Red River of the North State Water Trail

Red River of the North Water Trail

River location mapThe 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.

Water trail segments and maps

Segment 1 - Breckenridge to Wilkin/Clay County Line

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. A trip along this section will reveal a mix of agricultural fields and small towns interspersed with wooded shorelines.

Recommended day trip

Kidder Recreation Area to Brushvale Bridge

  • Put-in location: Kidder Recreation Area, river mile 555.5
  • Take-out location: Brushvale Bridge Recreation Area, river mile 545.1
  • Length: 10.4 river miles

This stretch of the river curves past homes and farmland with forested shoreline. Watch for several islands along the way. You may also see white-tailed deer, great blue herons or bald eagles. You'll find a boat ramp at your put-in and take-out site. Try to spot the giant catfish near Kidder Recreation Area when you launch.

Explore on shore

Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site - river mile 532.0
Take advantage of a nearby boat landing to explore this historic fort in North Dakota. Visit the museum (fee required) or view interpretive signs and buildings along the grounds.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Nearest medical facility

St. Francis Medical Center, 2400 St. Francis Dr., Breckenridge, MN
Tel. 218-643-3000

Segment 2 - Wilkin/Clay County Line to Georgetown

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. This section offers wooded shorelines with agricultural land just beyond. The scenery changes quickly leading into the cities of Fargo and Moorhead, which border the river for miles.

Recommended day trip

Fargo North Dam to M.B. Johnson Park

  • Put-in location: North Dam, river mile 455.2
  • Take-out location: M.B. Johnson Park, river mile 452.1
  • Length: 3.1 river miles

Launch just north of the dam for this short trip. You'll pass wooded shorelines with residential areas just beyond. The river twists and curves before hooking sharply to the right around M.B. Johnson Park. Most paddlers take about three hours to complete this route. 

Explore on shore

Much of this section of the river borders the cities of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota. You’ll find parks, hiking and biking trails, canoe and kayak rentals, and area businesses not far from the river’s edge.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Nearest medical facility

Essentia Health Walk-In Clinic, 720 Main Ave., Moorhead, MN
Tel. 218-359-0399

Sanford Broadway Urgent Care, 720 Fourth St. N, Fargo, ND 
701-234-6640

Segment 3 - Georgetown to Belmont Park

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. This section offers meandering twists and turns that pass wooded shorelines with agricultural land just beyond.

Recommended day trip

Highway 25 to Halstad

  • Put-in location: County Road 25 trailer access, river mile 392.7
  • Take-out location: Halstad trailer access, river mile 381.5
  • Length: 11.2 river miles

Follow the river's slow twists and turns around wooded shoreline with farms and fields beyond. You'll pass the Wild Rice River about halfway through your trip. Most paddlers take about six hours to complete this route.

More to explore

Wild Rice River - river mile 387.0
If water levels allow, start your paddle on the Wild Rice River and end it on the Red River. Two put-in options exist at carry-in access points along the first few miles of the Wild Rice River. You'll get to experience a bit of variety with shallower waters and a narrower river channel than the Red River.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Nearest medical facility

Altru Hospital, 1200 S. Columbia Rd., Grand Forks, ND
Tel. 701-780-5000

Sandford Hillsboro Medical Center, 12 3rd St. SE, Hillsboro, ND
701-636-3219

Sanford Broadway Urgent Care, 720 4th St. N, Fargo, ND
701-234-6640

Segment 4 - Belmont Park to Grand Marais Creek

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. This section offers wooded shorelines with agriculatural land just beyond. The scenery changes quickly along the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, which border the river for several miles.

Recommended day trip

Lincoln Drive Park to LaFave Park

  • Put-in location: Lincoln Drive Park landing, river mile 304.1
  • Take-out location: LaFave Park trailer access, river mile 302.1
  • Length: 2 river miles

Take a quick trip through this section of the river. You'll pass wooded corridors with homes and stores in the distance. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the parks before you put-in or after you take-out.

Explore on shore

Red River State Recreation Area - river mile 301.2
While there is no direct access from the water, you can beach a canoe or kayak along the state recreation area and walk a short distance to the office. The recreation area offers restrooms, a playground, picnic tables, shoreline fishing, a campground (by reservation) and access to miles of hiking and biking trails.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Red River State Recreation Area, 515 2nd St. Northwest, East Grand Forks, MN
218-773-4950

Nearest medical facility

Altru Hospital, 1200 S. Columbia Rd., Grand Forks, ND
Tel. 701-780-5000

Segment 5 - Grand Marais Creek to Drayton

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. This section is full of meandering twists and turns that pass partially wooded shorelines. Just beyond the trees, agricultural land surrounds the river on either side.

Explore the shore

Frank Rose Aquatic Management Area - river mile 239.8 - 240.8
This aquatic management area protects over 100 acres of habitat along the Red River. Watch for wildlife like raccoons, mink, bald eagles, ducks, great blue herons, Canada geese, pileated woodpeckers, hawks and owls. The river banks are steep here, but you could land a canoe or kayak for some shoreline fishing.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Nearest medical facility

Altru Hospital, 1200 S. Columbia Rd., Grand Forks, ND
Tel. 701-780-5000

Segment 6 - Drayton to Canada border

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About this segment

The Red River is a slow moving, easy to navigate river. This section offers partially wooded shorelines with agricultural land just beyond. The river's tree-lined banks and flowing water are a novelty in the landscape that surrounds it. Travel just ten miles away and the wildlife and plant species that are abundant in the Red River environment are rarely seen. The river's waters are home to channel catfish and other diverse fish species, offering many angling opportunities.

Recommended day trip

Golden Grain to Hilltop

  • Put-in location: Golden Grain trailer access, river mile 180.2
  • Take-out location: Hilltop trailer access, river mile 171.2
  • Length: 9 river miles

Meander along the river’s slow-moving twists and turns. Watch for wildlife or cast a line along the way. Farmland surrounds this area, but you’ll see willow, cottonwood and box elder trees bordering much of the river.

Explore on shore

Camping
Several parks offer camping and picnicking options not far from the North Dakota shoreline. Pull over to take a break or make plans at a local campground for a multi-day trip. See the map for locations and details.

Local contacts

DNR Northwest Regional Office, 2115 Birchmont Beach Rd. NE, Bemidji, MN
218-308-2378

Nearest medical facility

Unity Medical Center, 164 W. 13th St., Grafton, ND
Tel. 701-352-1620

Kittson Healthcare Clinic, 1010 S. Birch Ave., Hallock, MN
800-843-6016

River character

  • 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) 

Except during floods, the Red River of the North is slow-moving and picturesque with its tree-covered banks and frequent wildlife sightings. It is serene and quiet even as the Red 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.

Landscape

One of the world's flattest landscapes, the Red River Valley is located on the eastern edge of the Great Plains. The Red River Valley is not a valley in the geologic sense - it formed thousands of years ago as Glacial Lake Agassiz drained. Today, the river's tree-lined banks and flowing water are a novelty in the landscape that surrounds it. Travel just ten miles away and the wildlife and plant species that are abundant in the river corridor are rarely seen.

Fishing

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

The Red River's diverse fish population makes it a great place to cast a line. Northern pike, channel catfish, goldeye, carp and a population of trophy walleye lie within its waters. 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. 

History

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.

The first permanent European settlers arrived on the banks of the river in the early 1800s in what is now Manitoba. 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 the settlement of British 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, and by 1900, steamboats were all but extinct on the Red River of the North.