Red River of the North State Water Trail

Red River of the North Water Trail

The Red River of the North flows northward 550 miles from its source in Breckenridge, Minnesota to Lake Winnipeg in Canada. The river winds through the hearts of cities including Fargo, Moorhead and Grand Forks. The Red River Valley created the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. This river was a key trade route for the Hudson's Bay Company, and contributed to the settlement of British North America. The designated segment of the river is 394 miles long, and forms most of the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. This river is generally slow moving and easy to navigate, although the river's flow fluctuates widely. There are no major rapids.

Red River of the North State Water Trail maps and descriptions


  • Map 1 - Breckenridge to Georgetown (Map)
  • Map 2 - Perley to Grand Forks (Map)
  • Map 3 - Oslo to Pembina (Map)


River character

The average slope of the Red is just one half foot per mile, which makes the Red a slow moving easy navigable river. However, high winds have been known to create whitecaps. It features channel widths of less than 100 feet to more than 500 feet at its northern reaches. At bank full conditions, average depths vary from 10 to 30 feet. Its flow can be widely fluctuating. Devastating floods may be associated with summer rain and spring floods. Reminders of the past are found in the muddy banks where bison bones occasionally are exposed. These muddy banks may make access difficult. The Red River, because of the predominantly clay soils has a dark appearance. In the winter you maybe able to see 12" to 18" into the water but visibility in the summer is usually less than 2". So the dark color is caused by soils, not pollution. This low visibility will make it difficult to see underwater obstructions which can be a problem for boaters, specially during low water conditions.

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 cities. There are no rapids except at some of the dams. Low flows expose rocks and snags creating hazards for motors and occasionally block the channel.


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 is not a valley in the geologic sense. Instead, it is a remnant of glacial Lake Agassiz, the former floor of a massive, prehistoric lake.

Fish and wildlife

The tree lined banks and flowing water are almost an oddity in the vast flat prairie that surrounds the river corridor. Wildlife, plants and fish rarely found just 10 miles away might be abundant in the Red River environment. The Red is especially known for it populations of walleye and catfish.

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.


The Red River of the North, or the "Riviere Rouge du Nord" as early French Canadian explorers christened it, was probably so-named because of its clay soils, muddy banks, and reddish-brown silt-filled waters.

Nomadic cultures arrived soon after the retreat of the enormous glaciers, following the great herds of bison and caribou. Then, 2,000 years ago, Indians from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin began moving into the grassy areas of the Red River Basin. The early 1800s brought the first permanent European settlements to the banks of the Red River in present-day Manitoba. Throughout the century, European immigrants would continue to trickle down from Canada and from the east, settling along the banks of the Red River in the United States.

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, and by 1859, Anson Northup, the man and his same-named steamboat, made their debut on the Red. The oxcart trail system was connected with the Hudson's Bay Company's steamboat landing near Georgetown and the two systems of land and water transportation were connected. Eventually, steamboats couldn't compete with the much faster and cheaper railroad which reached Moorhead in 1871. By the turn of the century, steamboats were all but extinct on the Red River of the North.

Local contact

River location map
Order map

Wilkin, Clay, Norman, Polk, Marshall, and Kittson Counties
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northwest Regional Office: 218-308-2372.

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