Geography of Big Stone County, Minnesota

Geography of Big Stone County, Minnesota

Big Stone County, situated in west-central Minnesota, boasts a diverse geography shaped by its rivers, lakes, and agricultural lands. This comprehensive overview will delve into the topography, climate, rivers, lakes, and other geographical elements that contribute to the unique character of Big Stone County.


According to Ebizdir, Big Stone County exhibits a varied topography, encompassing rolling prairies, fertile river valleys, and scenic lakeshores. The county is part of the Minnesota River Basin, and its landscape is influenced by glacial processes from the last ice age. Elevations range from approximately 960 feet to 1,170 feet above sea level.

The county is characterized by gently undulating hills and expansive flatlands. Its topography reflects a balance between the flat prairies and the more rugged areas near the Minnesota River. This diverse terrain contributes to the county’s aesthetic appeal and supports various land uses, including agriculture and outdoor recreation.


Big Stone County experiences a continental climate with distinct seasons, influenced by its inland location. Winters are cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing, while summers are warm and humid. The climate is characterized by a relatively low annual precipitation of around 25 inches, with snowfall in the winter.

Average daytime highs in winter range from the teens to the low 30s°F (-9 to 0°C), while summer temperatures can climb into the 70s and 80s°F (21 to 32°C). The county’s climate supports agricultural activities, with a growing season suitable for various crops.

Rivers and Lakes:

Rivers and lakes play a significant role in shaping the geography of Big Stone County. The Minnesota River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River, flows along the eastern border of the county. This river has been instrumental in shaping the region’s landscape and providing fertile soils for agriculture.

Big Stone Lake, the largest lake entirely within Minnesota’s borders, is a prominent feature in the county. The lake spans approximately 26 miles in length and covers an area of around 12,600 acres. It offers recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating, and camping, attracting both locals and visitors.

Artichoke Lake, another notable body of water in the county, contributes to the local hydrology and provides additional opportunities for outdoor activities. Numerous smaller lakes and wetlands dot the landscape, enhancing the overall natural beauty of the county.

Vegetation and Wildlife:

Big Stone County’s vegetation is characterized by a mix of prairie grasslands, agricultural fields, and wooded areas. The fertile soils support the cultivation of crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat. The prairies, though reduced in extent compared to historical times, still contribute to the county’s ecological diversity.

The wooded areas, often found near water bodies and along riverbanks, provide habitats for diverse wildlife. White-tailed deer, foxes, and various bird species are commonly observed in these habitats. Wetlands contribute to the biodiversity, supporting amphibians, waterfowl, and other aquatic species.

Agriculture remains a significant land use in the county, with a focus on both crop cultivation and livestock farming. The combination of prairies, farmland, and natural habitats creates a mosaic of ecosystems, each playing a role in the county’s ecological balance.

Geological Features:

Big Stone County’s geological features are influenced by glacial activity during the Pleistocene epoch. The last glacier to cover the region, known as the Des Moines Lobe, shaped the landscape through the deposition of glacial till and the formation of moraines. This glacial legacy is evident in the county’s topography and soils.

The presence of glacial moraines contributes to the varied terrain, with hills and ridges interspersed throughout the landscape. The Minnesota River Valley, carved by glacial meltwater, is a prominent geological feature that has played a crucial role in the county’s development.

Human Impact and Activities:

Human activities in Big Stone County are closely tied to its geography, with agriculture and outdoor recreation being central to the local way of life. Agriculture, supported by the fertile soils of the Minnesota River Valley, is a key economic driver. Farms in the county produce a variety of crops, contributing to both the local economy and the broader agricultural landscape of Minnesota.

Outdoor recreation is popular in Big Stone County, with its lakes and natural areas offering opportunities for fishing, boating, camping, and hiking. Big Stone Lake State Park provides a scenic setting for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring lakeshore activities and nature trails.

The county is home to several small communities, including Ortonville, the county seat, which serves as a hub for local services and cultural activities. The communities reflect the county’s rural character and contribute to its sense of community.

Cultural and Historical Sites:

Big Stone County has a rich cultural and historical heritage, and several sites reflect its past. The Big Stone County Historical Society Museum in Ortonville showcases artifacts and exhibits related to the county’s history, offering insights into the lives of early settlers and the development of the region.

The Odessa Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preserves the history of a once-thriving agricultural community. The district features well-preserved structures, providing a glimpse into the county’s past.

The Big Stone County Courthouse, with its distinctive architecture, stands as a testament to the county’s civic history. Historical markers and interpretive signs throughout the area highlight key events and landmarks, contributing to the cultural landscape of Big Stone County.


Big Stone County, Minnesota, encapsulates a harmonious blend of natural beauty, agricultural vitality, and historical significance. From the fertile fields of the Minnesota River Valley to the recreational opportunities offered by Big Stone Lake, the county presents a diverse landscape shaped by geological processes and human endeavors. As Big Stone County continues to evolve, preserving its unique geographical features will be essential for maintaining a sustainable and vibrant future for both the residents and the remarkable environments that define this part of west-central Minnesota.