LAKE MARIA STATE PARK
LAKE MARIA STATE PARK
11411 Clementa Avenue Northwest
Monticello, Minnesota 55362
Toll Free: 888-646-6367
Visitors who come to Lake Maria State Park will enjoy one of the few remaining stands of the "Big Woods," a maple, oak and basswood forest that once covered part of southern Minnesota.
The park is perfect for hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers who enjoy the challenge of the rolling terrain. Take a stroll on the boardwalk which winds through a marsh.
Backpack sites, located on remote lakes and ponds throughout the park, are just two miles from the trailhead parking lot. New log camper cabins, located near lakes and ponds, provide bunk beds for six people and a table and benches for campers who want more of the creature comforts.
Lake Maria State Park is home to the Blandings turtle, easily identified by bright yellow spots on its shell. It is one of Minnesota's threatened species.
Before modern agriculture was introduced, most of the Lake Shetek area was a treeless prairie with hundreds of species of wildflowers and grasses. Today, a large portion of the 1,108-acre park consists of old fields and forests of oak, hackberry, basswood, elm, and ash. In an effort to restore the natural prairie, prescribed burns and invasive species control are used. Although it will take decades to even partially restore the prairie, progress is being made. Blazing star, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, vervain, sunflowers, and bottle gentian are a few of the showy wildflowers growing in the park.
Lake Shetek lies in the Coteau des Prairie ("highlands of the prairie") region of Minnesota, a geological area which separates the Minnesota River from the Missouri River watershed. Glaciers moved across this Coteau region two million to 13,000 years ago. During the last stage of glaciation, this area was covered with deep deposits of rock debris called glacial till. Glacial till, which accumulated at the margins of the glacier, formed irregular hills and depressions called moraines. Lake Shetek lies in the Altamont Moraine complex. About 14,000 years ago, the climate warmed and the glaciers receded, producing swift rivers of meltwater which sculpted channels and formed outwash plains. Small landslides dammed meltwater channels and depressions which backed up water and eventually created Lake Shetek.
A quiet hike on one of the park trails can yield a glimpse of a white-tailed deer, the sounds of bobolinks in the prairie, or the flight of a white pelican overhead. The wooded shoreline of Lake Shetek provide cover for white-tail deer, fox, mink, beaver, fox squirrels, muskrat, woodchuck and coyote. Several wetlands in the park offer visitors an opportunity to view waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians. At Eastlick Marsh, interpretive signs and an observation deck with a spotting scope allow for close-up viewing and easy identification of coots, grebes, ducks, herons, and pelicans. Many species of waterfowl nest in and around the park in spring and early summer.
The Big Woods was a forest that once occupied 3,030 square miles in south-central Minnesota. The forest was comprised of maple, basswood, white and red elm, red oak, tamarack, and red cedar on the banks of numerous lakes. The trees were so thick that sunlight couldn't penetrate to the forest floor in some spots. French explorers called the forest "Bois Grand" or "Bois Fort." Later, settlers altered the name to the "Big Woods." Today, farms, towns, suburbs, and industry have replaced much of the Big Woods. Fortunately, Lake Maria State Park retains a remnant of the grandness of the original Big Woods.