Red Lake River State Water Trail

Red Lake River

The Red Lake River is one of the few canoeing and kayaking rivers in northwestern Minnesota. It begins at Upper and Lower Red Lake and flows generally westward until it joins the Red River of the North in East Grand Forks. The river flows past marshy wilderness, flat farmland, towering eroded cliffs and steep, wooded banks. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

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Clearwater, Penningtion, Red Lake, and Polk Counties, northwestern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northwest Regional Office: (218) 308-2372.

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River character

This is generally a smooth flowing river except below St. Hilaire to almost Crookston. In this area a chain of easily navigable boulder-field rapids and pools interrupts the Red Lake in this 17-mile stretch where the river drops 110 feet, some of these rapids can be Class II at high and low water levels.


Marshy wilderness, flat farmland, towering eroded cliffs and steep, wooded banks characterize the Red Lake River. Above the dam at river mile 181 the river flows through marshland in the Red Lake Indian Reservation. White and yellow water lilies, wild rice and cattails thrive here.

Below the dam the river is flanked by a prairie that is at times bright with wildflowers. Trees are sparse and small on the low grassy banks. Near High Landing the trees become larger and the river meanders through farmland. Stands of willow, elm and cottonwood are interspersed with open fields. Residential development is extensive along the banks at Thief River Falls.

Below St. Hilaire the banks steepen and are heavily wooded to Red Lake Falls. High, nearly vertical, eroded cliffs and the first of many huge slump areas are encountered near Red Lake Falls. Entire hillsides have been torn away by spring floods and deposited in the river. In its lower reaches the river meanders through farmland, often screened from the river by stands of elm, willow and cottonwood.

Fish and wildlife

The river supports several species of game fish, including northern pike, walleye, and channel catfish. The Red Lake River is particularly noted for its channel catfish angling. Some of the most popular fishing areas are located below the Otter Tail Power Company dams in both Crookston and Red Lake Falls, and near the junctions of the Red Lake with the Thief, Clearwater and Black rivers.

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.

Wildlife along the Red Lake River is varied and abundant. Wooded bottomlands provide excellent habitat for wood duck and deer. Fox, grouse, beaver, mink, muskrat, weasel, coyote, squirrel, rabbit and raccoon range through the region. Bottomlands and scattered oxbows attract mallards, blue-winged teal, great blue herons, shorebirds, owls and numerous species of songbirds. The marsh is inhabited by blackbirds, snipes, wrens, gulls, great blue herons and many ducks inhabit.


Just downstream from Huot is the Old Crossing Treaty State Historical Wayside Park, where in 1863 the Ojibwe Indians ceded almost 10 million acres of land for white settlement of the Red River Valley. This also was an important crossing of the Red River Oxcart Trail, the tracks of which are still partially visible. The area now is primarily utilized for agriculture. Sugar beets are a dominate crop on the western end of the river.