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Whitewater and what else?

A group of rafters paddle their way through the "ledge" rapids on the St. Louis River. Swiftwater/Special to the Pine Journal 1 / 3
Lucas Aker, chief of river operations and trip leader at locally owned Swiftwater Adventures, gives a safety speech to rafters as they prepare to head down the St. Louis River. Tyler Northey/Pine Journal2 / 3
Rafters get wet on a trip down the St. Louis River. Minnesota Whitewater/Special to the Pine Journal3 / 3

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For those who do more than drive over it on their way north, the St. Louis River offers beauty, fishing and thrilling adventure.

"I did not even know that this existed up here," said Mike Gumiela, as the Chicago resident and his family headed down the river Tuesday on a whitewater rafting trip.

No matter what experience level, Scanlon-based rafting companies Swiftwater Adventures and Minnesota Whitewater aim to provide safe, fun and exciting adventure to their customers.

"It's more than regular rafting trip. We try to give you a wilderness rafting trip that's more interactive" said Cliff Langley, founder of Swiftwater. "You're not just sitting there like an amusement park ride — you are part of the adventure."

Both rafting companies are willing to take small or large groups down the St. Louis River. Trip costs average between $40 and $50 per person, but also keep in mind that larger group rates are negotiable so make sure to call in advance. Training and gear — life jacket, helmet and paddle — are provided through the company. They both have in-raft guides keeping their customers safe as they guide them down the St Louis River.

"It's amazing; it's gorgeous; it's serene," said Stephanie LaFleur, co-owner of Minnesota Whitewater. "Not one trip is the same."

Both companies access the river to start their tours next to the River Inn in Scanlon and finish in the Thomson reservoir. The whitewater rafting tour takes about two to two-and-half hours.

The St. Louis is different from other rafting rivers like those in Colorado. It's a "pool drop," according to Langley. That means boats hit a rapid and then head into an area of fast moving water until they hit the next rapid. Rapids on that section of river range from Class II (regular waves, clear passages between rocks and ledges) to Class III (higher waves, rocks with passages clear but narrow).

"If you want excitement you should come after a rain," LaFleur said. "You will have 'fat water,' which is heavy, splashy water, six-foot wave."

Langley said one of the favorite rapids is the Electric Drop.

"It's a six-foot drop in a narrow tongue of water where the raft hits a powerful wave," Langley said, "and then the entire wave engulfs you."

Whitewater rafting isn't without risks, of course. The bigger the waves, the greater the chance of falling out. The majority of people don't fall out as the guides do a good job lining up the boat when going down, but sometimes it happens. No matter what, safety is key for both companies, which actually train people what to do if they fall into the water. Rule No. 1 is get your feet up so they don't get wedged anywhere.

"I felt totally safe on the trip," said Kimberlyn Magwood from San Diego, Calif. Magwood decided to take the trip to celebrate her son's 12th birthday. "Before we went through every rapids, he (the raft guide) made sure to tell us where we were going, what we were doing, and what we needed to do."

Lifejackets and helmets are mandatory.

"We maximize safety," Langley said. "Most people [here] have 10-plus years experience. We spend a lot of time training our guides."

"All guides are certified in first aid and CPR, we also do swift-water-rescue training," said LaFleur. "We want our staff to be confident."

There are some requirements for both rafting companies: rafters must be 11 years old or older and physically be able to paddle.

The St. Louis isn't home to only rafters anymore. Besides rafting, both companies now offer other river activities.

Stand-up paddle boards and sit-on-top kayaks can be rented through Swiftwater. On these, people can paddle around the Thomson reservoir, a 470-acre manmade lake. Swiftwater doesn't have lessons for this but staff give renters a quick tutorial on how to use the equipment.

Swiftwater also offers whitewater kayaking lessons and trips. They supply all the needed gear.

"We show them how to do a wet exit and then they show us they can do that. After that we teach them some basic strokes," said Langley.

At the end of the lesson, students get to run some easier Class ll rapids if they want to.

Minnesota Whitewater has a Lazy River Tour for those who prefer something more laid back. The tour starts in Brookston and takes about three-and-half to four hours. The only requirement for this is the person must weigh over 50 pounds. The tour is guided by an oarsman — all the customer has to do is sit back and relax.

"You can have a water or soda or we can stop and have picnic lunch," LaFleur said.

The third option from Minnesota Whitewater is a guided fishing tour where up to two people can head down the river with a fishing guide.

"An oarsman take you down," LaFleur said. "The guides are looking for the spots to help you catch the big one."

For visitors and locals alike, the companies offer a way to get out on the 192-mile river and see what the St. Louis has to offer.

"It was nothing I would have ever expected," said birthday boy David Magwood. "This is something I would definitely do again."

For more information about rafting trips or other river activities, head to the internet or call the two local companies that offer whitewater rafting and more. For Swiftwater Adventures, go to www.swiftwatermn.com or call 218-451-3218. For Minnesota Whitewater, go to www.minnesotawhitewater.com or call 218-522-4446.

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FOR YOUR INFORMATION

For more information about St. Louis River rafting trips or other river activities, head to the internet or call the two local companies that offer whitewater rafting and more. For Swiftwater Adventure, go to www.swiftwatermn.com or call 218-451-3218. For Minnesota Whitewater, go to www.minnesotawhitewater.com or call (218) 522-4446.

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