Heavy rains have swollen rivers around the state, creating potentially dangerous paddling for canoeists and kayakers.

The danger was underscored over the weekend when a group of young canoeists overturned in rapids on the St. Croix River in Pine County. Fortunately, all were wearing life jackets, though several floated downstream and were stranded on the river in several groups.

One of the group's five canoes is still in the river, wedged between a log.

"The life jackets saved them," conservation officer Eugene Wynn said. "They were darn lucky."

The incident happened Sunday afternoon near St. Croix State Park, close to where the Kettle River enters the St. Croix. The group was surprised to encounter rapids with 4- to 5-foot standing waves, Wynn said, which overturned two of the canoes.

The group quickly became scattered along the river. Wynn and Pine County Deputy Tom Meier rescued them in Wynn's jetboat.

Wynn's advice for paddlers: "I would suggest waiting for river levels to go down, because it's pretty dangerous right now."

The St. Croix at St. Croix Falls, Wis., was running at 18,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Tuesday; anything more than 11,000 cfs is considered "very high."

Many other Minnesota rivers are considered high or very high, including the St. Louis, Cannon, Chippewa, Kettle, Littlefork, Minnesota, and portions of the Mississippi, as well as the Root, Rum and Snake.

The DNR offers a map showing current water conditions of all major rivers in the state; see it at dnr.state.mn.us/river_levels/index.html.

Lake Osakis hammered

Straight-line winds reportedly up to 70 miles per hour pounded Lake Osakis last Friday, damaging or destroying dozens of boats, docks and boat lifts on the popular lake near Alexandria.

"Boats were taken off their lifts and bashed against the rocks,'' said Bill Hill, 67, who lives on the lake. "They were stacked like cordwood. It looked like a war zone. There's a Fiberglas boat full of holes, and the motor is torn apart."

Hill figures at least 30 boats in the former Black's Resort area were wrecked. "Some are completely junk," he said. He wasn't at his home when the storm hit early Friday, but was told there were 8-foot waves and 4 inches of rain along with sustained high wind. Boats on lifts filled with water, then the lifts broke under the strain of the weight and pounding waves. "The lifts just couldn't take it," he said.

His boat survived on its lift because he had removed the boat's drain plug.

"I forgot to put it back in," Hill said. "So I got lucky."

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com