Sandy Lake COE campground sits on historic Minnesota waterway

RV Jimmy Smith reads about historic Sandy Lake Dam & Lock. (Julianne G. Crane)

The Sandy Lake Recreation Area is a part of the US Army Corps of Engineers – Mississippi Headwaters Project. It is situated in Minnesota about 120 miles north of Minneapolis on the Sandy River, 1 ¼ miles above its junction with the Mississippi River.

Historical sign at COE Sandy Lake.

It is part of the native canoe route that once linked Lake Superior and the Mississippi River, according to the St. Paul District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Explorers, fur traders and missionaries used the portage between 1755 and 1855.

Beginning in 1837, the Ojibwe (Chippewa) of the Lake Superior region began ‘transactions’ to allow United States leaders access to millions of acres of land and the natural resources. Read more about the Sandy Lake Tragedy and Memorial by clicking here.

Inside Visitors Center (Julianne G. Crane)

The original timber dam dates from 1892-1895.  It became the northernmost lock on the Mississippi River to allow for boat traffic. “Today, the lock house has been renovated to display interpretive exhibits and artifacts.”

The Sandy Recreation Area project near McGregor, Minn., resulted in a very large lake for recreational purposes.

Camping, fishing, boating, hiking

Three boat ramps are placed around the recreation area to give access to the river and lake. “The fishing sites are isolated from the camp sites so that there is an increased chance of catching fish due to less noise.” It also provides beautiful views of the lake.

Sandy Lake Campground features large sites including #37. (Julianne G. Crane)

The Sandy Lake Campground features two camping areas, one on each side of the dam and spillway. There is a foot patch across the dam.

The north campground has more spacious sites. The south section lends itself more to group camping. Each section has its own entry. Most of the sites have electricity. You must fill your water tanks at the entrance. There is a dump station in both campground areas. One great perk are free laundry facilities. (One load per camp site per day.)

The 60-site campground is open from May through mid-October and features a variety of campsite options. Cost was $15/day with Senior Access pass.

The recreation area is available for day use open year round. Two playgrounds, a public beach, shoreline fishing, and multiple picnic areas are free of charge.

Text and photos: Julianne G. Crane

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