The Watonwan River is usually calm, but can flow quickly at times. Many paddlers enjoy the 30-mile segment from Madelia to the river's confluence with the Blue Earth River at Garden City. You'll pass sloping, tree-lined banks with farmland just beyond. There are no major rapids. Be alert for the occasional snag (fallen tree), which may tip an unwary paddler.
Established in 1996 as a state water trail, the Watonwan River's name has changed slightly from its original name, Watanwan, which means "where fish bait abounds" in Dakota.
Recommended day trip
Rapidan Dam Park to County Road 90
- Put-in location: Rapidan Dam Park carry-in access, river mile 11.9
- Take-out location: County Road 90 bridge, river mile 2.8
- Length: 9.1 river miles
This route is for experienced paddlers. Enjoy beautiful scenery as you paddle an area of challenging Class I rapids, view nearby Triple Falls, and pass the "Big Moe" boulder. This stretch should be avoided if river levels are high. The paved Red Jacket Trail connects both access points, offering an opportunity for a pedal (biking)/paddle experience.
Explore on shore
Minneopa State Park
This state park offers a variety of recreational opportunities, from camping, picnicking and hiking to a drive-through bison range and a large waterfall.
Red Jacket and South Route paved trails
These paved trails crisscross each other and provide scenic views near the river. The Red Jacket is 13 miles long and runs between Mankato and Rapidan Dam Park. The South Route is 8.3 miles long and runs from Minneopa State Park to State Highway 22. Trail map.
DNR Southern Region Headquarters, 21371 State Highway 15, New Ulm, MN 56073
Nearest medical facility
Mayo Clinic Health System, 1025 Marsh Street, Mankato, MN 56001
New Ulm Medical Center, 1324 Fifth Street N, New Ulm, MN 56073
United Hospital District, 515 S Moore Street, Blue Earth, MN 56013
Kayaks on the riverbank.
Paddling the river.