Bicycling near Ortonville, MN

Posted by Doug Shidell, October 10th, 2012

Looking across Big Stone Lake

Ortonville, Minnesota, on the South Dakota border, was our destination for the weekend. so the question became- is it worth bringing our bikes?

The answer is a qualified Yes. The area is surprisingly attractive and geologically interesting. Ortonville is located on Big Stone Lake, a long, wide and shallow lake that is the source of the Minnesota River. Just north of it, at Brown’s Valley, is Lake Traverse, the source of the Red River. The two rivers flow in opposite directions: The Minnesota River flows to the Mississippi and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The Red River flows north and connects with rivers flowing into Hudson’s Bay. The Continental Divide is at the south side of Lake Traverse.

A circle tour of Big Stone Lake is about 70 miles. I suggest a clockwise loop using Hwy 109 and County Rd 4 on the South Dakota side of the lake and Hwy 7 along the Minnesota side. The South Dakota side is wide open, with very few trees and several long straight segments of road. It is not flat. Hwy 109 climbs a series of buttes, the ancient beaches of Glacial Lake Agassiz, traverses the high flat plains at the top of the buttes, then drops back down into the Big Stone Lake basin.

Take a break in Brown’s Valley and head north on Hwy 7 about a mile to Lake Traverse and the Continental Divide. Lake Traverse is an attractive lake that might offer good road riding near it, but we didn’t explore the area.

Heading south, along Hwy 7 in Minnesota, check the historical markers. Brown’s Valley Man, the oldest skeleton in the US (9,000 years old) was discovered in this area in the 1960s.

Hwy 7 wanders away from the lake for a few miles, then makes its way back to the shore and turns into a narrow, winding road that loops and twists through woods and along the shoreline. It’s a beautiful road, but it doesn’t have a shoulder, so be aware of traffic and avoid the road during harvest season (October) because fast moving grain hauling semis use it to get between farm fields and granaries.

So why a qualified yes? The narrow road and limited sight lines of Hwy 7 and the wide open, straight roads of South Dakota won’t work for some riders. Casual and trail riders also have limited options. The Minnesota River State Trail, the only trail in the immediate area, starts in Ortonville and goes 3.5 miles along the Minnesota River, then ends abruptly.

I found the area attractive and with more time would have enjoyed exploring it in depth. There are other lakes in the area, many surrounded by nature preserves and quiet paved roads, that hold promise for good bike riding. If I find myself traveling to the area again, I will bring my bike.

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