The Zumbro River reaches across the landscape of southeastern Minnesota with many long, crooked fingers. In geological terms, the pattern of the Zumbro and its tributaries form a classic dendritic pattern, with one stream splitting into two, and each of those splitting again, until they form an intricate web. The sheer number of streams complicates the naming of them: North Fork, North Branch of the Middle Fork, South Branch of the Middle Fork, South Branch, and so on.
The many forks and branches of the Zumbro begin on the plowed and planted plateau along the western edge of the watershed. All are, for the most part, lazily meandering streams with occasional riffles, bounded by low banks, woods, and farmland. Only the larger streams are described here. Others, such as the North Branch of the Middle Fork west of Pine Island and the Middle Fork down to Shady Lake, are canoeable in high water but are likely to be blocked by snags.
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