MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Snorkeling the Namekagon

Face down in the swift, clear Wisconsin river, you'll see why it's a national treasure.

Canoeing the Namekagon River.

© Beth Gauper

Now that warm weather has arrived, we can have some fun cooling down.

We can go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River near Duluth without a wetsuit. We can relax into the potholes above Illgen Falls and turn the the Baptism River into a spa.

If we're desperate, we can run from the sand beach on Duluth's Park Point into Lake Superior. No one ever said that felt like bathwater.

Now, however, I've found the best cool-down of all snorkeling. Why didn't I think of it before?

In August, I canoed on the protected, spring-fed Namekagon River in northwest Wisconsin, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (pictured). The paddling was wonderful we spotted many bald eagles, herons, fawns, otters, even a porcupine but the fun started when I borrowed a mask and snorkel and began swimming.

The bracing water was as clear and wavy as old window panes. Sunlight glanced off pieces of pearly mussel shells in the sand, making them as bright as strobe lights.

It also made the chartreuse strands of waving river grass look like the striped backs of garter snakes, and I kept doing a double take to make sure. Then I spotted something else in the same shades of green a $20 bill, caught on a log.

After that, I really paid attention to the passing scenery. Snorkeling on the Namekagon is a blast because it's so amazingly clear and has such a stiff current; it's a lot like being on a drift dive in the Caribbean. The St. Croix River, into which it flows just north of Danbury, Wis., also is very clear and has a good current.

So next time, bring a mask and snorkel (and fins, to help you go upstream). For other ways to cool down, see Cheat the heat.

Last updated on May 31, 2011