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Big Island Nature Park

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Phase 1 Archaeological Reconnaissance of Big Island, 2019

Big Island Nature Park Brochure (PDF)

Big Island Nature Park Managment Plan (PDF)

Big Island Nature Park Map (PDF)

Big Island Nature Park Rules (PDF)


  1. Dock
  2. Trails
Located on 56 acres at the eastern section of Lake Minnetonka’s Big Island, Big Island Nature Park brings recreation in harmony with nature.

The property is well known as the home of the former Big Island Veterans Camp, and has a long history of recreational use dating to the early 1900s, including as an amusement park. Through mutual collaboration between the City of Orono, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and other partners, Big Island Nature Park is intended to preserve the unique natural, physical and cultural resources of the site.


Orono’s Big Island Nature Park property, like much of Lake Minnetonka’s shoreland, has undergone a series of transformations over the past century. However, in contrast to the ever-intensifying nature of the Lake’s residential development, the Big Island Park property has experienced a gradual reversion back to a substantially undeveloped state with a diversity of significant natural resource features.

A Thriving Amusement Park

The Park property has a rich history of recreational use that today’s casual passerby might never have imagined. It was home to a thriving amusement park in the early 1900s operated by the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, drawing thousands of visitors who were transported to the island via steam-powered ferryboats. The Big Island Amusement Park included a water tower near the center of the Park with a 186 foot high electric beacon that could be seen from all points on the lake.

Other buildings included a music casino that featured many of the famous bands of the time, a number of picnic kitchens, and a variety of amusement rides including a roller coaster and a carousel.

This regional attraction lasted only 6 seasons before it closed and was eventually dismantled. Remnants of the grandeur of the Big Island Amusement Park can still be found on the site, including the grand entry portal stairway and old foundation remnants hidden among the Island’s wooded glens.

Big Island Veterans Camp

In 1923, the property became the Big Island Veterans Camp, offering camping and other recreational opportunities to Minnesota’s war veterans. A large dining hall was constructed on the high central knoll of the site, and a variety of cabins and campsites were developed. Use of the camp by veterans and their families continued until 2003, when the Vets Camp Board of Governors voted to dispose of the property and use the proceeds for other veterans needs throughout Minnesota.

Protection by City & State

The City of Orono stepped up and in partnership with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District obtained a grant from the State of Minnesota to purchase the property for park purposes. A majority of the site was placed in a Conservation Easement to preserve its open space and natural character. The remainder of the site will only be minimally developed to allow for passive recreational and educational uses.

Conservation & Recreation

Big Island Nature Park is open to the public as a nature preserve. Approximately 75% of the park acreage is protected by a Conservation Easement with the intent to retain the natural character of the property. Informal hiking trails allow access to beautiful vistas of Lake Minnetonka, and nature lovers will find a wealth of plants, animals and birds that make the island their home. The Park has two docks available, one to accommodate occasional stops by the steamboat Minnehaha, and a second dock for general public use.

Limitations & Prohibited Activities

Overnight camping, fires and alcohol are prohibited, and there are no toilet facilities or drinking water available. Large group activities are limited - permits required.