Crow River State Water Trail: South Fork

South Fork Crow River

This river runs eastward from Little Kandiyohi Lake to Rockford, where it converges with the North Fork to form the Crow River State Water Trail. Canoeists and kayakers can take advantage of the Luce Line State Trail near Hutchinson for a bicycle shuttle. This gentle river is perfect for beginning paddlers when water levels are normal, but can flow quickly after significant rainfall.

Local contact and map

North Fork Crow River location mapMap - geoPDF map - (What is a geoPDF?)
Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod, Carver and Wright counties
Contact Parks and Trails central regional office: 651-259-5841

River character

The South Fork of the Crow River offers enjoyable paddling for canoeists and kayakers near the Twin Cities. Because it is mostly gentle, with only a few easy stretches of rougher water, the South Fork is suitable for beginning paddlers unless the water is high due to flooding. There are very few rapids, none more difficult than Class I. The South Fork also offers very nice scenery, but beware of fallen trees in the bends, as they can become a hazard, especially as you approach the confluence of the South and North Forks.

  • From Little Kandiyohi Lake to the town of Cosmos, the river has been channelized for agricultural drainage and can experience low flows.
  • The segment of the South Fork from Cosmos to Hutchinson is wider and navigable by canoe at normal water levels.
  • From Hutchinson to Biscay, the river is narrower, but is also suitable for paddling.
  • The segment from Biscay to New Germany (27 river miles) has numerous log jams, and is not well-suited for paddling.
  • Watertown to Rockford is a popular stretch for paddlers.

Landscape

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 Park Reserve. Though some new houses have been built alongside the river, most of the shoreline provides natural scenery.

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.

Fishing

  • Northern pike
  • Walleye
  • Channel catfish
  • Bowfin
  • Carp
  • Bullhead

Wildlife

  • White-tailed deer
  • Fox
  • Coyote
  • Cottontail rabbit
  • Squirrels
  • Muskrats
  • Beaver
  • Mink

Birds

  • Songbirds
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Herons
  • Bald eagles
  • Crows

History

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 Ojibwa 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 for settlement by white pioneers.

One year after the city was settled 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. 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 settlement 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. ‌