Home » 2001 Cross Country Road Trip

Lake McConaughy State Park, NE

Thursday, July 12, 2001 - 12:00pm by Lolo
165 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


The problem with living on the East Coast is that a trip to the West involves 2 or 3 days of pretty solid driving before you can even get started. That's just too long to go without some fun, so I usually try to find something good along the way to break up the trip. The National Geographic guides such as Crossing America, Scenic Highways and Byways, and State Parks are really good resources to help find things to do anywhere in the U.S. This time we were traveling west on I80, so we decided to stop and spend a night at Lake McConaughy State Park in Nebraska, right near the Colorado border.

Boys at Lake McConaughyBoys at Lake McConaughyWe were quite excited when we saw the lake. It was totally undeveloped--which we like--with beautiful aquamarine water surrounded by miles of sandy shoreline that you can drive your RV on and camp for the night. It was quite busy with jet skis and powerboats, but there was still plenty of room for everyone to have a good time.

There were some developed campgrounds along the lake where you could park on asphalt and get electric hookup, but we really wanted to primitive camp on the beach. We were, however, a bit nervous about getting stuck in the sand, and the enterprising farmers with their tractors poised on the beach ready to offer their towing services didn't exactly give us a warm and fuzzy about this. However, we were determined, and after some searching, we found an area of hard-packed sand under some pretty cottonwood trees that we were comfortable with. The lake was only about 50 yards outside our back window--quite nice!

We had hardly settled in before the wind picked up and a pretty impressive thunderstorm came through, but we didn't mind. We actually like thunderstorms and they are even more fun to watch out west where you can get a panoramic view of the lightning. It wasn't long before the storm passed and the sun came back out, so we quickly headed down to the lake for a swim. The water was clean and warm and just what we needed.

The next morning while the kids were still sleeping, Herb and I went for a great run around the cove we were camping on and ended it with a refreshing leap into the lake. What a great way to start a day!

Lake McConaughy had definitely been much more than we expected--we were just looking for a nice passing through spot to break up our long driving days, but I can easily see how this could be an end destination in itself. I'm sure we'll be back here again someday when our travels take us west along I80.


Lake McConaughy, nicknamed "Big Mac," is the largest reservoir in Nebraska. It is located just a few miles off Interstate 80 near the Colorado border. The reservoir, which is over 20 miles long and 4 miles wide when at full capacity, was formed on the Platte River by the Kingsley Dam. The lake has over 100 mile of white-sand beaches along its shore line.

To Nebraskans, the main attraction of Lake McConaughy is water activities--swimming, boating, windsurfing, skiing, and world-class fishing. Trophy size catfish, walleye, stripers, bass, and trout have been caught in "Big Mac."

The park has 200 tent and RV sites. However, most people choose to primitive camp right on the beach at the water's edge. Camping is on a first-come first-serve basis.

NebraskaBornAnd Bred on February 20, 2009

I just wanted to say how glad I am you enjoyed your stay at Lake McConaughy, or "The Lake" as our family referred to it when I was growing up. I have lived in Arizona for 20 years now, but will never forget all the great times our family had at the lake. Learned my first word there, not ironically my first word was Walleye. Spent many weekends at the lake as a kid. Learned to ski, swim, fish, clean fish, just have a great time at the lake. It was always alot closer to full capacity while growning up. Now I see pictures of the lake and fell so sad that so many people are missing out on the great times I had at the lake while growing up. The "Bays" are merely large beaches now. The boat ramps mostly high and dry, except for the couple of new ones they have poured since the lake lost so much water. So many time I have wanted to go back to the lake, but seeing the picture people have posted on line I know it would be too sad to go now. It's not the great place it was while growing up. I know times change and with progress comes sacrifice. I am very glad I moved to Arizona. Don't have the time or money to make a trip to the lake now. It would take a day of driving just to get there. I just hope that when/if your travels take you west on I-80 again there is still a Lake McConaughy left to visit. I am happy you enjoyed your stop at the lake. Best Wishes to you in all your future travels.

Herb on March 1, 2009

Hi NebraskaBornAndBred Thanks for the comment on Lake McConaughy. We too enjoyed it so much that we also camped there on our 2003 and 2005 cross country trips. You are right though about the decreasing water levels. We could even tell the difference in the few years that we went there. I can't imagine what it must have been like back when you were a kid. Still it is a great stop and a real surprise to find so much water and sandy beaches not far off route 80. Safe travels!

Lake McConaughy State Park location map in "high definition"

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