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I’m back home from hiking FOUR more Minnesota State Parks with my first hiking buddy, April! In 2014, we started hiking the Minnesota State Parks Hiking Club trails together and even though we live in different states now, we still manage to pull off one or two camping trips a year! Read her trip report from our Moose Lake State Park Snowshoe hike and more about last year’s adventure to Ledges State Park in Iowa, where the racoons are hungry and bold!

Three more things:
1. The colors are poppin, and so are the rifles. Friendly reminder to wear your bright colors during small game hunting season. Here’s a list of dates from the MN DNR, and a video showing why I’m more intentional about this now, aka how my Superior Hiking Trail thru hike went out with a bang (8:10).

2. I’m so stoked that I got to give April her very first Kula Cloth. It features a portrait of her yellow Big Agnes tent, painted by yours truly! How sweet is that? You can read more about my limited print kula from our Art Hike at Theodore Wirth Park here, and I’ll let you know if they become available for purchase on the Kula site. Stay tuned on the Wandering Pine Instagram to hear how you can get a chance to score one for yourself.

3. I started an art account on Instagram this week and will be posting my art from both on and off the trail. Check out @wandering.pine.art and give it a follow if you want the latest!

Ok. On with the show!

Happy Campers

We arrived at Scenic State Park on Thursday night and set up our camper just before dinner. I was my first time driving it – forward OR backward! I know how to connect it to the hitch and set it up, but my husband usually drives it. April and I decided we could just figure it out on the way. It went surprisingly well and I was very thankful for a short, wide campsite driveway without any trees. We had the park to ourselves on Thursday night and it was nice to have some quiet before the rest of the campers rolled in for the weekend.

Much like last month’s State Park Tour, the plan was to park the camper and use it as a home base while hiking the Minnesota State Parks that were a bit of a further drive from home. This has been working great, keeping the campers and non-campers happy and getting to see more of our beautiful state.

Know Before You Go

Upper Sioux and Big Stone Lake visitor centers were closed, with reduced hours when we visited.  Many parks have reduced staffing during the pandemic, so check before you go if you want to get a patch or access the visitor center.   The campgrounds typically have campground hosts that sell firewood and signs are posted regarding burning restrictions, mask requirements and other pertinent information about the park. 

This region is also known for tall grass and ticks – so stay on the trail, learn about tick prevention and check yourself after your hike.

Big Stone Lake State Park


LENGTH 2.2 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY easy, with one small hill
DATE VISITED September 24, 2021
MAIN FEATURES  Big Stone Lake is a State Park in Western Minnesota, located on the ancestral lands of the Dakota people and the Minnesota and South Dakota border. The 26 mile long 12,610 acre lake is the source of the Minnesota river, providing for humans for thousands of years and attracting anglers and boaters as its main recreation source.

In 1923, the area that is now known as Big Stone Lake State Park was identified as a potential location to bring more state Parks to the Southern MN region and preserve the lakeshore. It became designated as a State park in 1961 and is divided into 3 units: The Meadowbrook, Overlook and Bonanza Area, each featuring restored prairies, wooded trails and views of the massive lake.

Tip: It’s good practice to check your park map online, print or load it into your phone before heading out on your adventure. This is a good idea any time you are hiking a new trail, but I almost never do this ahead of time for a State Park trip. I just look at the mileage, address, bring my 10 essentials, tell someone where I am going, and go. Some of the parks I have been to recently are divided up into sections that require driving to reach the other end where the hiking club trail may be located, so…know before you go. .

Finding Big Stone Lake

We drove past the brown road sign for Big Stone Lake Nature area and wondered if that was the park… then came upon the the main entrance to the state park a few miles later.  The park office was closed, so we stamped our hiking club books, grabbed a map and discovered that we needed to head to the upper segment of the park.   I had peeked at the map online before our trip, but didn’t grasp how large this lake really was and how far apart its segments were. The Meadowbrook area of the park has a big boat launch, a few short trails, a swimming beach and campground. After spending a few minutes with the map,  we realized that the hiking club trail was located another 12 miles down the road!   

Big Stone Lake is 26 miles long!   It’s literally a marathon of a lake. The drive winds through golden corn fields with an overlook stop that offers a view of South Dakota.   The hiking club trail is located in the Bonanza Education Center along rolling golden hills of prairie grass and blazing red red sumac leaves.  I entertained/annoyed April for a few minutes by singing the Bonanza theme song in the car – because that’s what I do, God bless her for putting up with me… The trail starts at the boat launch and takes a 2 mile out and back lollipop loop along the shore of the lake and in a forest of shady oak trees. 

Although the trail is short, and mostly flat with a wide, mowed grass surface- it had small beauties to be appreciated along the way.  These included a couple of bubbling creeks with bridges to cross, a tiny waterfall over rusty red soil, and blue herons and bald eagles greeting us overhead.  I always enjoy a trail that winds along the shore of a lake, and it was fun to have a peek at the leaves changing colors across the lake on the rolling hills of the South Dakota side. 

I stopped for bit to paint my view, with waves crashing into my hiking shoes and wind blowing my journal pages.   These watercolor studies capture the strong sensations of what I was feeling and experiencing at the time without any pressure of needing to create a final work of art.  I’m so glad to have this creative practice. 

Off to our next park!

Lac qui Parle State Park


LENGTH 2 mile hiking club trail
DIFFICULTY easy, flat, accessible
DATE VISITED September 24, 2021
MAIN FEATURES  La qui Parle  is a State Park in Southern Minnesota, located on the ancestral lands of the Dakota people. It was designated as a state park in 1941. Lac qui Parle is a French translation of the name given to the lake by the original inhabitants, who called it Mde Iyedan – the “lake that speaks.” This region bears the history of the US Dakota war and the forced removal, assimilation and genocide of the Dakota people, something that I continue to acknowledge and educate myself on as I recreate in these spaces. Learn more here.

Lac qui Parle [LA kuhparl] State Park is about an hour drive from Big Stone Lake.   It is another sprawling park that is divided into two sections, requiring driving to access.   We stopped at the visitor center to buy a patch and pick up a map.  We also learned the local  pronunciation of the french name, and I still have to resist pronouncing it as La KEE Par Lay.

After a short drive, we entered the park at the small parking lot, just past the group campsites.   The blue hiking club sign is easy to spot at the trailhead, but we quickly walked right past the WPA shelter trailhead and got turned around, adding another mille or so to our hike. It’s easy to do when you are laughing, chatting and taking pictures of every mushroom.   We backtracked, spotted the hiking club trail sign by the shelter and got on the right loop.  

This is another short but sweet hike that is even more accessible than the Big Stone Lake.  The trail was flat, mowed grass and had lots of peeks at the Lac qui Parle river. We found a large chicken of the woods mushroom and wild hops growing by the shore.  As I learn more about edible plants, it gives me new things to observe and be curious about, even on a trail that is not physically challenging or filled with grande scenery. 

The wild hops were bountiful and such a vibrant translucent yellow against the dark leaves. I would love to grow some just so I could enjoy their color every year.  They reminded me of a delightful combination of a bright, papery flower and pine cone! This trail didn’t have the same magic as Big Stone Lake, but I will always remember those wild hops. 

Final Thoughts

I’m excited to get back to my goal of hiking all of the the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails and earned a new patch and 60th park visit with this trip. I only have 7 left… and although I am excited to visit those parks, I also get a little misty when I think about this goal that I started working towards in 2014 is almost complete. The MN State Park Hiking Club program, along with the 52 Hike Challenge were two programs that gave me the framework and confidence to pursue larger trips and a sense of belonging on the trail when I was just starting out. If you are just starting out or need to mix things up from your current hiking routine, I highly recommend them!

Up next: I’m working on the trip report for Upper Sioux Agency and Camden State Parks and more about my trail journal and travel watercolor kit. We have one more family trip in the camper before the snow flies and I’ll spend the winter dreaming up next year’s adventures. Be sure to hit subscribe and share if you want to stay up to date, see more paintings from the trail and read where we’re off to next! How are you celebrating the start of Fall Hiking Season? As always, I thank you for reading, it means so much. Drop me a note below, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy trails!

~ WP

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Gear Used on This Trip

Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight, Kuhl Klash Pants, Wright Socks – Cool mesh tab, Zensah Compression Sleeves, Altra Timps , Altra Gaiters, Leki Micro Vario Trekking Poles , OR Active Ice Sun Gloves, REI Rain Jacket, InReach Mini, Granite Gear Hip Wing, Kula Cloth, Purple Rain Adventure Skirt, Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Moleskine Watercolor Notebook, Isabey Travel Paintbrush

Copyright Wandering Pine 2021


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4 thoughts on “Hiking Southern Minnesota | Big Stone Lake and Lac qui Parle State Parks

  1. What a great and timely report! I just booked our trip to that area and hope to hike the trails at Sibley, Monson Lake, Glacial Lakes, Big Stone Lake , Lac qui Parle and Upper Sioux Agency over MEA weekend. I noticed that BSL was split up – do you think we should just skip the main area and do the trail at the lake? Did you also see the cottonwood tree there? Thanks for all the help! Happy trails! -Kristie

    1. Hi Kristie! That sounds like a wonderful trip! If you have to pick one section of Big Stone Lake I think there’s more to see in the upper bonanza section where the hiking club trail is. Depending on which way you’re coming from you could always stop in at the main entry of the park then the overlook and then the bonanza section that’s what we did. Somehow we missed the giant cottonwood tree if you see it be sure to report back!

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