Big Sand Lake, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Northwest -

One of the many beautiful lakes in Northwest Minnesota is Big Sand Lake with over 1600 acres, providing many opportunities to enjoy water sports of all types. Located 40 miles south of Bemidji, Big Sand Lake often doesn’t make the first-time visitor’s radar as it has only two lodge resorts along its shoreline. Most of the eight-mile lakefront is privately owned and holds many properties that have been jealously guarded and handed down within families for generations. Big Sand Lake is the kind of lake where adults have spent every summer within their memory here and share its secrets with grandchildren and great-grandchildren on their annual summer visit. Memories are made here, and preserved by the younger generations who vow to build a place of their own on Big Sand Lake.

Like many of the lakes in this part of Minnesota, Big Sand Lake is known for its sandy beaches, heavily wooded backdrop, and pristine waters. Residents and visitors engage in swimming, canoeing, kayaking, pontooning, water skiing, tubing, jet-skiing and sailing. Even with all of this activity, it is still possible to find the solitary fisherman happily angling on the fog-shrouded, nearly-deserted lake. Many of the properties along the lake’s shore hold several acres of land, and many are only occupied seasonally. This gives a sense of solitude which sets Big Sand Lake apart from the busier lakes in the area. A public access area on the south-east shoreline allows visiting anglers to launch their boats, and small boats can also enter through the tiny inlet from Lake Emma and the outlet to Lake Ida. The two resorts on the lake rent watercraft to their guests, including small boats, pontoons, and personal watercraft.

Big Sand Lake is known for its excellent fishing. Walleye, yellow perch, tullibee (cisco), northern pike, smallmouth bass, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed and largemouth bass are all present, primarily in the shallower areas. Varied underwater structure makes for excellent fishing and is much appreciated by experienced anglers. The lake is stocked in even-numbered years with walleye fingerlings and a ‘slot-limit’ on walleye assures many of the larger fish are returned to the water. All walleye between 20 and 28 inches must be released, and only one exceeding 28 inches may be kept. This keeps the number of smaller walleye down while allowing the larger ones to grow.

Although Big Sand Lake’s water is of exceptional clarity, the Big Sand Lake Association works with county and state to monitor water quality and prevent future problems. Although some lakes in the area have experienced an infestation of zebra mussels, Big Sand Lake has so far been spared the damaging interlopers. The BSLA works to educate boaters and shoreline residents of the dangers of invasive species like the zebra mussel, raises funds for ongoing monitoring efforts, and promotes sound shoreline improvements.

In an effort to develop a sense of community and cooperation among Big Sand Lake property owners, the BSLA sponsors community events such as the long-running 4th of July boat parade, and is working on a second boat parade to feature lighted boats and pontoons after dark. In winter, such activities as ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are favorites. Hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails draw visitors to the area in winter. Thousands of acres of public land are open to hunting in season for deer, bear, goose, duck, grouse and wild turkey. The same areas are available for nature observation the rest of the year. A large number of birds and waterfowl call the area home. Within 20 miles of Big Sand Lake, visitors can enjoy Itasca State Park, the location of the official headwaters of the Mississippi River. Paul Bunyan State Forest, Two Inlets State Forest, and several smaller tracts of land are open to the public. Canoe waters, trails, lakes and campsites are numerous in the area.

Only three miles south of Big Sand Lake, the tiny village of Dorset sits astride the well-known Heartland Trail. Dorset has made the most of its location as a tourism crossroads by cultivating an atmosphere of hospitality and service. The town holds several festivals during the summer, offers restaurants, general store, antique shop, artisan shops and even a bed-and-breakfast next to the trail. Less than ten miles from Park Rapids, Big Sand Lake visitors are never far from a golf course or necessary services. Park Rapids produces a detailed ‘discovery’ guide highlighting all of the attractions, lodgings and outdoor venues in the surrounding area. This is Paul Bunyan Country, and there are annual festivals in his honor, replete with logging exhibitions, competitions and parades.

Although this historic area was explored by Henry Schoolcraft and his Native American guides who located the Mississippi headwaters in 1832, it wasn’t until the 1880s that regular settlement began. Before that time, the area around Big Sand Lake was the sole range of Native American tribes, fur trappers and explorers. This is a young area in terms of European settlement. The remains of the farms and fields left by those early settlers can still be seen in many areas near the lake.

Although resort lodgings on the lake are limited, the resorts are usually open during the winter to accommodate snowmobilers and winter sports fans. Several local property owners rent their private cottages and lake homes for short periods. Other lakes in the area also have resorts and lodges, and campgrounds and RV parks are numerous in the area. Bed-and breakfasts, hotels and motels nearby also offer both standard amenities and housekeeping cottages or kitchenettes to accommodate every visitor’s needs. Real estate is available on Big Sand Lake, usually a few properties awaiting new owners who want to make Big Sand Lake memories their own. Spend a week or two here and you’ll want to pass down Big Sand Lake memories to your grandchildren.

Things to do at Big Sand Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • State Forest
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Big Sand Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Cisco
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Big Sand Lake Photo Gallery

Big Sand Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 1,659 acres

Shoreline Length: 8 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,428 feet

Average Depth: 12 feet

Maximum Depth: 135 feet

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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