Minnesota River State Water Trail:
Ortonville to Granite Falls

Minnesota River Water Trail

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The Minnesota River from Ortonville to Granite Falls is designated as a Wild and Scenic River. It features diverse terrain ranging from steep granite bluffs to marshy lowlands, and flows through a wide valley carved out by the ancient river warren.

River level reports

Water trail sections

Local contact

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Lac qui Parle, Chippewa and Yellow Medicine Counties, southwestern Minnesota
Contact Parks and Trails southern regional office: (320) 359-6067

River character

River rapids ratings

  • There are some Class I rapids and dams which need to be portaged.

From the Lac qui Parle dam to Granite Falls, the river flows in a 100- to 150-foot-wide channel through a wide floodplain. Below Montevideo granite outcrops become prevalent. Most of this segment has no rapids until the Granite Falls area, where you will encounter Class I rapids above and below the city.


A wide variety of vegetation fringes the river, including prickly pear cactus. From Ortonville to Marsh Lake, trees and vines overhang the river and give it a jungle-like appearance; dark woods of soft maple, cottonwood and elm fringe the banks. Snags and broken-down bridges create obstacles. Near Marsh Lake, the river widens and large areas of swamp and marsh extend from the river; willows predominate. Two miles downstream, Marsh Lake and Lac qui Parle are shallow and weedy. At the southeast end of Lac qui Parle, called "talking water" by the Dakota, is Lac qui Parle State Park.

Fish and wildlife

Many birds use the stretch of the river corridor between Marsh Lake and Lac qui Parle for nesting, breeding and resting during migrations. There are several species of waterfowl, including mallards, blue-winged teal and wood ducks. The most impressive waterfowl along the river is the Canada goose, many of which are found at Lac qui Parle. Wetland birds, including various species of herons, bitterns and shorebirds, make their summer home along the river. Pheasants and Hungarian partridge find thick cover in the river valley for nesting and for protection from harsh winter storms.

Part of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, including Lac qui Parle from the State Highway 40 bridge to the dam (river mile 284), is closed to the public from September 20 to December 1. No canoeing is allowed on that stretch of the river between these dates.

Lac qui Parle State Park features miles of back channels which support an abundant wildlife population and various species of water birds, owls, hawks, deer, beavers and muskrats.

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

The Minnesota River also supports a large fish population. Although carp and other rough fish predominate, anglers can take walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass in deep pools below rapids, riffles and dams.


French fur traders encountered the river in the late 1600s and called it Riviere St. Pierre. By the mid-19th century the Minnesota River Valley had been all but trapped out. Both game and fur animals were scarce; the buffalo had been driven to the plains of the upper Missouri and the Red River Valley.