Minneapolis is the upstream limit for commercial navigation
but the river is navigable by small craft for hundreds of miles above Minneapolis. This is mainly by powerboats as it narrows down to a couple of hundred feet or less and the current
picks up. Below Minneapolis the lock and dam system begins and the river widens and slows with extensive backwaters. Lake Pepin starts about 60 miles south of Minneapolis and IMO has the best sailing conditions anywhere in Minnesota
. The river widens to a large lake about 20 miles long and several wide. The surrounding river bluffs seem to funnel the wind
and create reliable sailing breezes. I have seldom had to motor
any distance here. Fall is a favorite time as the sandstone bluffs are ablaze with color from the oak and maple trees. I would say that Pepin has more sailboats than anywhere else on the river. There are a few other areas that the river widens into a lake like area but Pepin is the big one. I remember the area above St Louis was quite wide for many miles too. With a small easy to handle boat one could sail extensive sections of the river but there will also be long stretches of motoring so a reliable motor is essential.
I have traveled upstream from St Louis to Minneapolis under power and have a friend who traveled downstream to St Louis on a 23 ft sailboat. He sailed about 25% of the time but admitted he was in a hurry it being late October and getting a little cool. I would say that the best scenery is the first 300 miles south of Minneapolis but the whole trip is quite nice.
Wing dams line the banks on large portions of the river and force one to stay in the navigation
channel which can be quite narrow at times. These are rock or concrete structures that jut out from the bank and channel the flow of water
. They are usually underwater and not visable but are marked on the river charts
. I think there are 24 locks from Minneapolis to St Louis. Below St Louis there are no more locks so the river picks up speed and gets very wide and much less interesting. When headed south most recreational traffic hangs a left into the Ohio River below St Louis and then into the Tenn Tom Waterway on the way to the Gulf of Mexico
. Kentucky Lake is on this section and is another popular sailing area.