Auto Tour Route Open to Vehicle Traffic!

The Big Stone NWR Auto Tour Route will remain fully open until the next big snow fall. Follow these alerts for updates. 2/12/2024

Visit Us

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge offers everyone a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings. Visitors to the refuge are encouraged to travel the wildlife drive where they can see the majestic granite rock outcrops, numerous wildlife and a diversity of habitats that the refuge protects.  

The tallgrass prairie region is one of extremes. Temperatures can drop to well below -20° F in the winter months and rise to 90° F during the summer months. Summertime also marks the season for fast moving thunderstorms. Dress appropriately and bring extra clothing along with weather appropriate head protection. Keep an eye to the sky and check the weather forecast before your outing as daily weather conditions can bring dramatic change! Insect repellent is also a good idea as warm weather brings mosquitoes and ticks.

Driving Directions

The refuge office is located approximately eight miles east of Ortonville, Minnesota and one-half mile west of Odessa, Minnesota. From Highway 7/75, take Big Stone County Road 19 south approximately three-quarters of a mile. The refuge headquarters is on the west side of the road.

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
44843 County Road 19
Odessa, MN 56276
Phone: 320-273-2191
Email: BigStone@fws.gov

Fees

There is no charge to visit.

Restrooms

Restrooms are available inside the visitor center and refuge headquarters. Comfort stations are located by one of the parking lots within the auto tour route.

Points of Interest

Rock Outcrops

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge is named for the 100 acres of granite outcrops. These bare rock areas support unusual species of endangered cactus including the ball cactus. Some of these rock outcrops are very large and offer amazing panoramic views of the entire refuge and its wide variety of wildlife. Species that use this habitat the most are skinks, common nighthawks and snakes.

Ball Cactus

Ball cactus is a state listed endangered plant and is found on the granite rock outcrops on the refuge. This is a warm season cactus that flowers in June and July and produces fruits in the fall. When you visit the refuge, you may encounter this cactus along the Rock Outcrop Trail, which is accessible from the auto tour route. Another cactus that you might encounter along this trail and other outcrops is the brittle prickly pear.

Wetlands

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge historically offered a combination of small wetlands and abundant prairie – both critical to waterfowl breeding and nesting. Small wetlands – some temporary and some permanent - provided not only nesting habitat, but also food and shelter for egrets, herons and other waterbirds. The Highway 75 dam created two impoundments, referred to as the West and East Pools, that added an additional 4,250 acres of wetlands to the refuge. Water levels in these two pools can be managed to provide the right mix of plants and waters during different seasons. Refuge wetlands support a diversity of wildlife by providing resting, feeding and nesting for birds. Keep an eye out for snapping turtles, western tiger salamanders, frogs and toads when you visit these habitats. Along the banks and edges of wetlands, you can also find mink, river otter and ground squirrels.

Tallgrass Prairie

Abundant grasslands that once covered west central Minnesota were critical for nesting waterfowl and a variety of other birds. This is typical tallgrass prairie country where only occasional oak trees can be found. The refuge is fortunate to have 1,245 acres of remnant or unplowed tallgrass prairie. Remnant tallgrass prairie once covered more than 25 million acres of Minnesota and Iowa. The original tallgrass prairie is mostly gone now with only one-tenth of one percent remaining and is arguably the rarest habitat in North America.

What To Do

Hunting

The refuge offers public hunting opportunities consistent with state designated seasons and regulations. Please note that waterfowl hunting is not allowed. Species open to hunting include: gray partridge, cottontail rabbit, white-tailed jackrabbit, gray and fox squirrel, pheasant, turkey, and white-tailed deer. For more information about where you can hunt on refuge lands, and specific regulations regarding hunting, please refer to refuge public use regulations. Refuge hunting season dates and regulations are consistent with those established by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Contact the refuge manager at 320-273-2191 for more information.

Fishing

Fishing is a popular activity at the refuge, with some of the most popular places to fish along reservoir levees and spillways. Fishing from the banks of the Minnesota and Yellowbank Rivers are also productive. You're also welcome to use the fishing platforms that are located on the refuge along with the East Pool during the winter months for ice fishing.

For more information and specific regulations regarding fishing on the refuge please refer to Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge Public Use Regulations. Refuge fishing season dates and regulations are consistent with those established by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. For additional information, contact the refuge at 320-273-2191.

Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife viewing and photography opportunities are abundant on the refuge. During spring and fall migration you can see up to 17 species of waterfowl and more than 23 species of shorebirds. Look for waterfowl species like mallards, blue-winged teal, Canada geese and northern shovelers. You might also encounter common shorebird species like killdeer, yellowlegs and sandpipers. During your visit, you’ll also have the chance to see birds of prey like bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and kestrels. During the spring and summer months, birds like bobolinks, meadowlarks, marsh wrens and Virginia rails breed and nest on the refuge.

Other animals to look for year-round include: beaver, mink, white-tailed deer and river otters. Spring and summer offer great chances to see thirteen-lined ground squirrel, snapping turtles, frogs and salamanders. For a detailed list of wildlife on the refuge see the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge species list.

If you have one hour

Take self-guided tours in the auto tour route, along trails, using kiosks and interpretive signs to explore our refuge! Enjoy the tallgrass prairies, wetlands and river woodlands that this area has to offer. During hunting seasons, consider wearing blaze orange for your safety.

If you have half a day or more

Perhaps the fastest growing activity on national wildlife refuges in the past 10 years has been wildlife photography. That’s not surprising – the digital camera population explosion and cell phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities are increasing the number of nature photographers at a rapid rate. You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started. A small camera or basic cell phone will do just fine for most visitors. During hunting seasons, consider wearing blaze orange for your safety.

Nearly 12 million people visit outdoor areas each year to photograph wildlife and national wildlife refuges naturally are at the top of the list. Refuges provide enhanced opportunities to photograph wildlife in natural habitats by providing platforms, brochures, interpreters, viewing areas and tour routes. Wildlife photography is a high-priority activity in the National Wildlife Refuge System. We welcome beginning and expert photographers alike to record their outdoor adventures on film, memory card or internal hard drive.

Know Before You Go

Keep an eye to the sky and check the weather forecast before your outing as daily weather conditions can bring dramatic change! Insect repellent is also a good idea as warm weather brings mosquitoes and ticks.

Visitor Tips

The tallgrass prairie region is one of extremes. Temperatures can drop to well below -20° F in the winter months and rise to 90° F during the summer months. Summertime also marks the season for fast moving thunderstorms. Dress appropriately and bring extra clothing along with weather appropriate head protection.

Trails

There are several hiking trails within the auto tour route. The auto tour route is a five-mile paved roadway that winds through an interior portion of the refuge. It is located about 1.5 miles SE of Ortonville, Minnesota on Highway 7/75. There are three options for you to enjoy along the Granite Outcrop Trail, within the auto tour route.

Boardwalk

Open Season: Available when the auto tour route is open
Length: Short
Location of trail: Granite outcrops within the auto tour route
Surface: Boardwalk
Difficulty: Easy
Information: The boardwalk trail will bring you to a small deck overlooking the Minnesota River

Paved Loop

Open Season: Available when the auto tour route is open
Length: 0.14 mile
Location of trail: Granite outcrops within the auto tour route
Surface: Paved
Difficulty: Moderate
Information: The paved loop will give you a close look at the granite outcrops found along the Minnesota River

Outcrop Trail

Open Season: Available when the auto tour route is open
Length: 0.70 mile
Location of trail: Granite outcrops within the auto tour route
Surface: Gravel/Earthen
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, be prepared for uneven terrain
Information: The trail brings you up and over granite outcrops with a view of the Minnesota River

Minnesota River Headwaters Trail

Open Season: Available when the auto tour route is open
Length: 1.3 miles
Location of trail: Within the Refuge, the trail is accessed from the auto tour route. The trail can also be accessed at the intersection of Mill Rd and County Road 15 south of Ortonville, MN. A two mile section of trail is paved and mostly follows the Minnesota River channel before it enters the north part of the Refuge, at which point the trail converts to gravel. 
Surface: Unpaved
Difficulty: Moderate
Information: This trail offers a trip through riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
woodland and floodplain wetland habitats

Look for the other routes as indicated on the kiosks, they vary in degree of difficulty and length. Visitors are also encouraged to park in the parking lots south of the refuge headquarters and enjoy walking or hiking through the prairie grasses along the Minnesota River.

Rules and Policies

We welcome you to visit Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge year-round to learn about the tallgrass prairie and to recreate. We ask that you follow our specific public use regulations and reach out to our refuge manager if you have questions.

General Restrictions

Access to the refuge is open from sunrise to sunset, unless otherwise posted or stated in hunting regulations.

Prohibited activities

  • Target shooting
  • Training pets and allowing pets off leash
  • All types of motorized vehicles on all refuge land - to include on frozen bodies of water - except on designated parking areas, access roads and public roads
  • Motorized watercraft use is prohibited
  • Camping, open fires and overnight parking is prohibited
  • Abandoning, discarding or otherwise leaving any personal property. All property brought onto a refuge must be removed at the end of each day. This includes all common items like vehicles, boats, decoys, trail cameras, blinds, geocaching items, photography equipment, portable stands, climbing sticks, ice fishing shelters and trash.
  • Destructing, defacing, disturbing or unauthorized removal of any natural object, artifact, cultural resource or government property
  • Introducing, liberating or placing plants or animals, or their parts taken elsewhere, on refuge lands or waters
  • Disposing of animal carcasses, trash, refuse, rocks, wood or other debris
  • Cutting, mowing, sawing, digging, collecting, injuring or removing vegetation
  • Use, launching, landing or disturbing of wildlife by aircraft drones, and other unmanned aerial vehicles on the refuge - for either recreational or commercial purposes
  • Commercial enterprise without a special use permit
  • Use or possession of any illegal drug or drug paraphernalia is prohibited
  • Parking in front of gates, water access points, water control structures or on bridges. 

Hunting

  • The refuge is open tu upland game and deer hunting. Upland game includes: ring-necked pheasant, Hungarian partridge, cottontail and jack rabbit, raccoon, striped skunk, gray and fox squirrel, red and gray fox, and wild turkey.  Please see refuge-specific regulations below:
  • For small game hunting  hunters using shotguns, including turkey hunters, are required to use and possess only non-toxic shot
  • During the small game seasons,  hunting dogs must be under the immediate control of the hunter
  • Hunters must wear an article of blaze orange or pink consistent with state regulations
  • We prohibit constructing or occupying permanent stands or blinds. We also prohibit the use of nails, wire, screws or bolts to attach a stand to a tree or hunting from a tree, into which a metal object has been driven to support a hunter. Portable hunting stands must be set up and removed each day.
  • We prohibit the use or possession of alcoholic beverages while hunting
  • We prohibit distribution of feed or bait or hunting over bait. This includes salts and minerals.
  • Fox and  raccoon hunting is open 1st day of state season through the last day of February from 1/2 hour before legal sunrise to sunset. 
  • Skunk hunting is open September 1 through the last day of February from 1/2 hour before legal sunrise to sunset. 
  • The refuge is CLOSED to all migratory game bird hunting
  • Waterfowl taken outside the refuge boundary may be retrieved up to 100 yards (90m) inside areas of the refuge that are open to all other hunting. Waterfowl may not be retrieved from areas closed to hunting.
  • The refuge is CLOSED to coyote hunting
  • For deer hunting, entry into the refuge is not allowed earlier than two (2) hours before legal shooting hours
  • Shooting from or over roads and parking areas is prohibited
  • It is illegal to retrieve game from areas closed to hunting

Trapping

  • Trapping is permitted by special use permit only. Contact refuge manager for details and information.

Fishing

  • The refuge is open to bank fishing on all refuge pools and marshes. Please see refuge specific regulations below.
  • Motorized watercraft use is prohibited
  • We prohibit all types of motorized vehicles on frozen water bodies
  • We prohibit the taking of any turtle, frog, leech, minnow, crayfish, and mussel (clam) species by any method on the refuge
  • Fishing is permitted on all refuge waters except the abandoned quarries. These sites are fenced and posted with “Area Closed” signs.
  • Fishing is allowed during daylight hours only

Artificial Lights

  • You may not use a spotlight, headlight or other artificial light to spot, locate or take any wild animal in a refuge.

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge Specific

  • Pets must be leashed at all times, except when used for hunting during a small game season
  • Non-motorized boats and boats using electric motors are permitted only in the Minnesota River channel. Boats are prohibited on all other refuge waters.

Additional Information:

  • The above information is a partial list of rules and regulations. Consult the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge Public Use Brochure for more details.
  • Special-use permits may be issued for compatible secondary uses upon approval of the refuge manager. Contact the refuge office for application information at 320-273-2191.
     

Locations

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
44843 County Road 19Odessa,MN56276-2062
Hours
Visitor Center and Headquarters Office Hours
Monday - Friday, excluding federal holidays. The office may be closed due to weather, if local schools are closed.
8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Refuge Lands Hours
Daily
Dawn to dusk for approved activities. Hunting hours follow those set by the Minnesota State hunting regulations, except where noted.
Auto Tour Hours
First Monday in April - First Monday in December unless otherwise noted at the top of our Home Page
Sunrise to sunset for approved activities.