Cannon River State Water Trail

Cannon River

Bounded by rolling hills, high bluffs, farmland and woods in its upper reaches, this river enters a broad gorge below Cannon Falls. There are a variety of wildlife and sightseeing opportunities. The Cannon is designated as a wild and scenic river. There are few rapids; none are difficult (Class I). About rapids classes.

Visitor alert

Dangerous conditions

Water levels in the Cannon River seem to have finally stabilized after a spring and summer of above average rainfall.  Boaters planning to float/paddle the Cannon should be aware that a lot of woody debris remains in the Cannon River (especially the upper stretches above Northfield) due to the tornadoes that struck the area last fall and the heavy spring/summer rains and windstorms.  Crews have been out removing navigation hazards but boaters should be aware that conditions can change quickly, especially as water levels rise.  Be sure to check the river level reports or contact one of the DNR offices to get up-to-date information.

(Updated August 22, 2019)

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Le Sueur, Rice, Dakota and Goodhue Counties, southeastern Minnesota
Contact Parks and Trails Central Regional Office: (651) 259-5841.
Contact Parks and Trails Rochester Office for Cannon River downstream of Lake Byllesby: (507) 206-2847

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River character

Stream flow usually peaks in early April. Very heavy rains can cause the river to flood. Because there are few rapids to cause canoeists problems in low water, the level is usually sufficient for canoeing. The dam at Lake Byllesby, affects water levels and canoeing downstream. From Faribault to its mouth, the Cannon falls 280 feet, an average of 4.8 feet per mile.


Bounded by rolling hills, bluffs, farmland and woods in its upper reaches, the Cannon enters a broad gorge below Cannon Falls, where it is flanked by bluffs up to 300 feet high. The Cannon River is underlaid with a variety of sedimentary rocks. The river valley created by cutting through these rocks produced rock outcrops of St. Peter Sandstone, the Prairie du Chein Group of dolomites and sandstone, and near the river's mouth, Jordan Sandstone and the St. Lawrence and Franconia formations.

Fish and wildlife

In the reservoirs and slow stretches above Faribault the most common game fish are northern pike, black crappies, bluegills and bullheads. Downstream from Faribault the most common species are smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye and, in the stretch below Cannon Falls, channel catfish. Wildlife seen in the river valley includes white-tailed deer, beavers, otters, raccoons, bobcats, red fox, gray fox and coyotes. Bald eagles are sighted near the Mississippi River.


By A.D. 1000 the Mississippian Culture, a tradition heavily dependent on agriculture, was established in southern Minnesota. The mouth of the Cannon River was a major center of this culture. In historic times Indians and traders frequently hid their canoes near the river's mouth, and so French fur traders called the stream La Riviere aux Canots, "the river of canoes." In 1877 there were 15 flour mills along the stretch of river between Faribault and Northfield alone. At Dundas travelers still can see the aging limestone walls of the Archbald Mill.