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Sunday, May 19, 2024

CAMPGROUND REVIEW - Big Sandy Lake Corp of Engineers Campground near McGregor MN

Tuesday, May 14th, we left Highland Ridge Corp of Engineer Park at 10:00 a.m. We headed West and crossed into Minnesota at St Croix Falls around 11:15 a.m. 

We worked our way around on back roads to avoid going through Minneapolis or St Paul. Big City driving isn't for us.

We headed on further west into North Central Minnesota. We had our eye on hitting a couple Corp of Engineer campgrounds.

We read the reviews for this one called Sandy Lake Recreational Area, located on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, Minnesota. 

The campground is up on the north end of the lake where there's a dam. This helps control the flow of the water out of the lake. This whole system in this area is comprised of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. So the Corps of Engineers carefully controls the water flow throughout the entire region.

The campground itself is divided into two loops with two separate entrances. The two loops of the campground are connected by a walkway over the dam, but you cannot drive a vehicle over it. We took the first entrance, and checked out the campsites on the southern end of the campground. They are sites number 1 through 14 and are located on a little jutted out peninsula into the lake. There was a sign that said DEAD END .... But there was not any type of sign that said no turnaround or ability to get out once you pull onto this little road!!! We drove past about 7 campsites on each side, and we were faced with a fence. That was it. No cul-de-sac, no loop to turn around in, just a fence with parking for the tent sites beyond it. Oh my!

We were lucky we were in a small rig, even though we were pulling the cargo trailer. Instead of a three-point turn, Steve had to do about a seven or eight-point turn to get us out of there! So please be warned, don't go down that first road into sites 1 through 14 unless you absolutely know that is where you are camping!!! 

The sites are very short and not made for big rigs. But what is nice is that each one has it's own little fishing dock to walk directly out of your campsite right to your boat and go fishing. I'm sure they are very very popular sites. We just didn't expect the end of the road and no spot to turn around!

So we exited that area and drove on up to the other entrance for the Northern Loop. Ahhhhh this was more like it. The sites were nicely spaced apart, very deep, and pretty much level on every single one. It was lightly forested with trees that gave shade, but not heavily forested that you didn't get any sunshine. It was exactly what we were looking for...

The campsites are $26 a night, that includes electricity. There are dump stations on both loops of the campground. And there is a water filling station on the northern loop. We did notice a heavy chlorine smell to the water. Be forewarned. 

With our Senior Access America the Beautiful pass, we got the campsite for $13 a night. We decided that it was so nice we were going to stay for five nights which would carry us through the weekend. 

You have three choices on how you would like to pay for a campsite:

Number 1: you can check online to see if the site you like is available and that it is not reserved, and make the reservation online yourself. Using your credit card, there are no reservation fees when you do it online. 

Number 2: you can call the 1-800 phone number that is located on each post and do the payment over the phone to the staff at the Corps of Engineers office, and use a credit card over the phone to pay for your campsite. 

Number 3: there's a payment kiosk located in a hidden out of the way corner around behind a picnic shelter near the maintenance building. That kiosk can be used to pay for campsites on the spot, to buy daily access stickers, or to buy permits for using the boat launch. I believe it only takes credit cards, and not cash. You will see it in my video posted below. It's just in a very out of the way difficult spot to find unless you know what you're looking for!

The campground is very clean and the camp host is buzzing around all the time making sure absolutely everything is picked up or cleaned up. There were only three or four other campers in the entire northern loop during the week so it was very, very quiet.

Another thing we noticed, in various parts of the campground were tall racks with rakes and shovels on them. They were to use on your campsite and please bring them back and return them to the hanging rack. We have never seen that before in any other campground. Public rakes!

What we liked most is there were no noisy roads nearby and no big city noises. It was quiet and relaxing with the sounds of birds, frogs in the swamp, and yes, there were some mosquitoes. Not too bad yet though for this time of year in May. 

Here's a link to the website to get more information about the park:

Big Sandy Lake REC Area

On one of our 5 days, I did a little practice run using my faux GoPro camera on the handlebars of my bike. I started a separate YouTube channel that will just have my camping videos on. That way people don't have to sort through my videos of family and quilting and knitting and weaving and dogs etc. 

My new You Tube channel is called "What-A-View"  and that is also of course the same name as my blog, because of owning the Winnebago View.  So here's my little short test video. If you watch it and like it, please subscribe. 

I'm not monetized or anything to earn money. I'm just keeping it as a separate channel for camping videos. I loaded up about five or six other ones on the same channel that you might also find of interest?

Here are some more photos I took around the park if you don't care to watch the video. There are two very nice boat landings to launch boats into the southern portion that reaches into the lake. There is also another short steep boat landing to get into the northern part of the river access beyond the dam.

There are some nice large parking lots that are adequate for putting boats and trailers, as well as parking for some of the picnic areas in the park. There's also a very nice swimming beach with more parking and additional campsites over in that area too.

The playground equipment is located over in the middle of the campground, closer to the dam. But they have large fences up to keep the children away from the rushing water. 

In the pic below, the churning dam water is on the left, and the right channel is the lock. I don't believe the locks are operational right now for boats, because the water levels are high enough to just float on through. Otherwise, during times of low water, I am sure that the locks are used by the boats to get from one section to another.

There's a cute little visitor center that is open during the days that is a self-guided tour inside.

We found it extremely interesting to learn all about the locks and the history in the area.

Multi-paneled informational boards are situated inside of the visitor center.

There are also pamphlets and brochures underneath about other things to do in the area as well as the other Corps of Engineers parks in the same region.

The display of the lock wheel and motors was interesting to learn about, along with the levers that operated the lock doors.

Beautiful paddle wheel boats went up and down this section of the river and toured around the lakes in the old days.

Some sad parts of history had to do with the indigenous tribes that frequented the area. Sadly, when white man came they were displaced and moved onto reservations.

Some of the stories were extremely sad, there were tragedies involved with how many people who were mistreated during the transition.

A lot of historical artifacts in the area were found from these tribes. They were moved on further to the west and I believe eventually into North Dakota.

It was nice to see the displays of things that were everyday tools for them. We take so much for granted that we can just go to a store and buy something. They had to make everything they ever used.

This was a large motor that was used for operating the gates on the dam at in earlier years. Now it's all been replaced with newer machinery and technology.

Touring around the campground, down one of the peninsulas with tenting sites is this bird shelter overlooking the marsh. I don't think it's used for hunting, I think it's used for photography of the migratory birds.

The south side of the campground has a really nice shower building and flush toilets. Believe it or not, there's also a washer and dryer available in an alcove on the shower building. And it is FREE!!! They do ask that you limit yourself to one load per campsite per day. That way there's time for anybody else to access the machines and don't have to wait for multiple loads from one person. It's only one washer, and one dryer. But they are FREE!

On the other side of the dam, on the north side of the campground there are only pit toilets. They are very clean and neat, And they even have fans on the roof to help eliminate any unpleasant oders.

Here's another view of the boat ramp closest to the northern campground. There are also volleyball courts, badminton courts, horseshoes and buckboard (beanbag toss). Equipment is available at the office to play on these recreational areas.

Here we are nestled in our chosen site, number 36. I will write more on my next blog of our actual camping within the park. This was just basically an overview of the campground itself in case you were interested in coming here.

191 miles traveled today 

463 miles traveled so far


  1. What a great review! Your review is very helpful and definitely puts this park on my list! I'm going to be visiting friends in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in July so I can just head "up north" as the locals say.

  2. Yes, a very nice look at the campground. Might come in handy. Kids are in Minneapolis. Thanks, Karen.


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