Across Albert Lea Lake from Albert Lea  is Big Island State Park (19499 780th Ave., 507/379-3403). Oak savanna and prairie, including expansive prairie wetlands, dominate most of the park, though the 116-acre island itself, protected from the fires that perpetuated the prairies, is covered by a dense northern hardwood forest.
The 2,028-acre park protects 8 of the lake’s 20 miles of shoreline, and hundreds of migrating waterfowl converge on the wetlands. Some 16 miles of hiking trail loop through the park.
The best destination for bird-watchers is the 1.5-mile Great Marsh Trail, which follows the rolling hills around a large pond. The freeway hum is pretty loud, but the birds don’t mind.
The Bur Oak Esker Trail crosses four miles of similar terrain, plus adds some lakeshore. The glacial moraine of the last Ice Age not only formed the lake, but also an esker, and the north end of this trail follows it. Four lakeside backpack sites, reached by foot, mountain bike, or canoe, are stretched out along this trail.
The easiest path, the mile-long Big Island Trail, is also the most popular. Five miles of trail, including those on Big Island, are groomed for cross-country skiing. The 34 campsites (half of them electric) and camper cabin in the Big Island Campground are in the woods, while most of the 59 sites (15 electric) in the White Fox Campground are out in the open. The lake is too shallow for a beach, but there is a picnic area and boat launch, and rental canoes are available.
The paved Blazing Star Bike Trail leads from the park to near downtown, a six-mile trip.