Des Moines River State Water Trail

Des Moines River

The Des Moines River rises from Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota and flows 525 miles to join the Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa. The river ranges from 50 to 200 feet wide as it passes a mix of agricultural land and wooded bluffs. This is a great river for beginner paddlers when river levels are normal; however, heavy rains can cause the river to flood and flow quickly. Stream flow usually peaks in early to mid-April. The river level is usually enough for canoeing.

River locator map


River segments and maps

This river has only one segment. Get maps and more information.


From Talcot Lake Dam to Windom, you'll experience flat farmland with few trees. From Windom to Kilen Woods State Park, you'll enter a valley bounded by low hills and more vegetation. Willow, green ash, slippery elm and various grasses line the banks. From the park to Jackson, you'll pass increasingly taller hills and bluffs. Thick woodlands screen cultivated land and farm buildings from view.

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


Established in 1967 as a state water trail, the Des Moines River's name means "River of the Monks" in French, despite having no connection to monks. The origin of the river's name comes from the native village of Moingona, which was near the modern city of Des Moines, Iowa. The original name was translated incorrectly by early traders, and eventually the river came to be known by the modern name of Des Moines.

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. 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.

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 1860s. 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.

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