The Crow River's South Fork runs eastward from Little Kandiyohi Lake to Rockford, where it converges with the North Fork. This gentle river is perfect for beginning paddlers when water levels are normal, but it can flow quickly after significant rainfall.
From Little Kandiyohi Lake to Cosmos, the river has been channelized for agricultural drainage and is fairly straight and narrow, but can experience low flows. Between Cosmos and Hutchinson, the river flows through a gently rolling landscape of grassy fields, ridges and forested banks. This segment offers a nice mixture of slow pools and swift riffles. The Main Street Dam in Hutchinson gives rise to Campbell and Otter lakes, which combine to form a 1.3-mile basin just before town. The river narrows from Hutchinson to Biscay but is still generally suited to paddling.
The 27 river mile segment from Biscay to New Germany can be dangerous and impassable. Expect narrow bends and numerous overhanging trees, underwater snags and large logjams. The river widens downstream from Mayer. Watertown to Rockford is a popular stretch for paddlers.
Hazards include dams, logjams, overhanging trees and submerged snags. There are very few rapids, none more difficult than Class I.
Recommended day trip
Rick Johnson Park to Lake Rebecca Regional Park
- Put-in location: River mile 13.8, Rick Johnson Park trailer access on Crow River - South Fork
- Take-out location: River mile 24.7, Lake Rebecca Regional Park carry-in access on Crow River - North Fork
- Length: 14.3 river miles
Launch on the Crow River - South Fork below the dam in Watertown and end on the Crow River - North Fork near the confluence of the two rivers (river right). You'll wind past wooded banks, fields and the town of Delano. Plan a full day for this longer paddle.
Explore on shore
This multi-use trail covers 63 miles of former railroad grade. From Winsted to Hutchinson the trail is paved; from Hutchinson to Cedar Mills it is crushed granite; and from Cedar Mills to Cosmos it is natural (mowed grass). Canoeists and kayakers can take advantage of the Luce Line State Trail near Hutchinson to shuttle using their bicycle.
DNR central regional office, 1200 Warner Road, St. Paul, MN 55106
Nearest medical facility
Hutchinson Health Hospital, 227 Freemont Avenue Southwest, Hutchinson, MN 55350
Ridgeview Medical Center, 500 South Maple Street, Waconia, MN 55387
The area around the South Fork is good for scenery and recreation. Much of the area used to be covered by the "Big Woods," remnants of which protect the area against soil erosion and wind. Small areas of prairie dot the landscape, noteworthy for their presence in mainly wooded areas. The Gopher Campfire Wildlife Preserve along the shore in Hutchinson protects a resident population of 500 waterfowl as well as other wildlife. Around Hutchinson, canoeists, boaters and anglers can enjoy the Luce Line State Trail, well-maintained landings, camping facilities and bathrooms. There is primitive riverside camping at Rockford's Riverside Park, near the convergence of the South and North Forks, and group camping at Lake Rebecca Regional Park.
Fish and wildlife
Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.
Anglers will find 21 species of fish in the river. Wildlife is also very diverse, thanks to the varied habitats surrounding the river.
- Northern pike
- Channel catfish
- White-tailed deer
- Cottontail rabbit
- Bald eagles
Between 1200 B.C. and 1700 A.D., the South Fork was the home of one of the earliest native peoples known as the Woodland Culture. The Woodland Culture was a hunting and gathering people that depended upon the seasons and available resources to live. Later, the Dakota Indians used this area for hunting and temporary lodging. The river was originally named "Hassan" by Native Americans, which means "maple leaf," but was renamed "Crow" by Ojibwe Indians for the black bird they called "marauder of newly planted corn." It was only after 1851 with the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux that the area was opened to Euro-American families.
One year after the city was established in 1857, the first dam was constructed in Hutchinson. In 1858, a steamboat was built on the river and made its maiden voyage all the way down the South Fork and onto the Mississippi River. Though the water of the South Fork was high enough to accommodate a steamboat for the first five years after it was built, the steamboat never returned to its origins. The owners were offered a chance to sell their boat to run the Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, a much busier route.
Hutchinson became a bustling town in any case, with a flouring mill built in 1866. This mill was destroyed by fire in 1884 but reconstructed two years later. In 1910, the Gopher Campfire Club was formed for preserving game and fish in the area, making it the first conservation club in Minnesota. During the 1930s, the Works Project Administration constructed a bathing beach and fieldstone bathhouse on the south shore in Hutchinson.
Though agricultural development was difficult due to the wooded landscape, farming was the chief occupation for over a hundred years. Agricultural lands still form the vast majority of the South Fork watershed, but some residents are beginning to shift away from agricultural jobs, with some even commuting to the Twin Cities for work.
A paved trail adjacent to the river.
Riffles and fall colors along the South Fork.
A proud angler displays his catch.
Bridges above the Crow River - South Fork.
Beware of fallen trees at river bends.