Welcome to the Minnesota River State Water Trail virtual tour! The river flows 318 miles from Big Stone Lake in Ortonville to its confluence with the Mississippi River near Fort Snelling in St. Paul. It is a gentle, placid river, with some portions designated as a Wild and Scenic River. We hope the tour prompts you to visit the State Water Trail in person sometime soon.
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Lac qui Parle Lake
Lac qui Parle Lake was created by the narrowing of the Minnesota River (at its confluence with the Lac qui Parle River) and the construction of a dam in the 1930s. Look for the Lac qui Parle River flowing into the Minnesota River near the Churchill Dam. Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area makes up much of the northern boundary of the lake, offering paddlers views of prairie, forest, and a variety of waterfowl (especially during the spring and fall migrations). Lake qui Parle Lake is a fairly long and narrow body of water that can become dangerous during windy conditions. Paddlers should watch weather conditions closely and use caution. Paddling is not allowed on the lake during hunting season (September 20 to December 1).
Watch a captioned video about Lac qui Parle Lake. (1 minute 39 seconds)
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The Churchill Dam was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. There is a 150 yard portage around this dam. Below the dam, the river is rip-rapped and straight for a short distance before reverting back to its natural, winding and twisting channel. The river is fairly narrow with a combination of forested, open, and backwater areas. Paddlers should be aware of Class I rapids approximately three miles upstream of where the Chippewa River enters the Minnesota River. At the end of this section, you will paddle through the city of Montevideo where you will see flood control structures, including a dike system.
Watch a captioned video about the Churchill Dam to Montevideo. (1 minute 39 seconds)
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Experience the floodplain forest of the Upper Minnesota River Valley as you paddle through cottonwoods and silver maples along the banks of this broadly meandering stretch of river. Sharp eyes may see pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, eagles, pelicans, and owls. If you like to fish, this is an excellent area to try your luck for channel catfish. The shorter, seven mile paddle from Priens Landing to the landing at Wegdahl Park is a great afternoon trip for families. Paddlers that continue on to Granite Falls should be aware of Class I rapids present in the three miles before the Granite Falls Dam.
Watch a captioned video about Montevideo to Granite Falls. (1 minute 239 seconds)
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Entering Granite Falls, you must portage on the right 250 yards around a 300 foot long hydroelectric dam. Before the placement of the dam, one of two waterfalls on the Minnesota River was found here. At low water levels you can still see the original rock incorporated into the structure. Shortly after portaging around the Granite Falls Dam, there is a Class I-II rapids on river right (just before the river turns by the Hwy 212 bridge). There is no established portage and portaging would be difficult. River left is not an option at most water levels because there is a long rock wall that likely used to serve as a river crossing many years ago.
Three miles downstream, paddlers will encounter the site of the former Minnesota Falls Dam, removed in 2013. The reservoir behind the dam is slowly reverting back to a more natural channel. As the channel forms, it will likely expose a few Class I-II rapids at various locations upstream of the former dam site. At the former dam site, there is a set of Class II-IV rapids (depending on water levels). It is highly recommended that you get out and scout the rapids from river right and potentially use the 200 yard portage on the right.
Watch a captioned video about Granite Falls to Kinney Landing. (1 minute 35 seconds)
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This is a great stretch of river for beginners! The paddle from Kinney Landing to Upper Sioux Agency State Park has no rapids to speak of and is just 7 to 8 miles long. The river twists and turns for the first few miles before straightening out and offering a mixture of forested and open areas. Paddlers will also see granite outcrops that are over 3 billion years old and some of the oldest rocks in North America. A DNR campsite is located approximately 2.5 miles downstream from Kinney Landing on what is called Scout Island.
Watch a captioned video about Kinney Landing to Upper Sioux Agency State Park. (1 minute 34 seconds)
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Upper Sioux Agency
This section of the river has several Class I rapids along its route, including those after the Highway 21 Bridge where the river flows past Skalbekken County Park. Begin your trip at one of two public water accesses within the Upper Sioux Agency State Park; the first is a concrete ramp and the second a sloping riverbank near the confluence of the Yellow Medicine River. Fee-based camping can be found near the first ramp and about a half mile hike up the road from the second access. The Yellow Medicine River enters the Minnesota River at the far southeast edge of the state park and is a popular spot for fishing.
Watch a captioned video about Upper Sioux Agency State Park to Vicksburg County Park. (1 minute 31 seconds)
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Vicksburg County Park
Owned and maintained by the Renville County Park Department, this lovely park offers a concrete boat ramp that makes it easy to get in and out of the water. This is one of the more popular sections of the Minnesota River for both paddling and fishing. This stretch of river offers a mixture of forest and open areas, with some signs of fields and buildings here and there. Paddlers will encounter grayish-red gneiss rock outcrops and large glacial-erratic boulders… including those in the water. Use caution on this stretch of the river! Patterson’s Rapids, one of the largest rapids (Class II) found on the Minnesota River, are located about two miles below the park.
Watch a captioned video about Vicksburg County Park to Redwood Falls. (1 minute 33 seconds)
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Paddlers will encounter thick forest and high ridges that tower above the Minnesota River. Bordering the river is the newly created Whispering Ridge Aquatic Management Area, part of the effort of the Green Corridor Project to provide a trail system from Upper Sioux Agency State Park to Fort Ridgely State Park. You will also find a rock ledge that was once dynamited to allow steamboats upstream. The Redwood River meets the Minnesota River just below the small community of North Redwood and just above a canoe-in campsite located on a large bluff. The site is a great spot for a view of the river and surrounding landscape.
Watch a captioned video about Redwood Falls to Morton. (1 minute 19 seconds)
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As the rock outcrops end, this forested section of the river offers a relaxed paddle with some seclusion from the outside world. This portion of the Minnesota River is mostly flat water with no rapids or obstacles beyond a fallen tree or two. Paddlers will encounter an old railroad bridge at the beginning of their journey and several oxbows along the way. Look for the Birch Coulee Creek as it enters the Minnesota River three miles downstream of Morton.
Watch a captioned video about Morton to Kettner’s Landing. (1 minute 38 seconds)
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On this stretch of river, the floodplain broadens out with numerous Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) sites planted to either trees or prairie grasses. Expect to encounter numerous twists and turns along the way. Plan a multi-day trip and camp at a site at portion of the Minnesota River is mostly flat water with no rapids or obstacles beyond a fallen tree or two.. Downstream, stretch your legs and explore Fort Ridgely State Park, located on a bluff over the Minnesota River and less than a mile from the water. Bring your fishing gear and cast a line where Fort Ridgely Creek flows into the Minnesota River, less than a mile upstream of Highway 4.
Watch a captioned video about Kettner’s Landing to Highway 4 Landing. (1 minute 38 seconds)
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Highway 4 Landing
The Highway 4 Landing offers river recreationists a launch area and gravel parking lot. Paddlers that wish to continue on downstream will encounter numerous oxbows, farmland scenery, the historic Harkin Store, and the Boesch Wildlife Management Area.