Vermilion River

Watershed at a Glance

The Vermilion River watershed, located within northern St. Louis County, covers 662,427 acres, or 1,035 square miles. The Vermilion River watershed’s upper two thirds are in the Border Lakes ecological sub-region and the lower third is in the Laurentian Uplands. It contains 565 lakes covering 82,836 acres and 84,333 acres of wetlands. Headwaters include Armstrong Lake and Armstrong River east of Lake Vermilion. The Eagles Nest Lakes 1, 2, 3 and 4 are just south of Armstrong Lake; the East Two Rivers drains them into Lake Vermilion's Pike Bay. The Pike River starts between Gilbert and Virginia, Minnesota and flows 26 miles north to Pike Bay. Sand River, six miles north of Virginia, is a major tributary of the Pike River. The Vermilion River flows north from Lake Vermilion through remote forested country to Crane Lake, which abuts Voyageurs National Park, and then drains into the park and Sand Point Lake (a border water with Canada). The major lakes and streams north of Lake Vermilion are Elbow, Pelican, Moose, Myrtle, Elephant and Echo Lakes and the Pelican and Echo Rivers. They all culminate at Crane Lake.

There are no large cities in this remote watershed; the most populated are Tower, with 496 residents, and Orr, with 282.  The total watershed population is 14,423, or 14 people per square mile.

Hydrologic Unit Code:09030002
Intensive monitoring start year:2015
Major lakesMajor rivers and streams
Pelican, Vermilion, Trout, Eagle's Nest
Pike, East Two, West Two, Vermilion, Echo


The Vermilion River watershed includes a portion of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness near Big Trout Lake. The BWCAW is roadless, undeveloped country that is interconnected with lakes, rivers and portages.  Lake Vermillion itself is a unique lake, covering 39,271 acres and containing 365 islands. Its lakeshore features many cabins, homes, resorts and a casino. Recreation tourism is a prime economic driver; others include the forest industry, mining, and some farming.

Land on Lake Vermillion’s southeast shores was purchased in 2010 for $18 million by the state of Minnesota from U.S. Steel. The land is Minnesota’s newest state park.

    What's being done

    In 2015, the state’s intensive watershed monitoring kicked off the first two years of the 10-year Watershed, Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) cycle on this watershed.

    What is a watershed?

    Illustration showing contour of land directing flow of water

    Learn the basics of a watershed.

    North St. Louis County SWCD