It rises in southwestern Minnesota, in Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota–South Dakota border just south of the Laurentian Divide at the Traverse Gap portage. It flows southeast to Mankato, then turns northeast. It joins the Mississippi south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, near the historic Fort Snelling. The valley is one of several distinct regions of Minnesota. As shown on old maps of Fort Snelling, early explorers dubbed the waterway the St. Peter River (named for an explorer, not directly for the Saint).
Its name comes from the Lakota language mini meaning "water" and sota which is alternately translated "smoky-white" or "like the cloudy sky". Minnesota Territory, and later the state, were named for the river.
The valley that the Minnesota River flows in is up to five miles (8 km) wide and 250 feet (80 m) deep. It was carved into the landscape by the massive glacial River Warren between 11,700 and 9,400 years ago at the end of the last ice age in North America.
|Order of entry||River||Location of confluence|
|11||Blue Earth River||West side of Mankato|
|9||Cottonwood River||Southeast of New Ulm|
|13||Credit River||Scott County, just southeast of Minneapolis-Saint Paul|
|5||Lac qui Parle River||Lac qui Parle State Park, 10 mi (15 km) northwest of Montevideo|
|10||Little Cottonwood River||Cambria Township, 7 mi (11 km) southeast of New Ulm|
|1||Little Minnesota River||Big Stone Lake in Browns Valley|
|4||Pomme de Terre River||Marsh Lake in southwestern Swift County, 4 mi (6 km) southwest of Appleton|
|8||Redwood River||Near Redwood Falls|
|12||Rush River||2.9 mi north of Le Sueur|
|2||Whetstone River||Ortonville, near the South Dakota state line|
|3||Yellow Bank River||Agassiz Township, 3 mi (5 km) southeast of Odessa|
|7||Yellow Medicine River||Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Sioux Agency Township|