By Jim Umhoefer
The Snake River has a split personality. From McGrath to Mora, it rumbles and rolls through long stretches of difficult rapids. But between Mora and Pine City, there are few rapids and the pace is gentle enough for beginners.
The upper Snake offers a challenge for experienced white-water enthusiasts as it surges through the Upper Snake River Falls (Class II-III), dropping three feet in 50 yards. About a mile downstream, the river tumbles 20 feet in three-quarters of a mile at the Lower Snake River Falls (Class III-IV). Scout the rapids from the marked portages before running them if you're not familiar with the river. During high water, paddlers will be safer in a kayak or decked canoe.
You'll canoe through thick forest most of the route. The riverbanks are lined with an assortment of hardwoods sprinkled with small stands of black spruce and white pine. Three state forests border on the Snake: the Solana State Forest, just north of McGrath; the Snake River State Forest, below the Upper and Lower Falls and the Chengwatana State Forest, near the mouth of the river. Below Grasston to Cross Lake, the banks open into a wide farming valley. But then the river runs for 12 miles below forested sandstone bluffs before spilling into the St. Croix River.
The river level varies widely during the year. The upper and lower sections can be adventuresome during high water in early season, but are usually too shallow for canoeing during the summer. The easy stretch of the Snake, between Mora and Pine City, is canoeable for most of the season.
Deer, black bears and other forest wildlife may be spotted along the way. Fishing can be good for walleye, northern, small mouth bass and catfish. Try some of the lakes on the route for pan fish.