Root River Water Trail

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The Root River Water Trail is a calm stretch of flat water that meanders through towering bluffs and floodplain forest.

Written by

Molly O'Connor


85.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

107.3 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

3 hours

1-3 hours


Spring, Summer, and Fall


Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Topographical Map

Root River Water Trail map

Land Website

Root River Water Trail



Located one hour southeast from the Twin cities, the Root River Water Trail combines family-friendly paddling, picturesque scenery, and small town hospitality all into one trip. On a warm, sunny day, there is nothing better than taking the canoe out for a gentle ride. The flat water welcomes all skill levels and is perfect for a family excursion. With occasional riffles here and there, you can decide to either bypass them or test your paddling ability.

What Makes It Great

Reaching up to 85 miles in length, the water trail starts out meandering through farmland and prairie. But, once the river reaches the bluff lands, the landscape changes dramatically. The rolling prairies become a faint memory as the 300-foot limestone bluffs tower above you. Not only does the scenery change, but the personality of the river changes as well. The gentle turns of the river become a little sharper and the occasional rocky pools, perfect for trout fishing, have to be avoided. Still an easy flowing river, there are only a few portions that require technique and maneuvering. 

Not many people know that the water trail is situated in Minnesota’s “driftless” region, which is named for the fact that no glacial drift migrated over this area. Normally the landscape would look like central Minnesota’s rolling hills and flat prairies, but due to the fact that no glaciers shredded the landscape, this area has become a natural archeological landmark. It is the only place in the Midwest where you can see what the earth looked like before the Ice Age. This is why you can see exposed limestone, towering bluffs, and wildlife only found in this region.

The most famous endemic species is the timber rattlesnake. During the sections of the river that border the bluffs, look closely at the outcrops or on the large flat rocks bordering the riverbank. If you are lucky, you may see a timber rattlesnake soaking up the sun. Other types of wildlife commonly seen along Root River’s wooded shores include white-tailed deer, foxes, badgers, and woodchucks. River otter and beavers also share the river with you.

The eight small towns that Root River passes through contribute to its charm.  Each town has its own personality and history, some of which you can see directly from the river. Almost all of the towns were milling and transportations hubs, and the ruins of old mills are still standing today. Oftentimes, you know you are near a town when you see ruins or pass under an old railroad bridge.

At the end of your journey, if you find yourself nearing to the confluence of the Root and Mississippi Rivers, make sure to take the time to appreciate the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The floodplain forest, delicate meadows, and oak-covered bluffs are amazing to see.

Who is Going to Love It

Root River’s calm waters will over joy beginner paddlers looking for an easy stretch of water, but also wanting a scenic option.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are 10 entry points, mostly found in the quaint towns along the river. Each town provides parking and local amenities. These entry points give you the flexibility to shorten or lengthen your trip and for the adventurous paddler, there are many campsites along the riverbank, making it easy to make your trip into a multi-day journey.

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Root River Water Trail

Minneapolis, MN,
43.670332, -92.065017

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