One of the best state parks in Minnesota for fishing, hiking, camping, birdwatching, and scenic views is Big Stone Lake State Park. Located near Ortonville, Minnesota, the state park provides access to the 12,610-acre Big Stone Lake, which is also the headwaters of the Minnesota River.
This gem of a state park, Big Stone Lake, features three distinct areas.
- Meadowbrook – the largest area is restoring prairies, woodlands, and wet-meadows
- Overlook rest area – scenic views of Big Stone Lake State Park
- Bonanza area – woods, rolling hills, and tallgrass prairie landscapes
See my related Minnesota state park series.
- Take the Minnesota State Park Challenge – reviews of all MN state parks
- How to hike all 66 Minnesota state parks in a year
- Explore Minnesota State Parks on Free State Park Day (updated with 2023 dates)
- Top Minnesota state parks with waterfalls – ranked!
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Top 10 things to do at Big Stone Lake State Park in Ortonville, MN
Near the South Dakota-Minnesota border, Big Stone Lake State Park offers lots of outdoor things to do. Be sure to check out all three distinct areas of Big Stone Lake State Park: Meadowbrook, Overlook, and Bonanza.
- Go fishing on Big Stone Lake.
- Check out the Minnesota River headwaters.
- Boat, canoe, kayak on Big Stone Lake.
- Go hiking all season or snowshoeing and x-skiing in the winter.
- Set up camp with a lakeside view.
- Take in scenic overlook views of Big Stone Lake.
- Swim at sandy beach.
- Go birdwatching.
- Pack a picnic lunch.
Minnesota’s best state park for perch fishing: Big Stone Lake State Park
If you’re an angler, you’ll love fishing at Big Stone Lake State Park. It’s known as Minnesota’s best destination for perch fishing. Additionally, you can fish for walleye, northern pike, and bluegill. The lake is super shallow (deepest is only 15 feet). Fish from along the 26-mile long shoreline of Big Stone Lake, or one of its fishing piers, or boat.
Where’s the source / headwaters of the Minnesota River? Big Stone Lake
The Big Stone Lake State Park is home of the Minnesota River headwaters. The third-largest river in Minnesota starts at Big Stone Lake State Park and ends 318 miles where it meets the Mississippi River. You can view the confluence of these two rivers in Minnesota at Fort Snelling State Park in Bloomington, MN.
See my related post: Guide to Itasca State Park – home of the Mississippi River headwaters (where you can actually walk across).
Boating at Big Stone Lake State Park
Can you boat at Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota? Yes, you can boat, canoe, and kayak on the 12,610-acre Big Stone Lake. And the park features a couple of boat launches at Meadowbrook as well as the Bonanza area. The shoreline of Big Stone Lake runs 26 miles, about 1 to 1.5 miles across, and is only 15 feet at its deepest. You can rent canoes or kayaks when the state park office is open seasonally on weekends.
Easy hiking trails at Big Stone Lake State Park
You’ll find three easy hiking trails at Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota.
- The one-mile Bluebird Trail loop at Meadowbrook shoots off from the Big Stone Lake State Park campgrounds. Watch for wildflowers and the bluebird boxes on this flat mowed grass trail.
- Also flat with mowed grass and located at Meadowbrook, Prairie Trail, is also located at Meadowbrook. This easy two-mile loop weaves through taller-than-you prairie grasses and wildflowers.
- For a walk in the woods, check out the one-way, one-mile Bonanza Area Hiking Club Trail. It’s also an easy trek with rolling hills, packed dirt, and mowed grass.
You can also snowshoe and x-ski at Minnesota’s Big Stone Lake State Park in the winter.
Camp lakeside at Big Stone Lake State Park on the Minnesota-South Dakota border
Big Stone Lake State Park features 37 campsites, with 10 electric sites, and 13 lakeside drive-in sites. You’ll find modern restrooms and showers nearby at Big Stone Lake State Park (open seasonally with vault toilets open year-round). Anglers especially love that they can conveniently fish near their campsites. Note that the Big Stone Lake State Park campgrounds is seasonal, open April 22 through October 23.
Take in scenic views at Big Stone Lake State Park
Make sure to visit the Overlook area of Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota. It’s a small rest area about 10 miles northwest of the Meadowbrook area of Big Stone Lake State Park. Here you can capture sweeping views of Big Stone Lake.
Stargaze at Big Stone Lake State Park
Although not an International Dark Sky Park like Voyageurs State Park, Big Stone Lake State Park’s rural location is perfect for stargazing.
Swim at Big Stone Lake State Park’s sandy beach
You’ll find a sandy-bottom beach for swimming at Meadowbrook area in Big Stone Lake State Park.
Birding at Big Stone Lake State Park
Big Stone Lake State Park is popular for birding. Birdwatchers typically see bluebirds, meadowlarks, sedge wrens, pheasants, wild turkeys, bobolinks, thrashers, mourning doves as well as migrating birds.
What kind of wildlife can you expect to see at Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota? Wildlife sightings include deer, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, racoons, frogs, and lots of birds.
Bring your binoculars or you can rent them at the park office when open.
Relax with a lakeside picnic lunch
You’ll find picnic tables at Big Stone Lake State Park’s Meadowbrook and Bonanza areas. While no picnic tables at the Overlook rest area, it is also a lovely picnic spot with beautiful views of the lake.
Frequently asked questions about Big Stone Lake State Park in Ortonville, Minnesota
Here is a list of the frequently asked questions about Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota.
Where is Big Stone Lake State Park located? What is the address for Big Stone Lake State Park?
The three areas of Big Stone Lake State Park are located near the Minnesota-South Dakota border in Ortonville, MN. The main area’s address is 35889 Meadowbrook State Park Road, Ortonville, MN 56278. Big Stone Lake State Park’s Overlook area is 10 miles northwest of Meadowbrook. Drive another mile north to 31167 Big Stone Lake State Park Road. You’ll then reach the Bonanza area of Big Stone Lake State Park.
When is Big Stone Lake State Park open?
Big Stone Lake State Park is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The campground is seasonal, open April 22 through October 23
Is Big Stone Lake State Park free? How much is the admission fee at Big Stone Lake State Park?
Big Stone Lake State Park is almost free. It costs $7 per vehicle per day ($5 per motorcycle) with unlimited visits to all Minnesota state parks on the same day. I highly recommend an annual pass, which gives you entrance to all Minnesota state parks. See the Minnesota DNR website for more information. And it’s highly recommended to pay online ahead of time. Minnesota state parks are no longer accepting cash self-payment envelopes on site.
Admission to every Minnesota state park is free for all Minnesota state tribal members.
You can visit Big Stone Lake State Park on any of the four free state park days in Minnesota. See my related post for this year’s free state park days.
Does Big Stone Lake State Park have a lake, river, or waterfall?
Yes, Big Stone Lake State Park features Big Stone Lake.
How big is Big Stone Lake?
Big Stone Lake State Park is 12,610 acres.
Does Big Stone Lake State Park have a swimming beach?
Yes, Big Stone Lake State Park features a sandy swimming beach. We visited on a very hot summer day and it had a foul odor. I’m not sure it always smells like that so will need to return to verify it was an off-day for the beach.
Is Big Stone Lake State Park buggy? Mosquitos? Ticks?
I don’t recall that many bugs, mosquitos, or ticks at Big Stone Lake State Park. However, I always trust Aunt Fanny’s biodegradable and DEET-free mosquito wipes. Ticks are notorious year-round (yes, even when it’s cold) so I typically also use picaridin. Take the tick challenge – how much do you really know about ticks?
Can you fish at Big Stone Lake State Park? What kind of fish are in Big Stone Lake?
Yes! Big Stone Lake State Park is especially known as a perch fishing destination. You can also fish for walleye, northern pike, and bluegill. Fish from a boat, a pier, or the shoreline.
Can you boat at Big Stone Lake State Park? Does Big Stone Lake State Park offer a boat ramp with trailer access?
Yes. Big Stone Lake State Park offers a couple of boat and trailer launches. You’ll find two in Meadowbrook and one in the Bonanza area.
How long and how difficult are the hiking trails at Big Stone Lake State Park?
Big Stone Lake State Park is not known for its hiking. However, you can find three easy hiking trails on mowed grass or packed dirt. All hikes are one to two miles in length.
Are hiking poles needed on the trails at Big Stone Lake State Park?
No. The hiking trails at Big Stone Lake State Park are easy. So hiking poles are not needed. But I always keep them in my SUV for the unplanned hike and just-in-case adventures.
What are the best views at Big Stone Lake State Park?
Stop by the Overlook area of Big Stone Lake State Park – about 10 miles northwest of the Meadowbrook area. Here you’ll find sweeping vistas of the entire lake.
Does Big Stone Lake State Park have a visitor center? Modern restrooms?
Big Stone Lake State Park does not offer a visitor center. However, they do have a seasonal park office that’s typically open on the weekends in summer. You will find modern restrooms with flush toilets April through October. More primitive or vault toilets are available year-round..
Is Big Stone Lake State Park dog-friendly?
Yes, leashed dogs and pets are welcome at Big Stone Lake State Park (and all Minnesota state parks) except inside buildings (with the exception of service dogs). Leashes must be six feet or less. And you must pick up after your dog – leave no trace!
Are there bears at Big Stone Lake State Park?
I’ve never heard of any bear sightings at Big Stone Lake State Park.
Can you camp at Big Stone Lake State Park?
Yes, Big Stone Lake State Park offers a campground with 37 campsites (RV, tent, van/car) with 10 electric sites and 13 next to Big Stone Lake. Big Stone Lake State Park is open April 22 through Oct. 23.
How far is Big Stone Lake State Park from the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSP) airport?
Big Stone Lake State Park is about 186 miles west and slightly north of the Minneapolis – St. Paul (MSP) International Airport.
What’s nearby Big Stone Lake State Park? Things to do near Big Stone Lake State Park?
You’ll find additional cool things to do near Big Stone Lake State Park.
- Visit the Bonanza Scientific and Natural Area located within Big Stone Lake State Park. This area protects native oak savanna, prairie grasses and wildlife and also features an oak basswood forest. Top things to do include bird and wildlife watching, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
- Looking for wildlife in Minnesota? Then stop by the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge near Ortonville and Big Stone Lake State Park. Of special note is the six-mile Big Stone Wildlife Refuge auto tour, which features several stops for wildlife viewing.
- Hartford Beach State Park in Corona, SD borders Big Stone Lake on the opposite shore from Minnesota’s state park.
When was Big Stone Lake State Park in Minnesota established?
Big Stone Lake State Park was established in 1961. It’s named after the lake, which is believed to have got its name from the huge red granite rocks in this area of Minnesota.
Does Big Stone Lake State Park host deer hunts? Is Big Stone Lake State Park closed during deer season?
No. Big Stone Lake State Park is not closed during deer season. For a complete list of which Minnesota state parks are closed or limited to the public during deer season, see my post: Hiker safety: MN state parks that host deer hunts.
A list of all the best Minnesota state parks
Seeking more Minnesota adventures? Here’s a list of all Minnesota state parks. See also my guide and brief reviews of every Minnesota State Park.
- Afton State Park | Hastings, MN (26 miles)
- Banning State Park | Sandstone, MN (97 miles)
- Bear Head Lake State Park | Ely, MN (240 miles)
- Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, MN (148 miles)
- Big Stone Lake State Park | Ortonville, MN (186 miles)
- Blue Mounds State Park | Luverne, MN (208 miles)
- Buffalo River State Park | Glyndon, MN (240 miles)
- Camden State Park | Lynd, MN (161 miles)
- Carley State Park | Plainview, MN (88 miles)
- Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, MN (257 miles)
- Charles A. Lindbergh State Park | Little Falls, MN (112 miles)
- Crow Wing State Park | Brainerd, MN (134 miles)
- Father Hennepin State Park | Isle, MN (113 miles)
- Flandrau State Park | New Ulm, MN (93 miles)
- Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park | Preston, MN (115 miles)
- Fort Ridgely State Park | Fairfax, MN (99 miles)
- Fort Snelling State Park | Bloomington / St. Paul, MN (2 miles)
- Franz Jevne State Park | Birchdale, MN (336 miles)
- Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, MN (62 miles)
- George H. Crosby Manitou State Park | Finland, MN (231 miles)
- Glacial Lakes State Park | Starbuck, MN (156 miles)
- Glendalough State Park | Battle Lake, MN (194 miles)
- Gooseberry Falls | Two Harbors, MN (197 miles)
- Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, MN (308 miles)
- Great River Bluffs State Park | Winona, MN (136 miles)
- Hayes Lake State Park | Roseau, MN (343 miles)
- Hill Annex Mine State Park | Calumet, MN (197 miles)
- Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, MN (56 miles)
- Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, MN (219 miles)
- Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, MN (146 miles)
- John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, MN (99 miles)
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park | Grand Marais, MN (282 miles)
- Kilen Woods State Park | Lakefield, MN (153 miles)
- Lac qui Parle State Park | Watson, MN (141 miles)
- Lake Bemidji State Park | Bemidji, MN (230 miles)
- Lake Bronson State Park | Karlstad, MN (409 miles)
- Lake Carlos State Park | Alexandria, MN (152 miles)
- Lake Louise State Park | Le Roy, MN (113 miles)
- Lake Maria State Park | Monticello, MN (60 miles)
- Lake Shetek State Park | Currie, MN (168 miles)
- Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park | Soudan, MN (229 miles)
- McCarthy Beach State Park | Side Lake, MN (227 miles)
- Maplewood State Park | Pelican Rapids, MN (217 miles)
- Mille Lacs Kathio State Park | Onamia, MN (108 miles)
- Minneopa State Park | Mankato, MN (82 miles)
- Monson Lake State Park | Sunburg, MN (141 miles)
- Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, MN (116 miles)
- Myre-Big Island State Park | Albert Lea, MN (93 miles)
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | Nerstrand, MN (52 miles)
- Old Mill State Park | Argyle, MN (350 miles)
- Rice Lake State Park | Owatonna, MN (70 miles)
- St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, MN (105 miles)
- Sakatah Lake State Park | Waterville, MN (60 miles)
- Savanna Portage State Park | Northeast Aitkin, MN (149 miles)
- Scenic State Park | Bigfork, MN (232 miles)
- Schoolcraft State Park | Deer River, MN (198 miles)
- Sibley State Park | New London, MN (128 miles)
- Split Rock Creek State Park | Jasper, MN (202 miles)
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, MN (204 miles)
- Temperance River State Park | Schroeder, MN (239 miles)
- Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, MN (217 miles)
- Upper Sioux Agency State Park | Granite Falls, MN (122 miles)
- Whitewater State Park | Altura, MN (99 miles)
- Wild River State Park | Center City, MN (58 miles)
- William O’Brien State Park | Scandia / Marine on the St. Croix, MN (43 miles)
- Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, MN (345 miles)
Pin it for later: A local’s guide to Big Stone Lake State Park – home of the Minnesota River headwaters
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