The Red River of the North flows northward 550 miles from its source in Breckenridge, Minnesota to Lake Winnipeg in Canada, and forms most of the border between Minnesota and North Dakota.
Be aware that this river touches two states and also crosses into Canada. Regulations vary from state to state and county to country -- be sure to check them before your trip!
One of the world’s flattest landscapes, the Red River Valley is located on the eastern edge of the Great Plains. By definition, the Red River Valley isn’t a valley in the geologic sense - it is a remnant of glacial Lake Agassiz, the former floor of a massive, prehistoric lake.
Water trail segments and maps
Get maps and more information for the six paddling segments of the Red River of the North:
- Breckenridge to Wilkin/Clay County line
- Wilkin/Clay County line to Georgetown
- Georgetown to Belmont Park
- Belmont Park to Grand Marais Creek
- Grand Marais Creek to Drayton
- Drayton to the Canadian border
Except during floods, the Red River of the North is slow-moving and picturesque with its tree-covered banks and frequent wildlife sightings. The river is serene and quiet even as it passes through small cities. Reminders of the past are found in the muddy banks where bison bones occasionally are exposed. These muddy banks may make access difficult.
Be sure to check water levels before your trip. Low water conditions may not be suitable for boating. Snags are common. Leave motors unlocked.
Clay soils give the river a dark appearance. In the winter you may be able to see 12 to 18 inches into the water, but summer visibility is usually less than two inches, which will make it difficult to see underwater obstructions.
- Hazards: a dam; widely fluctuating water levels; flooding any time of year.
- Average slope: one half foot per mile.
- Channel widths: from less than 100 feet to more than 500 feet in the north.
- Average depths: from 10 to 30 feet; flow can fluctuate dramatically.
- Check river conditions in North Dakota (US Geological Survey)
Fish and wildlife
Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.
An international effort is underway to reintroduce the lake sturgeon, which was decimated by overfishing and dams. It is the only fish species that doesn't have an open season on the Red River.
- Channel catfish
- Northern pike
- Trophy walleye
- Bald eagles
- Wood ducks
- Great blue herons
- Canada geese
- Pileated woodpeckers
- Hawks and owls
- Yellow warblers
- Baltimore orioles
- Indigo buntings
- White-tailed deer
The Red River Valley created the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. Nomadic cultures arrived soon after the retreat of the enormous glaciers, following the great herds of bison and caribou as they moved from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin into the grassy areas of the Red River Basin.
Early French-Canadian explorers called the river "Riviere Rouge du Nord" - Red River of the North - after its clay soils, muddy banks and reddish-brown, silt-filled waters. The river was a key trade route for the Hudson's Bay Company, and contributed to an expanded British presence in North America.
The Hudson's Bay Company controlled commerce in this area for almost two centuries. Trading in bison and beaver hides, they used large canoes and boats to ship goods to Europe via Hudson Bay. The development of the Red River oxcart trail connected that trade route with the Mississippi River and other parts of the United States.
As trade continued to flourish, so did the demand for more efficient means of transportation. In 1859, Anson Northup captained his steamboat along the river, connecting the oxcart trail system with the Hudson's Bay Company's steamboat landing near Georgetown. The railroad reached Moorhead in 1871 and brought faster, cheaper transportation. By 1900, steamboats were all but extinct on the Red River of the North.