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Minnesota Rivers

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Minnesota Rivers

Minnesota rivers are almost as famous as our Minnesota lakes. 

There are 10,000 acknowledged lakes  in Minnesota and over 8,000 "public and fishable" rivers.

Paddle Minnesota rivers on a river rafting trip. Enjoy a drive along the Great River Road that follows the Mississippi River from Itasca state park to the Iowa border. Learn about our Wild and Scenic Rivers and where to do some extreme kayaking.

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Mississippi River Facts

The Great River Road in Minnesota follows the Mississippi from its birth place at Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park all the way to the Iowa border. 

Map of Mississippi River as it flows from its birthplace to the ocean.

Wild and Scenic Minnesota Rivers

The Saint Croix River Valley is just a short drive from the Twin Cities. It has been designated as a "National Wild and Scenic River" by the government.  This wild river area and the scenic small towns, and four state parks, nearby are perfect destinations for enjoying some of the best of Minnesota.

Minnesota state parks in these areas are:

  • Wild River State Park is on the upper "wild and scenic" stretch of the river. We love camping in this state park with friends and family. The park is quiet and feel somewhat removed from "civilization". Canoes are more common here than motorboats. 
  • Interstate State Park is located on the edge of Taylors Falls  and the border with Wisconsin. Explore the "potholes" created by ancient glacier movement. Enjoy stunning views of the river from the cliffs but stay well back from the edge.
  • Afton State Park - is the state park nearest the Twin Cities.Despite proximity to the city, you will find rustic camping here. 
  • William O'Brien State Park is a lovely park for bird and wildlife watching. Enjoy beautiful St. Croix River scenery, the woodlands and the wild flowers. 

Visit the lovely river town of Stillwater.

Hastings MN is at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. You can visit Minnesota's first winery, Alexis Bailley Vineyard.

Visit in autumn and explore one of our favorite Minnesota food destinations at nearby apple orchards. 

The Minnesota State Wild & Scenic Rivers Program was established in 1973 to protect rivers which have outstanding natural, scenic, geographic, historic, cultural, and recreational values. Six rivers in Minnesota have segments which are designated as wild, scenic, or recreational under the state program.

The Minnesota Wild and Scenic Rivers Program assists communities in developing management plans that protect the scenic, recreational, natural, historical, and cultural values for which the rivers were originally designated. Six rivers in Minnesota have been designated as state wild and scenic Minnesota rivers.

These six rivers are:

Mississippi River (from St. Cloud to Anoka) - 

Kettle River (in Pine County) - Get an amazing view from the Kettle River Overlook at the top of a 50 foot cliff.

Rum River (in Mille Lacs, Sherburne, Isanti & Anoka Counties)

North Fork - Crow River (in Meeker County

Minnesota River (from Lac Qui Parle dam to Franklin)

Cannon River (from Faribault to the Mississippi River) - Paddle this river from Fairbault to Northfield in about six to eight hours. 

Federally-designated Wild & Scenic Rivers Program includes two Minnesota rivers.

  • St. Croix National Scenic Riverway - includes the upper 200 miles of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin and Minnesota (from headwater source to Taylors Falls), managed by the National Park Service.
  • Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway - includes the lower 52 miles of the St. Croix River along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border (from Taylors Falls to Prescott), managed cooperatively by the National Park Service, Minnesota DNR, and Wisconsin DNR.

In addition, the St. Croix River in Minnesota and Wisconsin is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, created in 1968. 


Top 10 Rivers in Minnesota

You may be interested in knowing which rivers in Minnesota are the longest. Here is the list:

1 Mississippi River 681.3 miles - From Itasca State Park the Mississippi flows through many towns in Minnesota and is a popular attraction in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In St. Paul you can learn about this great river at the Mississippi River Museum. This "greatest of rivers" has many tributaries that are favorites of canoeists, fishing enthusiasts, and nature lovers. The Root, Zumbgo, and Whitewater rivers are some of the most popular. The Root River Trail is one of the state's most popular Minnesota bike trails.  As you bike this route, you will pass through lovely Lanesboro and Amish Country near Harmony. While you are in this area, you can visit Forestville Mystery Cave State Park.

2 Red River 457.1 miles - Also called "The Red River of The North" flows through the Red River Valley from south to north in Minnesota and North Dakota. Enjoy canoeing the Red River on a visit to Moorhead and in Red River State Park

3 Minnesota River 370.6 miles - The Minnesota River flows across the bottom of the state and joins the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities.

4 Rainy River 292.1 - The Rainy River forms part of the Canada–United States border separating northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario.

5 Red Lake River 252.8 - One of the best canoeing and kayaking rivers in Northern Minnesota.

6 Bigfork River 220.7 - The Big Fork River flows north to the Rainy River. It's offers excellent fishing for walleye, northern pike and muskie.

7 St. Louis River 197.1 - The St. Louis River begins near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota and flows through the Superior National Forest into Wisconsin, finally reaching Lake Superior

8 Otter Tail River 195.7 - Drive the Otter Tail Scenic Byway through some of our states most scenic small towns and iconic roadside attractions.

9 North Fork Crow River 178.3 -  From southeastern Pope County, the North Fork of the Crow River flows southeast until it joins the Mississippi River at Dayton.

10 Wild Rice River 173.5 - begins at Mud Lake in Clearwater County and flows largely to the west through Norman and Mahnomen counties. It eventuallyconverges with the Red River of the North.

Minnesota Rivers

Minnesota water trails and our designated "wild and scenic rivers" are those that offer some of the best places for canoeing and kayaking. Load up your adventure kayak and enjoy!

Most family vacation destinations in Minnesota include beautiful family vacation resorts, cabins, and dozens of state parks and many other top family vacations spots.


Minnesota's Water Trails

Sea Kayak Adventures 

Adventure Kayak

Minnesota Rivers

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers

Minnesota River Mississippi

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Minnesota State Parks: From Afton to Zippel Bay