In the far northern reaches of the state, McCarthy Beach State Park stands out as one of Minnesota’s most lovely and enjoyable state parks. Set on the banks of the Sturgeon Lake chain - five lakes that are interconnected, McCarthy Beach boasts stunning scenery. Loons sing at dawn and dusk, and in the winter, the Northern Lights put on a magical show. Called “Minnesota’s best beach”, it offers a long, soft-sand beach lined with regal Red Pine opening up onto crystal clear, warm water - perfect for swimming and boating. Clean and modern changing rooms and bathrooms are conveniently set right next to the beach, and a boat ramp allows easy access to the water without interfering with swimmers. Highly accessible, the beach has gentle ramps leading into the water, making it perfect for visitors with all range of abilities. If Side Lake doesn’t suit you, easily hop over to Little Sturgeon or one of the other five lakes set within the park.
The park offers 86 campsites, of which 21 have electric hookups and excellent, updated facilities.
RV Rentals in Mccarthy Beach State Park
Transportation in Mccarthy Beach State Park
Some visitors credit McCarthy Beach’s out-of-the-way location to its pleasant lack of crowds and laid-back atmosphere. In far-northern Minnesota, the park is approximately two hours from both Bemidji and Duluth, but the biggest nearby town is Hibbing - about 30 minutes away, at the end of a stretch of 15 miles on a county road.
Within the park, navigational difficulty will depend on which of the camping loops you stay in. Beatrice Lake Campground loop has fairly straight roads and easy-to-maneuver spots, however, these have no hookups. Side Lake Campground has electric hookups, but the turns are notoriously sharp and tricky. If you are certain you want to utilize the electric options, be sure to download the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources McCarthy Beach Site Information sheet which breaks down ideal length and challenges of each of the 59 spots to make sure that the spot you reserve will work with your rig.
Campgrounds and parking in Mccarthy Beach State Park
Campsites in Mccarthy Beach State Park
McCarthy Beach Campgrounds
Camping at McCarthy Beach State Park is a special experience. Many of the sites sit right on the water and you can lounge in a cozy chair and watch an amazing sunset over the lake.
There are two camping areas: Side Lake Campground and Beatrice Lake Campground. Side Lake offers electric hookups (no water or sewer, although there is a dump station), modern restrooms and shower facilities, and reservations usually fill up quickly! Reservations can be made up to a year in advance and include a fee for making them online or by phone, but are free if made the day-of.
The spots at Side Lake tend to be rather small and have minimal privacy between each, allowing for the chance to get to make friends with your neighbors - the good vibes here are famous. If you have doubts about your rig’s ability to navigate the tight roads (especially on the way to spots #46-59) and small spaces of Side Lake, take a look at the downloadable Minnesota Department of Natural Resources McCarthy Beach Site Information sheet which will answer your questions. Also, in recent years there have been frequent problems with sink water contamination. There is always potable water available from spigots, but you might want to call ahead and see if the sink water is currently okay.
Beatrice Lake Campground spots can be obtained on a first-come first serve basis and usually don’t fill up. In this rustic campground, the spots are more spacious than Side Lake, allowing for bigger rigs to settle in comfortably, although keep in mind that there are no hookups or modern bathroom facilities.
At each site, you will find shady trees to keep you cool between swims.
Seasonal activities in Mccarthy Beach State Park
The main draw to McCarthy Beach State Park is the phenomenal swimming beach. Soft, fluffy sand stretches for half a mile with shady trees lining the water. With accessibility ramps into the water, it’s a great option for those with disabilities. The water is shallow and only deepens very gradually, making it warm and ideal for casually floating around or letting children have a little more freedom since they have such a large area where they can still safely touch the ground. If you yearn for more adventure than the main beach at Side Lake, swim, drive, or paddle yourself to one of the other six lakes within the park.
The Sturgeon Lake chain is made up of five interconnected lakes, and what better way to explore this beautiful oasis than on the water? Canoes, kayaks, and even stand-up paddle boards (or SUP boards) are available for rent at the park office for reasonable fees. Explore all the nooks and crannies of the lakes on your own steam - you just might find a hidden rope swing or perfect picnic spot!
McCarthy Beach couldn’t make it any easier for you to catch tonight’s dinner. Side Lake has a designated fishing pier where visitors congregate. If you didn’t come prepared, the park offers free fishing gear loans (rod, reel, and stocked tackle box) so you can try to capture walleye, bass, pike, and panfish. For a more challenging experience, head to the dock at Pickerel Lake and try for clever trout! Be sure to check ahead of time that you have the correct licenses and specific fish stamps.
Enjoy the Trails
Swimming in the summer brought McCarthy Beach its fame, but now that it’s on your radar, go for the trails! The park has 18 miles of hiking trails, 16 miles of mountain biking trails, nine miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, and 12 miles of snowmobiling trails. The area is covered in birch, aspen, and pine trees and is home to 175 species of birds to give you a lot to look at. The Taconite State Trail - a 165-mile trail from Grand Rapids to Ely - passes through the park - you want to jump on it and go for as long as you want. So no matter what the season, excellent trails allow you to get out and enjoy the natural beauty in this gem of a park.
Out of the many miles of trails in the park, 16 are dedicated to horseback riding (and are shared with mountain bikers). If you want to combine a couple days of tent camping with your RV camping, McCarthy Beach State Park also manages the nearby Stony Brook Horse Camp which has rustic spots and equestrian setups available. Explore the peaceful forest in the most iconic way - by horse.
Although it’s impossible to accurately predict sightings, early spring tends to be a favorable time for catching a glimpse of the natural phenomenon, the Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. One of the most important factors is lack of light pollution, and at remote McCarthy Beach State Park, that is one thing you can count on. Sightings can take place from late March through early August, but if you are only visiting for the beach, the ideal water temperature and Northern Lights probably do not line up.