Mississippi River State Water Trail: Vermillion River to Palisade

Mississippi River Trail

This section of the river is a transition zone. From the marshy, undeveloped areas of Lake Itasca and Cass Lake, the river flows into a more developed area with dams and industry. Paddlers should watch for dams and know on which side to portage. This segment is part of the Mississippi Headwaters River Trail, which consists of the first 420 miles of the river. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

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Mississippi River Water Trail sections and maps:

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Local contact

River location map
Order map

Itasca and Aitkin Counties, northeastern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northeast Regional Office: (218) 328-8980.

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River character

The Mississippi is flat and slow moving in this river section, dominated by pine forests and the town of Grand Rapids. Two dams, located about three river miles apart, capture the river's fall, and demonstrate the former size of the rapids.


From Blackberry to its confluence with Splithand Creek, hills border the Mississippi River on both shores. The river connects the mixed hardwood-conifer forests of red, white, and jack pines, quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, paper birches and oaks, found on high ground, with pine and hardwood forests found on low lying areas.

Below Grand Rapids the Mississippi is fairly shallow and wide as it flows through glacial moraine. River banks in this area are sandy and often unstable, and the river bottom is predominantly sand and gravel. The narrow flood plain is vegetated with lowland hardwoods, primarily ash and elm, while the uplands are covered by a mixture of jack pine, aspen and balsam fir.

Fish and wildlife

The large continuous forested area, adjacent river and wetlands, and cutover areas offering new growth, attract ruffed grouse, white-tailed deer and timber wolves. Dead trees and snags standing in the forest provide shelter for wood ducks, mergansers, owls, raccoons and even black bears. The forest also attracts a variety of birds, including water birds and song birds.

Water quality is clean enough for bodily contact and to support an excellent sport fishery. Thirty to forty species of fish live in the river, including northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass. The river's oxbows are used by fish for spawning.

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.


By the 1870s loggers were active in the forests north of Grand Rapids. With the laying of the Great Northern Railroad tracks in 1892, the city became a major lumbering center. But by 1910 the vast northern forests had been cleared and the lumber industry faded, to be replaced decades later by the taconite industry.