Vermilion River State Water Trail

Vermilion River

The Vermilion River flows forty miles north from Lake Vermilion to Crane Lake. The long quiet stretches of the river have little current. There are portages at Vermilion Dam, Shively Falls, Everett Rapids, Table Rock Falls, Belgium Fred's rapids, DeCaigny Rapids, Chipmunk Falls, High Falls, the Chute, and the Gorge. Some of these portages are long, but all are well worn. Rapids along the river are rated from Class I to VI. About rapids classes.

Local contact and map

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St. Louis County, northeastern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Tower Area Office: (218) 300-7800.

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River character

Since the Vermilion receives much of its flow from Vermilion Lake, the river rises and falls slowly, usually remaining canoeable well into autumn. Most rapids in the river are runnable if the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauge below the Vermilion Dam reads above four feet. The middle and lower rapids of the Vermilion may be runnable below four feet if heavy rains have swollen the river's tributaries. Quiet sections of the river are runnable well below four feet. The drainage area of the river is 903 square miles.


A dense forest of pine, spruce, fir, aspen and birch covers the watershed. Cliffs and other exposures of bedrock often flank the river. Bluffs occasionally rise more than 100 feet above the river. Resorts and cabins at Vermillion and Crane lakes and the town of Buyck are the most significant areas of development near the river. Two bridges and a few cabins and farms are scattered along the rest of the stream. Most of the Vermilion appears wild. The bedrock of the Vermilion watershed consists of a variety of lower Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, including biotite schist and granite. Glacial drift is thin. Outcrops are common.

Fish and wildlife

Smallmouth bass, walleyes, northern pike and rock bass are common. Muskies and crappies have been reported.

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.

Timber wolves, moose, black bears, beavers, otters, bald eagles and osprey are occasionally sighted. White-tailed deer are common.


The Vermilion River, developed as a principal fur trade route by the French in the 1700s, was part of a system that linked Canada, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River valley. The area was the scene of fierce competition between British and American fur companies. Posts were established on Vermilion and Crane Lake. News of gold in 1865 spurred some of the best-known persons in state politics and business to organize companies such as the Mutual Protection Gold Miners Company of Minnesota, the Vermilion (sic) Falls Gold Mining Company and the Minnesota Gold Mining Company, of which Henry H. Sibley was president. Vermilion River canoeing Gold seekers staked out claims, sunk shafts and tunneled into hillsides in a nearly fruitless search for gold-laden veins of quartz. Iron mining, a more productive venture, began in the 1880s. The last shipment of iron ore was mined in 1967. Logging prospered in the early 1900s. The Virginia and Rainy Lake Company, touted as "the largest, most modern and complete lumber plant in the world," was established at Virginia in 1908. The mill covered one square mile and at its peak produced 300 million board feet of lumber in a year as 3,000 men worked year-round cutting timber. Company railroads reached to the Canadian border. The company sawed its last log in 1929.

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