Big Stone Lake State Park is a bustling park located less than ten miles from the small city of Ortonville, MN. It is situated on the banks of the Big Stone Lake, a freshwater lake that forms a portion of the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, and feeds into the Minnesota River. The park is also part of the Minnesota River County Landscape Region which extends approximately 200 miles between Mankato and Ortonville.
The lake itself is a popular destination for boaters, swimmers, and fishermen, both on the Minnesota side and the South Dakota side. It is also an established destination for hikers as there are several gorgeous trails that wind through the flora and fauna rich prairies that surround the lake, often punctuated by exposed bedrock and large glacial boulders.
There are 37 campsites suitable for recreational vehicles that are available for reservations, and the park boasts several amenities. Visitors to the park can rent birding or fishing kits if they don’t have their own, a playground is situated on the grounds, and both canoes and kayaks are also available to rent during the summer months as well as handheld GPS devices for those who engage in geocaching.
Big Stone Lake State Park is located along the banks of the Big Stone Lake, less than ten miles north of the small city of Ortonville, MN. The two-lane highway to get to the park is picturesque and although there are a few gentle curves, it should be an easy drive, even for larger RVs or those that are towing trailers or boats. The road to enter the park, State Park Road, is dirt and gravel rather than asphalt and has a few more twists and turns than the main road, but it is still fairly easy to navigate. There is a small parking lot near the docks and swimming beach just south of the campgrounds, with large enough spots to accommodate most rigs. You will find suitable parking for your campervan and boat if you are planning to visit the dock near the fish rearing pond further south in the park.
The campground located in Big Stone Lake State Park, Meadowbrook Campground, offers 37 sites for reservation. Reservations can be made from one day to one year in advance. Just ten of the sites have 30 amp electric hookups, so if you require an electric hookup it’s best to make your reservations fairly early. Generators are allowed during the day but need to be turned off during quiet hours, from 10 PM until 8 AM. There are 13 sites that sit close enough to the lake to fish directly from your campsite, but none of these sites have electric capabilities.
The sites are fairly close to one another but they are well-maintained sites that are surrounded by lush vegetation. Each site includes a picnic table and a fire ring. It is important to note that you cannot bring in firewood from another state, nor can you collect the wood in the area for firewood. Per state law, firewood must be purchased at the park or at an approved local vendor. There are modern restrooms with clean showers that are near the information center and a playground for the kids eastern side of the campground. Pets are allowed at the campsites but must be kept on a six-foot or shorter leash and be personally attended at all times.
The Bonanza area of the park was once the southern end of the Lake Agassiz, a glacial lake, before it was drained by the glacial river, Warren. Fossils can occasionally be found among the glacial boulders and in exposed bedrock. The area around the state park consists of quarries of granite and gneiss, a high-grade metamorphic rock that is often formed by the metamorphosis of sedimentary rock like granite. The top three inches of the stone is exposed in this area and the fossilized teeth of sharks can be often be located.
The views of the lake and surrounding coastline are simply stunning, and there are many visually interesting areas with exposed bedrock and large glacial boulders. The prairies abound with all sorts of beautiful plants, including many varieties of trees, some of which may be fruited, wildflowers, and even plum thickets. Big Stone Lake State Park is also an ideal place to get photographs of wildlife such as raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, ground squirrels, mourning doves, and hawks. Don't forget to bring your camera in your camper or trailer to make sure you capture some of these majestic creatures and gorgeous views.
The sparkling blue water in the Big Stone Lake is begging to be explored by all sorts of watercraft. There are many fishing boats, canoes, and kayaks on the water, as well as individuals on paddleboards. This is also a popular area for motorized water sports such as jet skis and wave runners. If you take any kids on the lake or if you decide to go out on the lake yourself in a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or on a paddleboard, remember your lifejacket. Minnesota law requires that each child under the age of ten must have a properly fitted lifejacket at all times when watercraft is underway, and an accessible and wearable lifejacket is required for each person on crafts smaller than sixteen feet.
The Big Stone Lake is teeming with many different varieties of fish including sturgeon, sunfish, bullheads, carp, and crappie. This lake is a border lake, with part of the lake located in Minnesota and the other portion in South Dakota, so be sure to check to see if there are any special rules in effect for border waters before casting your line. Fishing licenses are required for all non-resident anglers over the age of 16, and there is an additional cost in Minnesota if you are planning on catching trout, salmon, or sturgeon. Those who do not have their fishing gear with them can rent fishing kits at the park that include a rod, a reel, and a stocked tackle box.
Big Stone Lake State Park is a popular birding spot as several varieties of birds can be found in both the lake and in the prairie lands. Songbirds such as swallows, meadowlarks, and sparrows are common in the prairie areas, and several types of hawk can often be spotted wheeling up above as they hunt for prey. Many species of ducks and geese are plentiful on and around the lake itself. Cormorants, pelicans, and several varieties of heron can also be found hunting on or around the lake and sandpipers are often seen running along the beaches. Birding kits, comprised of binoculars, general guide books, and a park-specific list of birds, are available for rental at the park.
There are several hiking trails in Big Stone Lake State Park. The Bonanza Area Hiking Club Trail and is a one-mile trail over rolling hills that extends to the south of the campground. This trail offers fantastic wildlife viewing. Bluebird Trail is a flat, one-mile loop through a prairie where you can spot bluebird boxes that have been placed along the trails. The tall-grass prairie found by traversing the two-mile loop known as Prairie Trail has an abundance of wildflowers as well as several varieties of pollinators.