Mississippi River State Water Trail: Hastings to Iowa Border

Mississippi River Trail

This segment of the river opens up to spectacular bluffs and a whole new paddling experience. You will need some paddling skills to avoid snags and downed trees, especially in the backwaters. Although the river is wide in this area, the current can be deceptively swift. Approach the shore with caution. Wakes from large boat traffic should not be taken broadside. Watch for dams, and know on which side to portage or lock. Do not cross the river directly above dams. There are no major rapids.

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Mississippi River Water Trail sections and maps:

Local contact

River location map
Order map

Washington, Dakota, Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, and Houston Counties, southeastern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Central Regional Office: (651) 259-5748.

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River character

The water from Hastings to Iowa is suitable for swimming. Drinking and cooking water should be collected at municipal sources. Spring runoff normally brings the river to its highest flow of the year. Though some stretches are fast and can be dangerous, others are restrained by dams and have little current. The water level in this stretch is always sufficient for canoeing, though winds can be strong. Listen to your radio for weather reports and small-craft warnings.


This segment of the river is towered on the right and left by spectacular bluffs. The bluffs, however, are not mountains that somehow were heaved to their present height; the river actually cut down through the layers of rock and carved out the valley in which it flows. The main river channel will be along the east bank at times and along the west bank at other times. Extensive backwaters often extend to the bluffs on the side opposite the main channel. There is a great body of water filling this valley, and for the adventuresome there lies a whole new experience in canoeing. Wildflowers can be spectacular along this stretch of the river. Over millions of years inland seas advanced and retreated several times, leaving sediments that became the dolomite, shale and sandstone that form the river bluffs. About 100 million years ago the land in the mid-continent began to be uplifted and water began to cut valleys in this uplifted plain. Water and wind have shaped the Mississippi River valley we see today.

Fish and wildlife

There are 113 species of fish recorded in this stretch of river; only half that many species exist above St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, which has prevented the upstream migration of fish. Fishing is excellent throughout the river system and is permitted in accordance with state regulations. The river valley is a major migration route for ducks, geese, swans, raptors (especially bald eagles) and other birds. The Minnesota-Wisconsin stretch of the Mississippi harbors at different times 285 species of birds. Along the backwaters, two of the most common yet impressive birds are the great blue heron and the common egret. Fifty-two species of mammals are found from Hastings to Iowa. Those most often seen are beaver, muskrat, deer and raccoon; the mud along the shore will show their tracks. Also common in the river valley are red and gray fox, cottontail rabbit, gray and fox squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, chipmunk, striped skunk and several species of moles, shrews and mice. Twenty-three species of reptiles and 13 species of amphibians are found in this section of the river. This stretch is also rich in freshwater mussels. There are more species of mussels in the Mississippi River watershed than in any other in the United States.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to the Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.


Evidence suggests man first appeared in the Mississippi River valley during the Paleo-Indian period about 12,000 years ago. But it wasn't until the Woodland period (about 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1650) that a great number of people used this area. Communities were developed and mounds of various types were built from 890 B.C. to A.D. 1600. There is evidence that an extensive trade network existed and that the Mississippi River was a major travel route during the Woodland period. The Woodland cultures ended with the influence of Europeans. Fur traders and explorers traveled the Mississippi in the birch-bark canoe of the Indians. France, England and the United States established forts along the river for trade and territorial possession. The fur trade diminished, and the first steamboat ran in 1823. By the mid-1800s roads and railroads replaced the river as a transportation system. But today the river again is a major route for moving bulk commodities in barges.