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Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area

Big Changes at the Big Lake


Sailboats and campers on the beach at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area. Photo by Eric Fowler.

By Julie Geiser

Nearly everything about Lake McConaughy is big. At 30,000 surface acres, it is Nebraska’s largest reservoir, its dam is among the largest of its kind in the world, and its fish grow to trophy proportions, accounting for several state records. Even its nickname, “Big Mac,” reflects its size.

Located 8 miles northeast of Ogallala, Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area is known to most Nebraskans and residents of neighboring states as a great place for outdoor recreation. Lake Mac’s white sand beaches and clear waters are highly valued by those seeking outdoor fun. The lake draws campers, boaters, wind surfers, swimmers, picnickers, scuba divers, hunters and anglers.

Located on the east side of Kingsley Dam, Lake Ogallala is known locally as “the little lake” and is small, gentle and sedate at 320 acres. This state recreation area is a well-known family destination, renowned for its fishing, birdwatching, camping and kayaking opportunities. Though it lacks the sandy beaches of its neighbor to the west, its protected shoreline wards off winds, providing visitors peace.

In 2016, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved the Lake McConaughy/Lake Ogallala Master Plan, a collaborative effort between the Commission and state and local stakeholders, to develop the parks for the future and protect critical natural resources.

Since its implementation in 2017, Game and Parks has invested more than $4 million in repairs and improvements to the parks, upgrading campground utilities, restrooms, boat docks, angler access areas, and park entrance stations, and improving

The Commission and local stakeholders will continue to make significant investments in infrastructure and services. By expanding recreational opportunities and providing safe, family-friendly outdoor experiences, our hope is to bring this area into the future for the next generation of park users.  

One of the big draws to Lake McConaughy is recreational activities on the water; people come from all over Nebraska to boat, tube, fish and enjoy family fun at the big lake. Photo by Eric Fowler.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Lake McConaughy

• Little Thunder, Lone Eagle and Cedar View campgrounds have been upgraded with new utilities, restrooms, tables, grills and more than 400 new trees. Financial assistance from the Keith County Visitor’s Committee made many of these projects possible.
• Little Thunder has 8 full-service sites with electricity, water and sewage, and 34 sites with newly upgraded 50-amp electrical hookups and a new vault latrine.
• Lone Eagle has 84 full-service campsites with electrical, water and sewer hookups and a new vault latrine.
• Cedar View now features 85 modern sites with 50-amp electrical and water hookups, along with 13 basic campsites. A new shower and restroom will be installed in the near future.
• New shower facilities have been installed at Martin Bay with more planned in the near future. A wastewater treatment facility was installed at Martin Bay in 2019 to help facilitate increased visitation and future expansion.
• Contracted services, including refuse removal and portable restrooms, have been expanded to improve the quality of beach users’ experience.
• Improvements have been made for beach access along Shoreline Road. Walk-in, day-use areas with new parking lots at multiple locations will accommodate increased traffic. Improvements to the road’s 18 beach access points will better facilitate beach-bound vehicles.
• A new gate house was installed at Cedar View in an effort to help visitors with park questions and to collect required fees to the area, along with expanded operating hours at park gate houses.

Lake Ogallala

• The East Campground at Lake Ogallala has been upgraded with new utilities and amenities, with financial assistance from the Keith County Visitor’s Committee, including 82 50-amp electrical pedestals, a new shower facility and vault latrine.
• Angler access improvements have been made in the northwest corner of the reservoir, which features an accessible peninsula along with a 160-foot floating fishing bridge.
• New boat docks were installed on the west side of Lake Ogallala; the northern dock features an accessible kayak and canoe launch – the first of its kind in western Nebraska.
• A new park gate house was installed in an effort to help visitors with park questions and to collect required fees to the area, along with expanded operating hours at all park gate houses.

Future Development

Additional improvements will include an improved boat ramp with new amenities at Martin Bay, enhancements to an existing ramp at Cedar View, new campgrounds, parking areas, gate house installations, showers, restrooms and more.

A hike and bike trail starts in the campground at Lake Ogallala and leads park visitors on a 1.8 mile, one-way trip to the diversion dam. Photo by Julie Geiser.

About julie geiser

Julie Geiser is a Public Information Officer and NEBRASKAland Regional Editor based out of North Platte, where she was born and still happily resides. Geiser worked for the commission previously for over 10 years as an outdoor education instructor – teaching people of all ages about Nebraska’s outdoor offerings. She also coordinates the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). Geiser went on to work in marketing and writing an outdoor column for the North Platte Telegraph before returning to NGPC in her current position. She loves spending time outdoors with her family and getting others involved in her passions of hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking and enjoying Nebraska’s great outdoors.