Blue Earth River State Water Trail

Water characteristics

Photo of the Blue Earth River sign above Rapidan DamBlue Earth County has the most river miles of any county in the state. The water of the Blue Earth River exhibits great diversity, especially between the Rapidan Dam and the mouth of the river where swift rapids (riffles to Class I) are quickly followed by quiet pools. These quick changes make for fantastic canoeing and kayaking. The Blue Earth River flows through beautiful landscapes of high, wooded bluffs and rocky outcrops. In some places, the glacial drift is eroded all the way down to sedimentary bedrock. The high river flows of spring coincide with flowering springtime flora on the riverbanks, making the Blue Earth a scenic paddling adventure.

In 1910, the Rapidan Dam was completed along the Blue Earth River. The dam's overall length is 414 feet, and it is 87 feet high. The dam was renovated in 1983, and while showing its age, it still produces hydroelectric power today. Paddlers and anglers need to stay clear of the recirculating current below the dam, which can be extremely dangerous.


The Blue Earth River flows through varied landscape, from remnants of the Big Woods that used to cover much of east-central Minnesota to flat plains with natural grassland where buffalo used to roam. In the lower twelve miles, deep channels have been carved into the earth, lined with rocky bluffs and wooded hills. In the spring, wildflowers along the riverbanks add color to the shore. The Blue Earth is a paragon of scenic beauty in southern Minnesota.

Photo of a fisherman with his bounty, caught on the Blue Earth Water Trail

Fish and wildlife

The Blue Earth River is home to abundant wildlife, and excellent fishing sites make this Water Trail a great place for recreation. The gorge area of lower Blue Earth includes the principal river fishery for small mouth bass. Though fishing for this prized species has declined, other species swim the waters. Carp are abundant, and walleye, northern pike and channel catfish are all present, as well. Many lakes along the river are valuable as waterfowl-production areas.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Learn more at the Fish Consumption Advisory PageThis link leads to an external site..

Cultural Information

One of the earliest European adventurers to the area was Pierre Charles le Sueur, a French fur trader and explorer. Le Sueur discovered a curious bluish-green clay upon the banks of the river, a clay that the Sioux Indians used for pigment. Taking it back to France, it was determined that this clay contained copper and Le Sueur came back to what would become southern Minnesota to establish a copper mine. After digging 30,000 pounds of the blue-green clay and bringing 4,000 pounds back to France, it was discovered that there was no copper to be had. Nevertheless, Le Sueur's voyage into Blue Earth established French control of the area.

Photo of the beautiful Blue Earth River Water TrailThe area remained under French control until 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase transferred the area to the United States. The Blue Earth county area, however, was still officially Indian Territory until ratification of the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. This was the beginning of a permanent Euro-American settlement. In March of 1853, the county of Blue Earth was created, but tensions between Indians and settlers remained, resulting in the Dakota War of 1862. By the end, 303 Indian prisoners were condemned to death. President Lincoln commuted sentences for all but 38.

In 1868, one of the largest changes to the area came with the arrival of the railroad. Before this, the rivers of the Blue Earth area provided the easiest means of transportation across long distances; now, settlements regrouped themselves along the rail lines. An intersection of several rail lines in Mankato helped establish it as an important center of commerce and industry. Today, much of the land is still dedicated to agricultural use.