Red Lake River State Water Trail

Red Lake River

The Red Lake River is one of the few state water trails in northwestern Minnesota. It begins at Upper and Lower Red Lake and flows generally westward to join the Red River of the North in East Grand Forks. The river flows past marshy wilderness, flat farmland, towering cliffs and steep, wooded banks.

River locator map


River segments and maps

Get maps and more information for this river's two segments.

  1. Lower Red Lake to Thief River Falls
  2. Thief River Falls to East Grand Forks


White and yellow water lilies, wild rice and cattails thrive in the marshland above the dam at river mile 181. 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.

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 Ottertail power dams in both Crookston and Red Lake Falls, and near the junctions of the Red Lake with the Thief, Clearwater and Black rivers. Smallmouth bass may be found in the upper reaches.


  • Walleye
  • Northern pike
  • Channel catfish


  • White-tailed deer
  • Fox
  • Beaver, muskrat and mink
  • Otters
  • Weasels
  • Coyotes
  • Fishers


  • Wood duck
  • Grouse
  • Blue-winged teal
  • Great blue herons
  • Owls
  • Various songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl

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