • Change in trail mileage through trail retraction
  • Change in trail mileage through significant trail reroute
  • Change to trail name
  • Change in trail description or use
  • Undesignation of trail (removal of NRT designation status)
  • Other significant updates

>> Download the official NRT update form.

All other edits can be submitted via the below form: