Hiking at Monson Lake State Park

6 TOP Things to do at Monson Lake State Park in MN

This smaller state park may be small, but Monson Lake State Park has plenty of things to do. With hiking trails and water access, it’s a great place to unwind. Here is my list of the top things to do at Monson Lake State Park in MN.

On the hike at Glacial Lakes State Park, I started to wonder what other parks are nearby. I was still full of energy in the cool November weather.

I did a quick search and found out that Monson Lake State Park Hiking Club Trail was only 30 minutes away. Bonus, it was only a mile-long hike!

Monson Lake State park Welcome sign

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Things to do at Monson Lake State Park in MN

I’m not sure why I was so disoriented on this road trip. Monson Lake State Park was completely empty when I pulled in. For a little while, I thought I’d have the park to myself again.

With nothing around, and leaves covering the ground, it was hard to make out what was a road, and what was gravel.

I ended up pulling up to the office and stopping on the park’s service road. I completely missed the parking spots right in front of me.

The Passport stamp was outside the park in a box. Before 2020 I assumed that you had to talk to the rangers to get stamped. I’m so thankful I figured out where to find all the hiding spots.

Monson Lake State Park is relatively small compared to other parks. It has more acres of water than landmass. The biggest draw is lake access, fishing, and birdwatching.

The Broberg and Lundborg Memorial

The office parking is in front of the memorial for the 13 settlers that perished during the US Dakota War of 1862. The park started as a memorial to the members of the Broberg and Lundborg families.

As I visit more and more parks across southwest Minnesota and all along the Minnesota River, I’m seeing how much the war shaped the land.

As much as I try to ignore the dark past it keeps coming up. I finally decided enough was enough, I finally decided to read up on the war.

Monson Lake Memorail
Monson Lake Memorial Stone

The US Dakota War

Not that everyone wants a history lesson, but here is a quick recap of the events. During a series of treaties in the Mid 1800s, the Dakota people were assigned a small strip of land to live on near the Minnesota River. The land was surrounded by settlers making hunting challenging.

After a challenging farming season in 1861, the native Americans were starving. The Dakota made agreements to buy food from the agents, but promises were not kept. They were at a breaking point and war broke out.

The war started out at the Lower Sioux Agency, now a display at the Minnesota Historical Society. The war raged in the north at the Upper Sioux Agency where they burned down the Agency. Troops came from Fort Ridgely to protect the settlers.

The war reached up to Monson Lake. When the Dakota of the area finally surrendered, 38 of the leaders were hung in the largest mass execution in Mankato.

The remaining Dakota was sent to Fort Snelling where more perished in a harsh winter. They were finally loaded onto steamboats and moved to a camp at Crow Creek, in present-day South Dakota.

Stopping at the memorial at Monson Lake was a reminder of how devastating a war it was. It reached so much. What really got me was reading the names and ages of the people. Young and old got caught in it. No one was spared.

If you’d like a better understanding of the war and what happened, make sure to read The Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota’s Other Civil War.

What’s missing?

What Monson Lake State Park lacked was the other side of the story. The sign at the state park tells the story of the war. It tells how two young families were building a life on the prairie.

A paragraph talks about the hardship the Dakota Indians had and the reason for the conflict. It tells of the number of settlers who died and the unknown number of Dakota that perished. 

Then it pays tribute to the settlers’ deaths, and what happened to the two that survived.

Like many of the other state parks, history is whitewashed. Where is the memorial for the Dakota that were starving? Where is the story of the injustice? What drove them to murder families?

It might be there, I just haven’t been to the right park yet. History is told by the victors, and records were not recorded on the Native Americans.

It was a dark part of our history I wasn’t proud of and wanted to be blissfully ignorant of. But now that I know more, I’m even more disgusted that the conflict even happened.

Monson Lake State Park Hiking Club Trail

Miles: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Total Miles Hiked: 91.9 miles

After a somber stop near the park office, I continued on to the Monson Lake State Park Hiking Club Trail. The day-use parking holds as many cars as large at the campground. It is visible from the front office.

I’m not sure why I got so confused and turned down that service road. Once we got to the parking lot, I finally saw another person on this trip. Oh well, I can’t have all the parks to myself.

The Monson Lake State Park Hiking Club Trail starts next to the vault toilets. There aren’t really any other hiking trails in the park, besides a spur trail closer to the campground.

The trail runs along two lakes, West Sunburg Lake and Monson Lake. This late in the season, I could see the lakes 75% of the hike. During the summer, trees and other vegetation grow thick and people don’t even see the lake.

Old growth trees at Monson Lake State Park Hiking Trail
Hiking at Monson Lake State Park
Ice glass on lake at Monson lake State Park
Glass ice

Need a map of Monson Lake State Park? Download a free GeoPDF Map from Avenza Maps. They track your movements on the map with your phone’s GPS. No internet is needed after it’s downloaded.

The trail crosses the road two times. Don’t freak out like me, the trail is right in front of you. We found a few spots where people have made trails down to the lake.

I couldn’t resist checking out the shoreline. The lake was just starting to freeze, but not enough to support the weight.

If you decide to go down to the shoreline, it will be the only uphill you’ll encounter. Seriously it’s a step or two. Then the trail comes back around to the campground.

Monson Lake
Wide trails
Monson Bay Lake View

During the summer, the trail passes by Monson Lake Bay. Birds frequent the area, including pelicans, western grebes, wood ducks, great egrets, and blue herons.

Another cool stopping point is the spur trail. A short way down is an overlook of the lake. Campers love this secluded trail at sunset.

Camping at Monson Lake State Park

The park has 20 campsites, a mix of electric and non-electric. The sites were somewhat close together with limited privacy between spots.

Most people stop here as a day-use park. If you have a large trailer, pull directly to your spot as some have struggled to maneuver in the day-use parking lot.

Campers at Monson Lake State Park get the most benefit from lake access. They have a boat ramp, as well as canoe rentals.

What I like most is the park is the portage access to West Sunburge Lake. There is no other public water access to the lake. This makes it a relatively calm lake for paddlers.

Hiking club trail and nature trail
Hiking Club sign from the campground.
Hiking club password

Monson Lake

Monson Lake is 208 acres and has 4.1 miles of shoreline. At its deepest point, it reaches 21ft. Angeles has pulled in Black Bullhead, Bluegill, Brown Bullhead, Green Sunfish, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Bullhead, and Yellow Perch.

The lake is accessible through public water access at the state park. There is a fishing pier for those without boats to take part in the action too.

Fish For Free in Minnesota State Parks
Did you know if you have a Minnesota driver’s license you can fish for free in Minnesota State Parks? The only expectation is if the body of water requires a trout stamp, or if you are in a Recreation Area. To fish for free you must be:

1. Fishing from shore or wading in water within the state park; or
2. Fishing through the ice, from a boat or a float on a designated lake that is completely encompassed within a Minnesota state park.

Click here for the official statue.

Monson Lake Bay

Birdwatchers should not miss Monson Lake Bay. Located off the interpretive trail close to the camp. Birds frequently seen here include pelicans, wood ducks, great egrets, and great blue herons.

Those lucky enough have even reported the occasional bald eagle.

Paddle West Sunburg Lake

West Sunberug Lake’s only point of access is through a short portage from Monson Lake. The portage has a shallow pebble-covered launch. This makes it a calm lake to explore.

Canoe rental is available through the park office.

This is a great paddleboarding lake. I love the Goosehill Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle Board. They are budget-friendly and easy to transport! Check out my full review Goosehill Sailor Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle Board Review: Best iSUP

Questions about Monson Lake State Park

How long does it take to explore Monson Lake State Park?

It only takes about 1 hour to see the entire park by land. If you plan on putting in on the lake, give yourself another couple of hours.

What can you do nearby?

Monson Lake State Park is on its own little island in a sea of farmland. Because it’s a smaller park I recommend day-tripping to it and staying at Sibley State Park.

How much does it cost to visit?

All Minnesota State Parks are free with an annual permit. You can buy them in person or online for $35. If you are planning to visit for the day, expect to pay around $7.

Throughout the year, there are a few free days and other discounts you can check out too.

Camping costs anywhere from $25-35 a night.

Pro Tip: Visit any State Park during one of their free days. Check out Minnesota State Park Pass Hacks, Tips, and Free Days to find all the days

Would I go back?

I would love to go back and rent a canoe and explore Monson Lake State Park from the lake, or take my paddle board. Aside from the lake, the park is relatively small, and I’ve seen most of the land elements in 30 minutes.

I’d love to paddle around the two lakes. It’s a great park to mix with other park adventures and things to do at Monson Lake State Park in MN. The next adventure before heading home was the Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area.

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Hiking at Monson Lake State Park in Central Minnesota.

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