Used by Native Americans for trade, food, and water long before Europeans visited the "New World", the Mississippi River and its watershed is a major contributor to the ecology, culture, politics and economy of the North American continent. To acknowledge this fact, Congress established the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 1988. The park's boundaries enclose about 54,000 acres and 72 miles of river. They describe a narrow corridor of land on either side of the Mississippi from Dayton and Ramsey, MN on the north boundary past Hastings, MN on the south border. Only 35 acres are owned by the Park Service.
These 72 miles are a significant and representative stretch of the Mississippi. They contain the only gorge and waterfall on the main course of the entire 2,350 miles of river. Named St. Anthony Falls in 1680, the falls were later used to generate power for logging, flour milling, and electricity for a growing population. Less than ten miles away, the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers was an early outpost for the American military and an important crossroads for fur traders. Further downstream, St. Paul marked the upper end of steamboat navigation and was the jumping off place for tens of thousands of settlers. And the Vermillion River bottoms are excellent examples of floodplain forest ecology. From visitor centers to trails, from industrial centers to Mississippi River backwaters, this park has a bit of something for everyone.