The Big Fork River flows north to the Rainy river. Most of the river is easy to canoe with several areas of Class I rapids. There are two spectacular water falls that need to be portaged by all but the most experienced paddlers; Little American Falls (Class III-IV) and Big Falls (Class IV-VI).
Big Fork Map (Instructions for printing large PDF maps.)
Water characteristics -Check the river level reports. Stream flow generally peaks in late April and falls during the summer, when the rapids may be impassable. Heavy summer or autumn rains can raise the river to runnable levels. Some rapids will be too rocky to run if the gauge reading on the State Highway 38 bridge in Bigfork is much less than 4 feet. Use caution at the two water falls!
Landscape - The low-lying Big Fork valley is pastoral in places and in other parts wild. Scattered small farms break up a forest of pine, spruce, fir, cedar, aspen and birch. The areas of major development are the towns of Bigfork and Big Falls. The geology is clay, silt and sand deposits, in many places less than five feet thick, overlying Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks. Most of the watershed was once covered by glacial Lake Agassiz.
Fish and wildlife - The river offers excellent fishing for walleye, northern pike and muskies. Wildlife is abundant including, timber wolves, bobcats, lynx, beavers, otters. Big game includes moose, black bears and white-tailed deer. Birds include bald eagles, osprey, ruffed grouse and several species of ducks.
Cultural Information - A succession of Woodland Culture Indians occupied the region during the 2,500 years before its settlement by whites. One of the most notable groups was the Laurel. People of this group built Grand Mound, a burial hill 40 feet high and more than 100 feet across at its base. Located near the mouth of the Big Fork, the site is part of Grand Mound Center, a Minnesota Historical Society facility. The Laurel gave way to the Blackduck, who may have been the direct predecessors of the Dakota. The Dakota, or Sioux, inhabited the region until the Ojibwe laid claim to the area. At the turn of the century millions of board feet of pine logs were floated down the Big Fork to lumber mills in Ontario.