Root River State Water Trail

Root River

The Root River represents the timeless scenic and historic qualities characteristic of southeastern Minnesota. Many quaint towns along the river offer historical sights, services and hospitality, making it ideal for family day trips.

From Chatfield to the Mississippi River the river falls 310 feet, for an average drop of 3.4 feet per mile. There is generally a gentle to moderate flow with a few riffles, although water level can vary substantially with rainfall.

River locator map


River segments and maps

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

  1. Chatfield to Rushford
  2. Rushford to the Mississippi River


Formed of two branches in the west, the North and the Middle, the Root River winds past towering bluffs topped with oak and hickory. Joined above the town of Whalen by the South Branch - a tributary which flows from Mystery Cave - the river continues its way past bluffs and outcrops until Rushford. There the river straightens as the valley broadens considerably. The scenery then settles into a gentle plain of pastureland and mixed cottonwood and maple, with wooded rolling hills visible in the distance.

Although the watershed has many spring-fed clear water tributaries including the South Branch, the Root River is somewhat cloudy due to erosive soil types in the watershed.

Fish and wildlife

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


  • Smallmouth bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Rock bass
  • Sunfish
  • Crappies
  • Rough fish
  • Brown trout (western end of the South Branch)


  • White-tailed deer
  • Gray and red fox
  • Coyotes
  • Raccoons
  • Woodchucks, weasels and  badgers
  • River otters and beaver
  • Skinks
  • Racerunners
  • Timber rattlesnake


  • Great blue herons
  • Egrets
  • Wood ducks
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Osprey
  • Turkey vultures
  • Bald eagles


Established in 1967 as a state water trail, the Root River's name is a literal translation of the Dakota word Huktan and the French word Racine, which were earlier names given to the river. It is not clear why both the Dakota and French named the river "Root."    

This area served as a gateway for cultures moving north. The Mississippian Tradition, - a striking example of cultural development - moved northward about A.D. 900 to 1000. They farmed the fertile bottom land and built terraces above the rivers. The native Dakota Indians continued to inhabit the land until the 1852 Treaty of Traverse de Sioux forced their removal, thus opening the door for further westward expansion of the United States.

Soon hardwood stands were cleared and fields were cultivated. Development of water resources and poor land management led to a negative impact on the area's environment. Catastrophic erosion gradually led the people of southeastern Minnesota to initiate wiser use of the land, and eventually the state established what is now known as the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest to restore and prescribe sound multi-use land practices.

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