The portion of the river that supports trout is upstream, around the towns of Farmington and Empire. Near the town of Vermillion, the water becomes too warm to support trout. Downstream from the falls on the south side of Hastings, the water becomes even warmer, supporting riverine species such as northern pike and sheepshead. The Minnesota state record black crappie of 5.0 pounds was caught in the Vermillion River in 1940. An old channel of the Vermillion River continues south from Hastings on the western edge of the Mississippi valley.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the river was used for water power, supplying power to gristmills. A park surrounding the falls preserves the remains of a mill operated by Alexander Ramsey, one of the leading citizens of early Minnesota.