Known as Manoominikeshiinh-ziibi (Ricing-Rail River) in the Ojibwe language, the St. Croix River rises in the northwestern corner of Wisconsin, out of Upper St. Croix Lake in Douglas County, near Solon Springs, approximately 20 miles (32 km) south of Lake Superior. It flows south to Gordon, then southwest. It is joined by the Namekagon River in northern Burnett County, becoming significantly wider, which the Ojibwe renamed the river as Gichi-ziibi (big river), then encounters and forms the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin, flowing generally south, past St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin and Stillwater, Minnesota. It joins the Mississippi River at Prescott, Wisconsin, approximately 20 miles (32 km) southeast of St. Paul, Minnesota.
The upper reaches of the river in Wisconsin below the St. Croix Flowage, 15 miles (24 km) downstream from its source, as well as the Namekagon River, are protected as the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
The lower 27 miles (43 km) of both sides of the river along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, from St. Croix Falls / Taylors Falls to Prescott, are protected as part of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The protected area includes the Dalles of the St. Croix River, a scenic gorge, located near Interstate Park, south of St. Croix Falls.
The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1804, around the same time as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These first arrivals were mostly fur traders seeking to purchase beaver pelts from the Indians.
In 1837 a treaty with the Ojibwe was signed at Fort Snelling which ceded all lands in the triangle between the St. Croix and the Mississippi River up to the 46th Parallel to the United States government. This opened the region to logging, and the river was important to the transportation of lumber dowstream. At its peak in 1890, logging in the St. Croix River valley produced 450 million board feet (1,100,000 m³) of lumber and logs (source). The lumber industry continued until the last major log drive in 1912 marked the end of the rich white pine forests of the area.
It was along the banks of the St. Croix, in the milltown of Stillwater, that the state of Minnesota was first proposed in 1848.
The St. Croix is a popular recreational river. Common uses include boating, fishing, camping and canoeing. Highways along both sides of the river offer scenic drives punctuated by small towns offering restaurants, shopping (especially antiques, books and gifts), bed and breakfasts, historical tours and other common tourist activities.
Parks and public lands along the St. Croix River include: