When you are driving your RV across the United States, trying to find the perfect natural retreat and escape from the swarming city life, the road might lead you to Minnesota and one of its many parks. One of them is the gorgeous Monson Lake State Park, a 346-acre outdoor paradise! It is one of the smallest state parks in the state, but that does not take away from its beauty and pristine nature that will surround you if you decide to set your rig on its premises.
One of the most significant features of this park is the large Monson Lake, about 152 acres across and up to 21 feet deep, so it offers plenty of opportunities for fun times on the water during the summer months. West Sunburg lake is also located in the park, and it is a bit larger than Monson, spanning across 178 acres. These lakes are actually a part of the drainage basin or watershed of the Chippewa River, which flows into the large Minnesota River. Campers will enjoy the proximity of the water at all times and will find the park quite relaxing and low-key, unlike some of the more popular state parks. Moreover, this area has historical value as well, since it was originally a memorial to 12 Swedish American Pioneers killed in the Dakota War in 1862.
Monson Lake State Park is located in southwestern Minnesota, in Swift County. The closest town to the park is Sunburg, just east of the park, on the Minnesota State Highway 9. If you are traveling from Willmar, you’d have to cover about 20 miles. Visitors coming from Murdock, De Graff, or Kerkhoven will pass the Monson Lake Lutheran Church, which is a perfect road sign to show that they are on the right track, as the park entrance is just a few meters away. The park entrance is quite small and the road is narrow, so be careful when driving, especially at night and if you need to go by another large RV coming from the opposite direction.
Two parking lots are available in the park, both relatively close to the entrance. One of them is located left of the information center, and another one is by the picnic shelter. Parking a vehicle is not allowed on the grassy areas or on the park roads or hiking trails, where you cannot drive or use a motorbike.
Since Monson Lake State Park is one of the smallest in the state of Minnesota, this campground is also not as large as some that you may be used to. However, if you own a big rig, you’ll be glad to hear that they are accepted here. You can make a reservation for one of the 20 campsites, six of which have electric 50-amp hookups you can enjoy. Flush toilets and hot showers are available in the campground, and all the campsites are close to the water. Some of the sites have a better view of the lake, so you may want to book in advance to secure your spot if you like to wake up feeling the fresh breeze coming from the water.
All the sites are located left of the information center, where you can find two parking lots and primitive toilets. The hiking trail leads the way from the campground around the park, so finding your way will not be complicated. The sites are not too close together so you will enjoy a bit of room while you camp, however, you must honor the quiet hours of the park, so dial down the party mode while you are here. If you want to light a fire, you must purchase firewood from the vendors who sell wood approved for the park, and you may not gather the wood in the park or cut down the trees. Picnic areas and picnic shelter are conveniently close to the campground so you can enjoy an alfresco dinner with your friends and family, just a few minutes away from your campervan.
All lovers of the flora will have a lot to see and a lot to talk about after they visit the Monson Lake State Park. The park is heavily forested with bur oak, basswood, green ash, and northern red oak. American hornbeam, also known as blue-beech and Ironwood is one of the most prevalent shrub plants here, whereas the understory is carpeted by the Virginia waterleaf, also known as eastern waterleaf. Other wildflowers you can find include Dutchman’s breeches, nodding trillium, bloodroot, merry bells, also known as large-flowered bellwort, as well as starry false Solomon seal, and the jack-in-the-pulpit. By the lake, campers will find the bur-reed, spikerush, arrowhead, and prairie bulrush, as well as buckthorn and reed canary grass.
Bird watchers and animal lovers will have something to talk about when they steer their campervan or trailer in the direction of their homes. Bird watching is one of the most popular ways to pass the time at Monson Lake State Park, as the area has a lot of beautiful feathered creatures you can admire from afar. Songbirds, white pelicans, herons, western grebes are often found here, but also the threatened and rare species such as Forster’s terns, trumpeter swans, Henslow’s sparrows, and Franklin’s gulls. You can download the bird checklist off Monson Lake State Park’s official website and check off every species you see on the list. If you are interested in mammals, you will be able to see the groundhogs, squirrels, white-tailed deer, foxes, eastern chipmunks, as well as minks. Make sure to bring your camera to this park, as you will be able to capture some of the most captivating images of these animals in their natural habitat. Of course, if you’re lucky and know how to approach them without invading their territory. As always, be careful with the animals to avoid getting hurt, and to avoid having them scared or injured when they see a weird creature staring at them and approaching rapidly.
Monson Lake State Park is an important historical and archeological site where researchers found that the park was once occupied by Native Americans, as far as to the Woodland Period, from 1000 BC to 1000 AD. They discovered stone tools that include obsidian from the Great Plains and quartzite from Hixton in Wisconsin, which points to this area being within a trade network. Visitors will learn about the death of 13 Swedish settlers who died in 1862, after the Dakota War between them and the Dakota. The settlers were attacked at the Broberg cabin, which is now a memorial placed there by the sole survivor, Peter Broberg who was only seven years old when the slaughter happened. The park has since become a cultural hub with many plays, speeches, and music events happening during the in-season months. However, it is worth noting that the Dakota were included in the memorial, as they were the ones who suffered injustice by having their land taken forcefully.
If you are looking to stretch your legs outside of the camper or RV, you’d be happy to stroll through the nature trail crossroads starting behind the showers, right on the campground. The gorgeous, wooded trail will take you to three possible segments, one of which is a trail that offers a breathtaking view of the Lake Monson on one side, and the forest on the other. You can see many interesting plants and birds on this trail, before you venture onto the trail point, where you can sit and relax in the peace and quiet of the natural surroundings. The Monson Lake nature trail is quite flat so even the non-experienced hikers can have a good time and have a nice walk in the shade of the trees that will protect them from the sun. finally, you can walk all the way from Monson Lake to West Sunburg Lake and get the best of both worlds while you are camping in this gorgeous park!
When you get tired of walking, grilling, and having meaningful interactions with other humans, worry not. Monson Lake State Park is a perfect playground for all the boat and canoe lovers who want to escape from people and spend some quality alone time on the water. Wake up at the crack of dawn and head to the boat ramp to be the first one on the calm lake. The pristine surroundings and the soothing breeze will be the perfect environment for thinking of your next RV trip, coming up with that million-dollar business idea, or just reflecting on the decisions you have made and the ones you are yet to make. You will need to bring your own boat, kayak, or a canoe, and be on a higher skill level, but even the non-pros can have loads of fun here.
As in most lake parks, the Monson Lake State Park is a popular fishing destination for people who want to enjoy a less crowded park while they’re traveling in their campervan. Make sure to come prepared and pack your fishing gear because you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best game fish in the area. The fishers can test their skills while fishing for walleye, black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and northern pike. Every two years, the walleye are stocked so you can rest assured that you won’t find any scarcity of them in this park. Anglers who did not bring a boat can enjoy the beautiful fishing pier that offers a spectacular view of the lake, especially at sunrise. However, visitors with boats can take advantage of the boat ramp and launch their floater to the middle of the lake.