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.

Local contact and map

River location mapMap - geoPDF map - what is a geoPDF?
Clearwater, Pennington, Red Lake and Polk counties
Contact Parks and Trails northwest regional office: 218-308-2372

River character

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

Landscape

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

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

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.

Fish

  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Channel catfish

Wildlife

  • White-tailed deer
  • Fox
  • Beaver
  • Muskrat
  • Mink
  • Weasel
  • Coyote
  • Raccoon

Birds

  • Wood duck
  • Grouse
  • Blue-winged teal
  • Great blue herons
  • Shorebirds
  • Owls
  • Various songbirds
  • Blackbirds
  • Snipes
  • Various waterfowl

History

Just downstream from Huot is the Old Crossing Treaty State Historical Wayside Park, where in 1863 the Ojibwe 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.