Sauk River State Water Trail

Sauk River

The Sauk River originates in Lake Osakis in western Todd County and flows more than 90 miles across central Minnesota, providing an enjoyable paddling experience for all skill levels. The river flows through a variety of areas ranging from swamps to rich hardwood forests. There are numerous parks, accesses, and campsites, including many natural features of interest. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

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Todd and Stearns Counties, central Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Central Regional Office: (651) 259-5841.

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River character

The Sauk enters the Mississippi River on the north end of St. Cloud, just above the Sauk Rapids of the Mississippi. Numerous waterfowl can be seen in state-managed wildlife areas as the river winds along this section. The river then begins to broaden its banks and deepen its valleys as its course continues. Midway along its path, near Richmond, the river forms a "Chain of Lakes" where more than 80 miles of continuous shoreline are encountered over a river length of less than 8 miles. As the river continues, a variety of granite outcrops and small hills provide a scenic landscape along the shores. Near St Cloud, the river gradient increases and a series of rapids occur until the river joins with the Mississippi.


A variety of plant life is found along the Sauk River, ranging from naturally restored prairie grasslands to thick hardwood forests. The river starts in flat swamp vegetation with flora common to most Minnesota wetlands. Prairie-type grasses and flowers are then encountered on the banks and fields above the river. Near the Spring Hill County Park, a naturally restored prairie field is preserved. Oaks, elms, silver maples and willows are the most common trees through most of the valley. One of the most interesting sights along the Sauk is an elevated tamarack bog on the north bank of the river near Rockville, providing beautiful golden scenery in the fall.

Fish and wildlife

Because of the shallow depth of the river and the somewhat poor water quality, game fish are not abundant in the Sauk River, Redhorse and sucker are found in most parts of the river. However, in the "Chain of Lakes" area, fishing is very popular with a variety of fish being caught. Panfish, walleye and northern are the most common to anglers in this area. Walleye and northern can also be found where the river enters the Mississippi.

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.

Abundant waterfowl are found in and around two state managed wildlife areas south of Sauk Centre. The marshy swampland that borders the river is prime habitat for a variety of waterfowl. Early in the morning, it is possible to see deer feeding along the river in some wooded areas. Gray fox, red squirrels, and chipmunks are common in the wooded sections, along with an occasional woodchuck, muskrat, or beaver. There have been sightings of such less common animals as otter and mink.

A variety of birdlife in the Sauk Valley makes for very interesting birdwatching. The forests and grasslands are home to most of the birds native to central Minnesota. Cardinals, woodpeckers and many songbirds are common. Grouse, pheasant and partridge are some of the more popular gamebirds found near the Sauk. Birds of prey such as various hawks, owls and an occasional bald eagle can also be seen when canoeing the river. Along most of the river it is common to see great blue herons.

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