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Cloquet River

Cloquet River watershed

The Cloquet River watershed covers approximately 507,858 acres (794 square miles) and is located within portions of Lake and St. Louis Counties in northeastern Minnesota. Originating from Cloquet and Katherine Lakes, the Cloquet River flows approximately 100 miles to its confluence with the St. Louis River near the community of Brookston. The upper watershed, above Island Lake, is heavily forested and sparsely populated, and portions are included within the Superior National Forest and Cloquet Valley State Forest. Below Island Lake, lands are more developed, and the stream is influenced by four reservoir lakes that support hydro-power production on the St. Louis River.

The Cloquet River is one of the few areas in the Lake Superior Basin where lakes are prominent landscape features. Most of the Lake Superior Basin is either very poorly drained or consists of rivers that drain semi-mountainous terrain. The Cloquet River watershed contains four major reservoir lakes and a series of smaller lakes that are characteristic of glacial till and sand landscapes.

The Cloquet River is unique in many ways:

  • It is a major canoe route, with riverside camp sites scattered both upstream and downstream of Island Lake. It was studied for inclusion in Minnesota’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Though not selected, the river’s exceptional recreational and scenic value was recognized later by the St. Louis River Management Plan. The river has since been managed to protect those values. 
  • Forest fragmentation and logging are two of the primary stressors of the upper Cloquet River. While there are large blocks of public forest land in the watershed, there is also significant private landownership within the forest. This forest land is being sold more frequently, being subdivided and cleared for second or secluded home sites for an increasingly mobile work force. Logging also occurs throughout the watershed on state, federal, county and private lands. 
  • Conflicting water uses and water quality complaints are common among property owners and resource user in the reservoir lakes. Water quality and recreational uses are influenced by changes in water levels, shoreline development, recreational use, inadequate sewage treatment, and overland runoff.

Strategy development for restoration and protection

Mercury TMDL

The St. Louis River mercury TMDL, which includes the Cloquet River Watershed, will determine the mercury reductions needed to meet the water quality standard for mercury and support healthy consumption of fish.


Tom Estabrooks
Watershed project manager