For the most part, southern Minnesota looks nothing like the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In fact, a three-state region south of the Des Moines River is almost entirely lake-less. But then you come to Lake Shetek State Park. It’s the largest lake in this part of the state, which means there are lots to see and do.
Swimming, in both huge Lake Shetek and two smaller bodies of water, is very popular at the park. Boating and fishing are usually on the agenda as well. The park also contains 14 miles of hiking trails, including part of the well-known Casey Jones State Trail. Finally, Lake Shetek State Park boasts some historically significant sites, so you can better understand the background of this Civilian Conservation Corps facility.
To experience an outdoor adventure like this, you really need an RV. Fortunately, Lake Shetek State Park has roughly 70 motorhome parking sites, and almost all of them have utility hookups.
If you drew a line between Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, Lake Shetek State Park would be roughly at the midpoint of that line. There are several U.S. and state highways in this area, and they are arranged almost in a checkerboard pattern with lots of small towns here and there. So, whichever driving route you chose, the road will be straight, and the scenery will be classic Americana. Currie, the closest town, is a good example. During the winter, it’s a large spot on the map. During the summer, it’s not much larger, but the population normally breaks the millennial mark. Once you arrive, pull your rig into one of the campsites or park it near the boat launch or the visitors center.
A short footpath connects the inland campground with Lake Shetek State Park’s lakeside campground. Oak Wood also has 32 sites. Three are pull-through, the rest are back-in. Most of these RV parking spots have electrical, water, and sewer hookups. This campground is a more well-developed. A hiking trail surrounds it. Other amenities include two restroom and shower areas, a parking area, and a large children’s playground.
The inland campground has 32 mostly back-in sites. All of them have water, sewer, and electrical hookups. The sites are arranged in three loops. Two of these loops have sheltered picnic areas. Campground amenities include a restroom and shower area and an RV dump station.
Lake Shetek was an important place in the bloody but now largely forgotten U.S.-Dakota War in 1862. In August of that year, two groups of Dakota Indians raided a settler village on what was then the very edge of the western frontier. The marauders killed 15 settlers and took almost as many captives back west; most of those captives later returned to their families. Largely because the Civil War raged elsewhere, U.S. troops essentially abandoned this area, so this “war” was one of the few Indian “victories” in the Plains Indian Wars. The deceased settlers were eventually buried near the lake, where a memorial now stands.
Early spring near the Eastlick Marsh is a good time to see lots of different waterfowl. This observation point has a deck, spotting scope, and interpretive guide. The tree-lined lakeshore, which is somewhat rare, attracts lots of grebes, ducks, coots, herons, and pelicans. Further inland, or when they go to the lake to drink, look for whitetail deer, squirrels, beavers, coyotes, and other furry mammals.
Lake Shetek State Park includes five miles of groomed snowmobile trails. These trails wind through forests and meadows and link to the much larger Murray County Snowmobile Trail System. As for foot hiking, we recommend the Loon Island Trail. The trail is basically the only sign of civilization on this heavily-wooded island in Lake Shetek. A foot bridge connects the island with the rest of the park. The paved bike trail, which is part of the Casey Jones system, is very popular too, as is a wheelchair-accessible trail that goes through some crushed quartzite rock formations.
During the summer, which admittedly is like two months in Minnesota, visitors enjoy picnicking, swimming, and more. The picnic area is very nice, overlooks the water, is wheelchair-accessible, and contains both picnic tables and fire pits. The swimming beach is large, sandy, and secluded. It also has a large beach house and changing area. Other day use activities include soccer, horseshoes, volleyball, and a children’s play area.
Lake Shetek has long been known as a good walleye spot. In the 1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps workers built several causeways and fishing piers. But Lake Shetek is rather shallow. That, combined with frequent winter freeze-overs, sometimes limits the game fish population. Nevertheless, Lake Shetek is a good place to catch walleye, pike, catfish, bullhead, and more. Ice fishing for crappie is popular as well. Lake Shetek State Park has a very nice winter warming house for ice fishers.
Motorboats and large fishing boats typically use the large boat launch, which is at the north end of the park across from Loon Island. This lake is really big with lots of open water, so there is plenty of space to cut loose and do some Live and Let Die-style boating. But take it easy near the shoreline and the clearly-marked canoe trails. Most of these trails are in the park’s two smaller lakes. Speaking of canoes, these crafts and other unpowered boats typically use the smaller Smith Lake dock and boat launch. Canoes are available for rental here, as are paddle boats, paddleboards, rowboats, and kayaks.