Lake McConaughy is located in Western Nebraska and is a popular destination for a lot of Midwesterners. The lake itself is over 20 miles long and 4 miles wide at its largest point. It was a manmade project that resulted from the building of the Kingsley Dam in 1984. It has a lot of sandy coastline that is great to hang out on, get a tan, and let the kids play and build sandcastles. We chose to go to Lake McConaughy because our friends live in Omaha, Nebraska and so it was, approximately, a halfway point between Omaha and Denver, where we live.
Where To Stay:
There are campgrounds around the lake, including areas where you can pitch a tent or park an RV right next to the water. This is a very popular option for the lake visitors so you will definitely have some camping neighbors if you go this route. Alternatively, there are small motels and some places on internet sites such as AirBnb to rent. A word of warning, roughly 70% of the homes around Lake McConaughy are single and doublewide mobile homes that are located in trailer parks.
We were unaware of the fact that so many homes were trailer parks and when we booked our “house” we were under the impression that it was a single-family home. The biggest difference between a single-family home and a mobile home, in my opinion, is that there is very little insulation in mobile homes. This is a bit of an issue when there is a set of railroad tracks that run across the entire northern portion of the lake and the trains run all day and night 24/7. Our particular rental was located by a rail crossing so every single time a train went by it honked its horn several times. So, for four days we had train horns blasting every 10-30 minutes all day and night outside of a home that had no insulation and thin windows. Needless to say, the adults in the house did not have a very restful nights sleep during our stay.
There were no pictures of the exterior when we booked and just a vague mention of train tracks nearby. Had we known that we would be in a mobile home next to blasting train horns, I would never have paid $315 a night. The two major takeaways from our rental experience were: 1. Stay at a campground OR on the south side of the lake where there are no trains and actual single-family homes. 2. Book in advance, way in advance for a holiday weekend. We had pretty limited options for our stay and I believe that if we had booked a few months earlier we probably would have had better luck with our house.
The lake was a lot warmer than we thought it would be so the kids had a great time swimming and playing at the shore. It also wasn’t as busy as we thought, especially on Monday (Labor Day) so we felt safe and weren’t worried about crazy boaters.
The sand on the shore was really soft and clean. We had packed water shoes because we thought we may come across some rocky areas but we never did. The only small issue we came across were some areas where there were a lot of branches in the water so we did not park our boat there.
There are lots of places to park and access the shore but there are fewer boat ramps. Not every shore area has a ramp so if you are traveling with a boat make sure to look up the ramp access points before you go. Cell phone service is a little spotty so having directions before you get to the lake is your best bet.
When looking for parking, you will need to pay a cash park fee at almost every location around the lake. For Nebraska residents it is $6 a day, for out of state it is $8. There are blue envelopes that you put the cash in, write down your license plate #, and then detach a portion to put in your car. There are additional fees for camping overnight.
Important Things to Know Before You Go:
There are very limited options for dining and grocery shopping around the lake so definitely prepare yourself before you go with plenty of food and drinks. We forgot our condiments and just figured that there would be some ketchup, mayo, etc. at our AirBnb. We were wrong. We even went driving around and the tiny grocery store nearby didn’t have ketchup. Lesson learned, pack everything, even if you rent a house.
Also, if you’re planning on drinking alcohol make sure to bring your own and bring more than what you may think you’ll need because if you try and go to the small local grocery store you will have very limited options that are significantly more expensive than if you were to buy alcohol back home.
An important rule to know is that the lake has a ban on glass containers and alcoholic beverages.
There is a nice 18-hole golf course on the southern side of the lake that our friend was able to get a tee time at on Monday morning with no trouble at all. He really enjoyed it and had wished we were staying longer so he could play another day.
More information about Lake McConaughy can be found here