In Ayr Junction, Nebraska, which is in the southeast corner of the state, is the 33-acre Crystal Lake State Recreation Area that includes a five-acre lake and the Little Blue River, as well as Scott Creek. With all that water, you can pretty much enjoy any type of water fun including swimming, fishing, boating, floating, and even paddleboarding if you like.
However, water sports are not the only thing to do at Crystal Lake Recreation Area. While the lake is the main attraction, many RV visitors also choose to camp in one of their 72 campsites. There are 22 with electric (both 20 and 30 amp) and 50 campsites without. You can enjoy a day on the lake and then join your family and friends back in the RV at your campsite.
The history of Crystal Lake State Recreation Area started way back in 1893 when the Crystal Ice Company dammed a section of the Little Blue River. This created what is now Crystal Lake to harvest and sell ice. Horse-drawn ice saws were used to cut the ice into large blocks, which were then floated down the channel to be cut into squares. However, when the refrigerator was invented in the 1920s, the ice business dried up and it became a private park. In 1937, the area was bought by the state and used as a recreation area.
Crystal Lake Recreation Area is located approximately two miles north and one-half mile west of Ayr Junction, Nebraska on West Pony Express Road. From the Grand Island area, take highway 30 to highway 40C and it is less than an hour south. If you are coming from the Kearney area, take Interstate 80 east to highway 34 and it will take a little over an hour.
No matter where you are coming from, you will have to drive at least one mile on a gravel road that can be a bit hard to navigate with a large rig or if you are pulling a trailer. However, if you are careful and drive slowly, you should have no problem. It is best to go slow anyway, or you might miss some of the beautiful scenery outside your windows. Also, be on the lookout for critters that sometimes cross the roads here.
Inside the Crystal Lake State Recreation Area, you are going to find more gravel and dirt roads that are narrow and can be tricky with a big rig. Parking is limited so it is a good idea to leave the RV at your campsite and just walk to get to where you want to go.
Whether you're attending the Nebraska State Fair in August or awaiting the 500,000-strong annual spring migration of sandhill cranes, Doniphan, NE makes a perfect base as it’s just 30 minutes away from it all. Birders might want to reserve a spot at the Grand Island KOA as they await the birds to take off from the Platte River. Big rigs up to 85 feet are welcome in water/electric sites only, or there are deluxe patio sites available with full hookups, up to 50-amp service, patio furniture, gas grill and fire pit. Wi-Fi, a snack bar, pool, bike rentals and firewood are also on-site. Pets are welcome.
No need for a reservation here. There are 72 spacious campsites available at Crystal Lake State Campground with 50 being non-electric and 22 that have electric. However, if you are looking for an electric site of a particular size, come early because these sites fill up fast. You are within walking distance to the lake as well as the Little Blue River and Scott Creek. The park also boasts a large playground for the kids, a swimming beach with changing house and restrooms, tennis courts, and picnic areas with tables and BBQ grills. There are vault pit latrines in several areas about the park and five water hydrants where you can get potable water. In addition, each campsite comes with a fire ring, picnic table, and space for just about any sized RV. Dogs and cats are welcome but they must be leashed or otherwise contained while at the park.
Be sure to pack up the beach toys and floaties in the camper before heading to Crystal Lake State Recreation Area because they have a good-sized beach and beach house. Located at the northwestern side of Crystal Lake, you will find a large sandy beach with a beach house for changing. During the summer, on the weekends it can get a little crowded so get there early to make sure you get a good spot on the beach.
Whether you have a kayak, canoe, or just a raft, you can enjoy a day of floating on the Little Blue River at Crystal Lake State Recreation Area. So make sure you load the life jackets and sunblock in the campervan before heading to the park. You can walk upriver a ways and then float down to the park or find a gravel bar or secluded beach for your own private swimming and fishing place. If you would rather just do some boating, you can take all kinds of boats on Crystal Lake as long as they are electric or paddle powered.
There are not too many campgrounds that provide tennis courts, but Crystal Lake State Recreation Area has a nice tennis court in the recreation area next to the playground. So make sure you bring your tennis shoes and racquets. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a first timer, these tennis courts are great for anyone. You can bring the kids along too. They are more than welcome to play as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Although there are no “official” trails at Crystal Lake State Recreation Area, there are many little paths and dirt roads you can walk along to explore the natural area of the park. With plenty of mature trees to provide shade, you can enjoy meandering along the Little Blue River or Scott Creek. Keep your phone or camera handy so you can take pictures of all the wild critters you will see on your walk and share them with your friends on Facebook.
Even when it cold, you can enjoy fishing at Crystal Lake. The ice is typically about about 10 inches deep so make sure you pack an auger or ice chisel in the rig and wear some warm clothes. An ice scoop is also a good idea and make sure you have some good bait to lure those chilly fish to the line. Jigs, spoons, and lures are excellent choices, but you may also want to try some live or cut bait or even some worms.
Gather all your friends and family in the camper and head to Crystal Lake State Recreation Area for a picnic or BBQ. The off-season is the best time to go because you practically have the whole place to yourselves. There are two picnic shelters, 20 picnic tables, and 30 BBQ grills located all along the lake and by the recreation area. Whether you are packing a lunch, BBQing some hot dogs and hamburgers, or trying to catch your lunch out of the lake, you will love the atmosphere and views at the park while you are there.