The Minnesota River, along with its major drainages of the Chippewa, Pomme de Terre and Yellow Medicine rivers, and plentiful lakes including Big Stone and Lac qui Parle are a recreational magnet for fisherman, hunters, birders, paddlers and nature enthusiasts.
A combination of refuges, public management areas, a state park and private lands along the Minnesota River form one of the largest intact river ecosystems in the United States. The 62,000 acres of managed wetland, woodland and virgin prairie provide an excellent environment for wildlife and native vegetation.
- Minnesota River
- Whetstone River
- Yellow Bank River
- Pomme de Terre River
- Chippewa River
- Lac qui Parle River
- Hawk Creek River
- Yellow Medicine River
- Beaver Creek
Challenging trails to accommodate all Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) skill levels beckon at The Appleton Area Recreation Park, one of Minnesota’s newest, public off-road vehicle parks. The 325-acre site currently includes more than seven miles of trails including five miles specifically designed for all terrain vehicles.
In addition, there is one mile of motorcycle and one mile of enduro trails. The site also features jumps, play area, sand dunes and other OHV activities. Other features in the park include shelter/picnic areas, hiking and a pavilion.
Experience the joy of snowmobiling by getting out with friends and family on Minnesota’s vast trail network made up of 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Over 21,000 miles are maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers. Click on the link below for the trails and snow conditions within the Prairie Waters Region!
Contact us to get a copy of this handy guide.
There are miles of country backroads in our region with a variety of scenery and terrain. Bike around Lac qui Parle Lake, or travel on the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway roads. The backroads are quiet and perfect for biking.
You’ll find community trails in Appleton, Benson,
Dawson, Granite Falls, Milan, and Montevideo. Biking trails are also located in our four state parks, Big Stone, Lac qui Parle, Monson and Upper Sioux Agency.
Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area
Located near Marietta, Salt Lake is a haven for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. This makes for fascinating and unique birdwatching. Some bird species that have been seen in the area include: loggerhead shrike, ruddy turnstone, bobolink, Swainson’s hawk, western grebe, and cinnamon teal.
On an irregular basis, the site harbors breeding populations of eared grebes, Wilson’s phalaropes and American avocets. The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union takes a field trip to Salt Lake the fourth weekend in April. Typically, birdwatchers see more than 130 species on these outings. Snowy egrets, although rare in Minnesota, have become expected there.
Lac qui Parle means the “lake that speaks”—with the sounds of birds. Lac qui Parle County, in southern Minnesota, is one of the top birding destinations in Minnesota. Two bodies of water, Salt Lake and Lac qui Parle, offer exceptional opportunities in spring to spot hundreds of species of birds.
At Lac qui Parle, part of the broader Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, spring migratory journeys bring golden plovers, snow geese, wood ducks and tundra swans. Bald eagles are sighted in the spring, and some nest here. As many as 10,000 pelicans nest at Lac qui Parle.
About an hour’s drive from Lac qui Parle, the shallow, alkaline waters of Salt Lake attract spring waterfowl and shorebirds such as willets, piping plovers and sandpipers to feast on pondweed and brine shrimp. Salt Lake is one of the few Minnesota habitats where the American avocet nests.
In late April, birders celebrate spring migration at the annual Salt Lake Birding Weekend. Typically, birdwatchers see more than 130 species. Snowy egrets, rare in Minnesota, are regularly sighted here. Other past highlights include sightings of American golden-plovers, American pipits, winnowing Wilson’s snipe, marbled godwits and horned grebes. In the months following migration, birders at Salt Lake might find eared grebes, American white pelicans, tundra swans and other summer birds.
To reach Salt Lake, head to Marietta on Hwy. 40. Go 3 miles south of Marietta on Co. Rd.7. Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area is 1 mile west on the township road. Park on the southeast end of the lake.
** The 2017 Salt Lake Birding Weekend is on April 28th & 30th
There will be a breakfast and lunch served on Saturday by the Marietta Legion Auxiliary, and the Sons of Norway serve dinner on Saturday night in Madison. Don’t miss out on this weekend! For more info, call the Madison Chamber Office at 320-598-7301 or Prairie Waters at 866-866-5432, or click here to visit the Salt Lake Weekend website. See you at Salt Lake!
Marsh Lake, a man-made reservoir on the Minnesota River west of Appleton, has one of the only two nesting colonies of white pelican in Minnesota. Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area is a stopover for fall migrating Canada geese. Flocks of up to 100,000 can be seen during peak migration in late October. For more information call the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce at 320.598.7301.
More birdwatching information can be obtained by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Morris Wetland Management District Office located south and east of Morris on Co. Rd. 10. The office and display area are open to the public Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
The 10,000 acre Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge features car and bike tour routes and foot trails. Big Stone Refuge boasts over 260 bird species that utilize the Refuge’s grassland and wetland habitats. The Refuge serves as a major migratory stopover for more than 20 species of waterfowl and 30 species of shorebirds. The highest concentrations of some shorebird species in the state of Minnesota and in the prairie potholes can be found on the Refuge. Bald Eagles have successfully raised 2-3 eaglets every year on the Refuge since 1995. Located just south of Ortonville on Highways 7 & 75, the refuge offers a hard-surfaced 9.3 mile auto tour route. Hiking trails begin at the edge of the parking lot complete with public restrooms. A public canoe access is also available and wildlife observation opportunities abound.
The State Parks in our region are Lac qui Parle, Monson Lake, and Upper Sioux Agency. You can also contact the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge office at 320-734-4451.
More Information on Birding
For more information on Birding in the Prairie Waters Region, check out these helpful links:
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Check with area bait shops for latest news on when and where the fish are biting. Have fun exploring the area’s waters! Most importantly, be safe and remember to wear your life jacket.
Maybe a peaceful afternoon spent sitting on the bank of a river is what you have in mind. Take some stink bait and give catfish a try. Summer is the best time to go, and good choices include the Minnesota, Pomme de Terre, and the Yellow Medicine Rivers.
More adventurous anglers enjoy exploring fishing holes off the beaten path by using a canoe or small boat. Are bluegills your passion? Try Del Clark Lake near Canby, or Olive Lake north of Appleton. The weed lines and flooded timber areas are good places to look. Del Clark also boasts some pole-bending largemouth bass.
Ready to try something different? Sheepshead are plentiful in the area. They bite well all summer long, especially in the Minnesota River. (Hint: Keep fish 10”-12”, they are good to eat, especially when you use our freshwater fish recipe).
Fall fishing hot spots in the area often include Big Stone Lake for yellow perch and rivers for walleye, especially below rapids areas and dams. Fall is a great time to plan that combination fishing and hunting trip because substantial public hunting land exists in the area.
Ice fishing is a popular winter activity, with anglers seeking primarily walleye, crappie, northern pike and yellow perch. Lower Lac qui Parle Lake often produces some very nice catches of giant crappies. Walleye fishing is usually good on area lakes, especially during December.
Area Fishing Lakes
Amateur or pro, everyone loves to come to the Upper Minnesota River Valley to fish for the mighty walleye. The official state fish is just one of the dozens of species found in well-stocked west central Minnesota waterways.
- Big Stone Lake, on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota in Big Stone County, is well known for its walleye. It is the site of one major walleye contest – the MWC (Master Walleye Circuit) Tournament held May 20-21, 1999 based out of Lakeside Park in Ortonville. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department cooperatively stock Big Stone Lake with 6 million walleye fry every other year. The lake contains more than 30 other species of fish including northern pike, large-mouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, white crappie, bull head, channel catfish and perch. Anglers can choose from 12 public accesses on this 26-mile long lake, including a handicapped accessible pier at the public access in Ortonville. A Minnesota or South Dakota fishing license is necessary.
- Lac qui Parle Lake, located south of Milan in the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Refuge, is stocked with three million walleye fry every third year. There are over 30 other fish species including bluegill, largemouth bass, rock bass, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappie, white crappie and white bass. Catfish are usually abundant at the handicapped accessible fishing pier on the southeastern side of the Hwy. 40 causeway. There are nine designated access sites along its 42 miles of shoreline.
- Artichoke Lake is a good spot for crappies. Just 2.5 miles north of Hwy. 12 in Big Stone County across the Swift County border, this quiet little lake also provides excellent fishing for walleye, northern pike, perch, bullhead and bluegill. There are three public access sites on the 19 miles of shoreline. DNR officials expect it to be a good year for northern pike, which spawn in flooded grasslands
- Del Clark Lake is a good trout lake. Also try for northern pike, bass and panfish. This small man-made lake is located in Stone Hill Park two miles from Canby. Take Hwy. 68 west of town, and turn at the high school onto Co. Rd. 30. Admission is $1 per car.
- Oliver Lake just north of Appleton in Swift County is a good spot for black crappie. They may also be found on Long Tom Lake near Ortonville or Toqua Lake near Graceville. Located 4 miles north of Benson on Hwy. 29, Lake Hassel is a shallow body of water that is becoming a large waterfowl staging area. Over the years this lake has produced some outstanding northern and is a popular spot for those seeking peaceful surroundings.
- Marsh Lake, in the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, has crappie, walleye, northern pike and white bass. It runs parallel to Hwy. 7 west of Appleton. The best fishing places in the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge (just south of Ortonville on Hwys. 7 & 75) are along the banks of the reservoir or the refuge’s rivers, the Minnesota and the Yellowbank.
- Camp Lake, located 15 miles northeast of Benson on Co. Ro. 33, is a small but popular lake for bass, perch and northern pike. Monson Lake, located 20 miles east of Benson off Hwy. 9 is within Monson Lake State Park. Fishing and boat access is available.
- Monson Lake is known for crappies, bass, sunfish and perch. Fishing leaflets are available by calling 320.273.2191.
The area’s best known attraction is the Canadian goose. Birdwatchers and hunters alike delight in the immense flocks that stop on their way south. The geese that stop over on their migration to our Prairie Waters region are part of the eastern prairie population of Canadian geese. They nest in northern Manitoba along the western shore of Hudson Bay and migrate to Manitoba, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area and Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, as well as other Minnesota locations, are stopovers along their journey. Typically they winter in the Swan Lake area of Missouri, although in recent years, more are wintering in Minnesota.
According to DNR statistics, Minnesota has become one of the top states for the harvest of Canadian geese. Minnesota takes about one third of the allowed EPP goose harvest, 85% of which is taken in west central Minnesota. In Lac qui Parle, west and northwest goose zones, approximately 30,000 birds are taken annually. Minnesota offers both early September and December special seasons to allow additional hunting opportunities to harvest native population giant Canadian geese. Video by: Watson Hunting Camp
In addition to the geese, the DNR is establishing wild turkeys in our area for hunting. Additional wild turkeys were released in Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties. Applications for spring or fall turkey permits can be made to : Turkey Hunt, DNR License Bureau, Box 26, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4026. Yellow Medicine county is included in the turkey hunting zone.
Buck Deer hunting in Western Minnesota has always
been popular. Black- powder hunting has made a big comeback in this part of the state. Bow hunting has also increased in numbers. The hunters are looking for more of a challenge in these two forms of deer hunting.
The pheasant population in the Prairie Waters region had seen an increase in the past few years but with the hard winter of 1997, a slight decrease resulted. There are, however, large numbers of pheasants in our six county region.
With all the wetlands in our six counties the duck hunting has been very good. Some of the more common duck to our region are mallard, teal, wood duck, northern mallard and canvas backs.
- Danvers Wildlife Management Area (Danvers Slough) 8 miles west of Benson near Danvers on Hwy. 12.
- Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area Route 1 Box 23, Watson, MN 56295. Phone 320.734.4451.
- Watson Hunting Camp
13070 10th St. NW Watson, MN 56295
- Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge Located just south of Ortonville on Hwys. 7 & 75, Rt. 1 Box 25, Odessa, MN 56276. Phone 320.273.2191.
- Department of Natural Resources Office (Stevens County) RR.3, Glenwood, MN 56334. Phone 320.634.4573. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office. Approximately 2,600 acres of wildlife management area for public hunting. Maps available.
- Morris Wetland Management District RR. 1 Box 877 • Morris, MN 56267. Phone 320.589.1001. 55 federal water fowl production acres, 9,315 acres open to public hunting. Maps available.
Places To Visit
The 11,500 acre Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge lies within the heart of the historic tallgrass prairie. A drive along Minnesota’s Scenic Highway 7 provides a glimpse of wildflowers like yellow coneflower and leadplant, and grasses such as big bluestem and prairie dropseed. These plant species are components of the Refuge’s 1,700 acres of remnant tallgrass prairie. The Refuge features car and bike tour routes and foot trails.
During the summer months visitors have the opportunity to view bison grazing on restored prairie within the auto tour route. Hiking the granite outcroppings along the Minnesota River provides ventures into plant, stone, and wildlife study. The only population of ball cactus in Minnesota can be readily found in this area.
Big Stone Refuge boasts over 260 bird species that utilize the Refuge’s grassland and wetland habitats. The Refuge serves as a major migratory stopover for more than 20 species of waterfowl and 30 species of shorebirds. The highest concentrations of some shorebird species in the state of Minnesota and in the prairie potholes can be found on the Refuge. Bald Eagles have successfully raised 2-3 eaglets every year on the Refuge since 1995. Located just south of Ortonville on Highways 7 & 75, the refuge offers a hard-surfaced 9.3 mile auto tour route.
Hiking trails begin at the edge of the parking lot complete with public restrooms. A public canoe access is also available and wildlife observation opportunities abound.