Des Moines River State Water Trail

Des Moines Crow River

The Des Moines River is between 50 and 200 feet wide. This gentle river is perfect for beginning paddlers when water levels are normal, but can flow quickly after significant rainfall.

Local contact and map

Des Moines River location mapDownload map - Download GEO map - (What is a geoPDF?)
Murray, Cottonwood and Jackson counties
Contact Parks and Trails Windom office: 507-832-6030

River character

Stream flow usually peaks in early to mid-April. 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.

From the Talcott Lake Dam to the Iowa line, the river drops 135 feet, an average of 1.98 feet per mile. The watershed covers 1220 square miles. There are few rapids, none more difficult than Class I.


The Des Moines River flows through a flat iron shaped plateau, called the "Coteau de Prairies" by early French explorers. The bedrock is similar to that of the Red River Valley of the north, with generally sedimentary rocks covered by typical glacial deposits.

  • From Talcott Lake dam access to Windom, the Des Moines travels through flat farmland, and with few trees to interrupt the broad prairie land. This land is mostly utilized for agriculture.
  • From Windom to Kilen Woods State Park, the river valley is bounded by low hills and willow, green ash, slippery elm, and various grasses line the banks. The banks become higher near the park; the river flows between 100-200 foot bluffs covered with oak and basswood forest.
  • From Kilen Woods to Jackson there are increasingly taller hills and bluffs. Woodlands crowd the river and screen from view farm buildings and cultivated land.

Fish and wildlife

Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.


  • Northern pike
  • Walleye
  • Crappie
  • Channel catfish
  • Yellow perch
  • Black bullheads


  • White-tailed deer
  • Beavers
  • Squirrels
  • Mink
  • Muskrats
  • Turtles


  • Various ducks
  • Owls
  • Hawks
  • Bank swallows
  • Baltimore orioles
  • Blue herons
  • Kingfishers


The Des Moines River rises from Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota near Pipestone, and flows 525 miles (845 km) in a southeasterly direction to join the Mississippi River two miles southwest of Keokuk, Iowa. The largest river flowing across the state of Iowa, it passes from the glacial plains into the unglaciated hills through the capital city of Des Moines, Iowa, which is named after the river.

From the late 1830s until the close of the American Civil War, the Des Moines River was the main artery of commerce for central Iowa. A decline in river traffic came with the development of railroads staring in the 1860's. Although none survive, 80 mills for grinding grain were built along its banks between 1840 and 1890. The several dams along the river are utilized for power and flood control.