Minnesota River State Water Trail: Ortonville to Granite Falls

Minnesota River Water Trail

Traveling from Ortonville to Granite Falls, paddlers will see a diversity of terrain, from steep granite bluffs to marshy lowlands. The Minnesota River is rich in natural beauty, flowing through a wide valley carved out by the ancient River Warren. This segment is designated as a Wild and Scenic River. There are some Class I rapids and dams which need to be portaged. About rapids classes.

Virtual Tour: Take a virtual tour. It's a great tool to help you plan your next visit! Panoramic tour | Snapshot tour

Minnesota River Water Trail sections and maps:

Local contact

Kettle River location map
Order map

Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, and Yellow Medicine Counties, southwestern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Southern Regional Office: (320) 359-6067.

River level reports | Outfitters | Safety | Licenses & fees | Current conditions

River character

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 does not have any 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. Canoeists may be surprised to see prickly pear cactus along the route. 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. Marsh Lake and Lac qui Parle, two miles downstream, are shallow and weedy. At the southeast end of Lac qui Parle, called "talking water" by the Dakota Indians, 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. Within Lac qui Parle State Park, there are miles of back channels which support an abundant wildlife population. In addition to various species of water birds, owls, hawks, deer, beavers and muskrats inhabit this area.

The Minnesota 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. According to the most recent Minnesota Department of Health Advisory (1997), carp and catfish may be safely eaten once a week. Other species were not included in the study.


French fur traders discovered the river in the late 1600s, naming 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.