What’s the Largest Man-made Lake in Nebraska?

Written by Kathryn Koehler
Updated: September 15, 2023
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What’s the largest man-made lake in Nebraska, you ask? Well, the largest man-made lake in Nebraska is Lake McConaughy! By a long shot. When measured by capacity, Lake McConaughy is the clear winner! At its maximum capacity, Lake McConaughy can hold approximately 1.9 million acre-feet (2.34 km3) of water. The lake covers approximately 35,700 acres (14,400 hectares) and has a shoreline of over 100 miles (160 kilometers).

The lake is fed by the North Platte River and is impounded by Kingsley Dam. Lake McConaughy Recreation Area is a sportsman’s paradise in the heart of Nebraska, offering visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life to experience the beauty of the great outdoors. Nestled along the banks of the largest man-made lake in Nebraska, Lake McConaughy Recreation Area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Keep reading to learn more about the lake called Mac!

Five Facts about Lake McConaughy

  • Locals call the largest man-made lake in Nebraska Lake Mac
  • Kingsley Dam is named for A. J. Kingsley, a prominent local farmer
  • The lake is named for Charles McConaughy, a grain merchant
  • The lake holds nearly 2 MILLION acre-feet of water at capacity
  • Stargazing is superb at Lake Mac
Kingsley dam, lake McConaughy overflow structure on the north Platte river

Lake McConaughy was created by the construction of Kingsley Dam.

©Bob Pool/Shutterstock.com

During the summer months, the lake is typically at its lowest point, while during the spring and early summer, the lake may be higher due to increased runoff from snowmelt and rainfall.

The Making of Lake McConaughy

Lake McConaughy was created by the construction of Kingsley Dam, a concrete gravity dam located on the North Platte River. It was built between 1938 and 1941 as part of the New Deal, a series of programs and initiatives launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back on their feet. The dam serves several purposes, including flood control, irrigation, recreation, and hydroelectric power generation. The lake is named for Charles McConaughy, a local grain merchant who envisioned using the annual spring flooding of the North Platte River as a means of crop irrigation. In his effort to manifest his vision, McConaughy formed the Tri-County Supplemental Water Association in 1913. George Kingsley, a prominent farmer was named vice president of the organization. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The depth of  Lake McConaughy fluctuates throughout the year, depending on the needs of the dam and the flow of the North Platte River. During the summer months, the lake is typically at its lowest point, while during the spring and early summer, the lake may be higher due to increased runoff from snowmelt and rainfall. The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully manage the depth of the lake to ensure that it is safe for recreational activities and to ensure that it meets the needs of the dam. While the lake’s depth can change throughout the year, the partnership strives to maintain the lake at a consistent depth, within the safe operating range for the dam.

Photograph of Lake McConaughy. The photograph is horizontally layered with a light blue sky with some fleeting fluffy clouds to the left on the top 1/4 of the frame. The middle 1/4 of frame contains a blue gray like with a couple of sale boats and some rocky outcroppings. The bottom half of the frame is devoted to some rolling countryside covered in green vegetation and yellow flowers

©Bonita R. Cheshier/Shutterstock.com

Where Is Lake McConaughy Located on a Map?

Lake McConaughy is located 36 miles away from Big Springs. It can be reached following a 39-minute drive or a 3-hour-16-minute bicycle ride.

Camping

If camping is your thing, Lake Mac has got you covered, with seven separate campgrounds. Each campground has varying amenities, from full-service sites with parking pads and electric and sewer hook-ups to primitive sites where only tent camping is allowed. They also have charming names like Lone Eagle and Little Thunder. Be aware that as of May 20, 2023, camping at Lake McConaughy will be available solely by advance reservation. Reservations may be made up to 180 days in advance. Because the number of beach camping sites is determined by the level of the reservoir, If you’re planning to camp on the beach, reservations are accepted 30 days out. Reservations can be made online, or via telephone.

Photo of a blue and silver dome-type tent on a white sand lake beach. There is a pair of lace-up running shoes visible near the tent. The lake and a blue sky with a few wispy white clouds make up the background.

Because the number of beach camping sites is determined by the level of the reservoir, If you’re planning to camp on the beach, reservations are accepted 30 days out. 

©Steve Schwettman/Shutterstock.com

Lake McConaughy: Wildlife

The area surrounding Lake McConaughy is home to a diverse array of wildlife including both terrestrial and aquatic animals. The lake and its surrounding habitats provide important nesting and feeding grounds for a variety of birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, herons, and ducks. Several species of mammals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, and muskrats call Lake Mac home. Lake McConaughy and its shoreline provide important habitats for reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, and frogs. Lake McConaughy is stocked with several species of fish including walleye, catfish, and smallmouth bass, making it a popular destination for fishing.

white-tailed deer

The area surrounding the lake is home to several species of mammals, including white-tailed deer.

©Tom Reichner/Shutterstock.com

Photographers, both professional and amateur, enjoy capturing the beauty and diversity of wildlife at the largest man-made lake in Nebraska. Lake McConaughey has a rich ecosystem and diverse wildlife. Wildlife photographers, in particular, find this area to be an ideal location for capturing unique and stunning images of animals in their natural habitat. Additionally, the area’s scenic landscapes provide a perfect backdrop for nature and landscape photography. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or an amateur, the Lake McConaughy Recreation Area is a wonderful place to explore and capture the beauty of the great outdoors!

Lake McConaughy: Fishing

Lake McConaughy has fabulous fishing. With its abundant fish populations and scenic surroundings, Lake Mac is definitely a splendid destination for fishing enthusiasts. The lake is stocked with many varieties of fish. Walleye, catfish, striped bass, and trout are among them. Anglers can enjoy fishing from the shore or by boat. Fishing is allowed year-round. Fishing at Lake Mac Lake provides challenges for seasoned anglers and opportunities for novice fishermen. The area is known for its diverse and abundant fish populations, including perch, white bass, and pike. Experienced anglers will appreciate the opportunities to test their skills and try new techniques. Novice fishermen will find plenty of fish and guidance available to help them get started. Lake McConaughy Recreation Area also offers fishing classes and guided fishing trips. Having a valid Nebraska fishing license is required to fish in the lake.

Center frame of photo: Dark silhouette of two men standing up fishing in a small outboard motor boat on a lake.

With its abundant fish populations and scenic surroundings, Lake Mac is definitely a splendid destination for fishing enthusiasts.

©battler/Shutterstock.com

Boating

Lake McConaughy offers a variety of boating activities for visitors, including water skiing, tubing, and leisure cruising. Rentals are available but are limited and in high demand. Personally owned boats need proper resignation and safety equipment on board. Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are required for all passengers aboard the boat. PFDs are also required for individuals being towed by the boat. Children 7 years of age and younger are required to wear PFDs for the duration of their time on the boat.

Photo of people having a lot of fun on a lake. There is a sailboat in the distance at the left at the horizon line. In the left frame there are two people on a rather large pink flamingo float. They seem to be cheering on a person who has jumped off the boat is and is in mid air. The person in mid air is in the center of the frame. The right frame consists of a modern-looking white pleasure boat on which two people are sitting and watching the person who has jumped from the boat. All of the people are tanned light-skinned people.

Lake McConaughy offers a variety of boating activities for visitors.

©Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com

Hunting

Lake McConaughy Recreation Area allows hunting, although it is subject to regulations and restrictions. Hunting is regulated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Hunting is allowed in certain areas of the lake and its surrounding habitats. However, best practices dictate checking with the relevant authorities for the most up-to-date information on hunting seasons and bag limits. Hunting, like fishing, requires a license. Bow hunters age 12-29 must carry proof of successful completion of a state-approved bow hunter education course. The recreation area also offers an archery range. Archers must bring their own equipment.

Stargazing

If you are fortunate enough to visit the lake on a clear night with a new moon, be prepared to have your socks knocked off! Lake McConaughy is located in a rural area of Nebraska where light pollution is super low. This makes Lake Mac a good location for stargazing. The darkness of the sky will vary depending on the phase of the moon, but the darker the sky, the better the visibility of stars and planets.

Photo lower right frame silhouette of a person with their hair in a top knot. The person’s right hand is clutching a telescope also silhouette, against a star filled sky

Lake McConaughy is located in a rural area of Nebraska where light pollution is relatively low. This makes Lake Mac a good location for stargazing.

©Allexxandar/Shutterstock.com

Are We There Yet?: Kid-friendly Activities

The largest man-made lake in Nebraska offers an array of activities to keep your munchkins occupied. Camping, hiking, fishing, and boating abound at Lake McConaughy. Lake McConaughy is home to several campgrounds, which provide a fun and educational experience for kids. Many campgrounds offer amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and play areas. The Lake McConaughy Recreation Area has stunning white sand beaches for swimming or catching some rays. Swimming is allowed along the lake’s perimeter unless otherwise noted. Be aware that there are no lifeguards, and never enter the water without a buddy present.

Fishing is a popular activity at the Lake. Kids will enjoy casting a line while attempting to catch one of the many species of fish in the lake. With over 100 miles (160 km) of shoreline to choose from, they’re sure to find a favorite fishing hole!

A young child dressed in a long sleeve brown knitted sweater. The child is a wearing a leather wide-brim hat. The child is holding a yellow rod and reel (fishing pole). The child is facing frame left and the expression on their face appears to be one of elation as if they have just caught a large fish. The background is out of focus nature

Kids will enjoy casting a line while attempting to catch one of the many species of fish that are found in the lake.

©Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB/Shutterstock.com

Kiddos will enjoy spending time on the lake, whether they’re paddling a kayak, cruising in a powerboat, or fishing. Marinas around the lake offer boat rentals, making it easy to get out on the water. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission offers a variety of nature and wildlife programs, including educational programs and events designed to introduce kids to the natural world. Whether you’re looking for outdoor recreation, educational experiences, or simply a fun family vacation, Lake McConaughy is a great destination for families with kids!

Wintertime at the Largest Man-made Lake in Nebraska

Though Summertime is undoubtedly primetime at the largest man-made lake in Nebraska, wintertime at Lake MacConaughy offers its own unique selection of activities. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding are popular ways to enjoy Lake McConaughy Recreational Area once the mercury drops. The area’s scenic beauty and diverse landscapes are a perfect complement to these winter sports and provide visitors with the chance to experience the great outdoors in the off-season. However, due to the sheer size of Lake Mac coupled with strong winds, the lake doesn’t tend to freeze over. Though small coves and individual inlets may freeze solid enough for ice fishing, there are safer, more suitable lakes in the area for ice fishing.

A photograph of a sandy shoreline, with a thin coat of snow. There is an outcropping  in the background. The lake is in the left frame, the beach/shoreline takes up frame right

Wintertime at Lake MacConaughy offers its own unique selection of activities.

©DaGeezy Photo/Shutterstock.com

Lake McConaughy: Accommodations and Amenities

A variety of accommodations are available to rent near the Lake. There are several options for lodging in the area, including cabins, RV parks, both modern and primitive campgrounds, and motels. These accommodations provide a comfortable and convenient base from which to explore the lake and its surrounding areas. The area offers a variety of dining options. serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Though there are not any full-service restaurants onsite, adjacent and nearby towns offer an array of possibilities, including Pho.

So? What are you waiting for? Make those reservations!! Whether you’re a nature lover, an angler, or just looking for a peaceful place to relax, Lake McConaughy has something for everyone. With its scenic beaches, crystal-clear waters, and diverse recreational opportunities, it’s no wonder that this park is one of the most popular destinations in Nebraska! Come discover the magic of Lake McConaughy for yourself while making memories that will last a lifetime.

No Fireworks! No Alcohol!

As of the spring of 2020, The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has designated Lake McConaughy Recreation Area as alcohol-free. The possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited. Fireworks are also prohibited at Lake Mac.

Photograph of a white sign on which there is at the top a black wine bottle next to a black wine glass with a red null sign over it. Below that graphic are the words NO ALCOHOL  in black. The sign is in the left frame and the background is green vegetation.

The possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited at Lake McConaughy Recreation Area.

©Norm Lane/Shutterstock.com



The photo featured at the top of this post is © Bonita R. Cheshier/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kathryn Koehler is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her focus is on unusual animals, places, and events. Kat has over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and educator. She holds a master's degree from Vanderbilt University. When she is not writing for A-Z-Animals, Kat enjoys puttering in her garden, baking deliciously healthful treats for her family, and playing with her two rescue mutts, Popcorn and Scooter. She resides in Tennessee.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does Lake McConaughy ever freeze over?

No! Not in the way you’re imagining. The lake as a whole is much too vast to freeze over completely. However small coves and individual inlets may freeze. The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service┬ácarefully monitor Lake McConaughy throughout the winter and may close access to the lake if the ice is deemed unsafe.

 

How is the stargazing at Lake MCConaughy?

Stargazing opportunities at Lake McConaughy are phenomenal!  Located in the rural Midwest where light pollution is much lower than in much of the rest of the United States, be prepared to have your world rocked. There are more stars than you can count! Really!

What river is Kingsley Dam on?

Kingsley Dam is on the North Platte River, which flows 716 miles through Colorado and Wyoming, before running into Nebraska. The source of the river is in Colorado near the Continental Divide. The North Platte River joins forces with the South plate River, forming the Platte River in Western Nebraska, which eventually flows into the Missouri River.

What animals live around Lake McConaughy?

The area surrounding Lake McConaughy is home to a diverse array of wildlife including both terrestrial and aquatic animals. The lake and its surrounding habitats provide important nesting and feeding grounds for a variety of birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, herons, and ducks. Several species of mammals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, and muskrats call Lake Mac home. Lake McConaughy and its shoreline provide important habitats for reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, and frogs. Lake McConaughy is stocked with several species of fish including walleye, catfish, and smallmouth bass, making it a popular destination for fishing.

Does the depth of lake McConaughy remain constant through the year?

The depth of ┬áLake McConaughy fluctuates throughout the year, depending on the needs of the dam and the flow of the North Platte River. During the summer months, the lake is typically at its lowest point, while during the spring and early summer, the lake may be higher due to increased runoff from snowmelt and rainfall. The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service┬ácarefully manage the depth of the lake to ensure that it is safe for recreational activities and to ensure that it meets the needs of the dam. While the lake’s depth can change throughout the year, the Army Corps of Engineers strives to maintain the lake at a consistent depth, within the safe operating range for the dam.

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