Outdoor activity is popular here, probably due to the many natural amenities in and around Big Lake. The location on the shores of Big and Mitchell Lakes is a magnificent setting for unstructured exploration of the plant and wildlife native to the area. Other sites include the Sherburne County National Wildlife Refuge, Sand Dunes State Forest, Lake Maria State Park and Oliver H. Kelly Farm.
The wildlife refuge is the most expansive of these, covering over 30,000 acres of land. A combination of wetlands and oak savanna provides a habitat for many types of birds, including eagles and loons. The region can be enjoyed on the hiking trails and wildlife drive; open hiking and cross-country skiing are also allowed. Fishing on the St. Francis River is an option, as is hunting in designated areas. Much of the site is designated as a wildlife sanctuary and is, therefore, closed to public access during the breeding season from March through August.
The Sand Dunes State Forest and Lake Maria State Park are primarily used for hiking. The Sand Dunes forest maintains 18 miles of trails, which can be used for snowmobiling and horseback riding as well. The trails at Lake Maria wind through marshes, rolling hills and “Big Woods,” a forest that used to cover much of southern Minnesota.
Oliver H. Kelley Farm provides a much different look at Minnesota. Located 10 miles east of Big Lake, the facility is a themed, active exhibit of farm life in the 1860s. Visitors may watch costumed guides perform plowing, harvesting and gardening demonstrations or learn how to weave straw or make soap. There is a house, barn and outbuildings on site for visitors to explore.
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