Snapshot virtual tour
Welcome to the McCarthy Beach State Park virtual tour! Explore a water recreation adventure here and enjoy a sunny day on the Sturgeon Laker or other lakes in the area. We hope it prompts you to visit the park in person sometime soon.
The sugar sand beach at McCarthy Beach State Park has been a popular destination for over 70 years. A long expanse of shallow water makes it perfect for kids, and parents can choose to sit in the sun or shade while watching them. The restroom building is handicap accessible and also provides changing rooms.
Frisbee in the Lake
With a half mile of frontage on Sturgeon Lake, there is plenty of room to take advantage of the shallow water that stretches 100 feet or more out from shore. Games of Frisbee or volleyball often spring up to the south of the marked swimming area. Many day visitors enjoy a picnic under the shade of the pines, and the close proximity to the campground makes the beach an easy walk or bike ride for overnight visitors.
Boats Along Shore
Not all visitors to McCarthy Beach arrive by car. Boating to the park for a day of picnicking or water skiing is also popular thanks to the chain of five connected lakes in the area. It’s not uncommon to see several dozen boats anchored in the shallow water on a hot summer day.
Sturgeon Lake Boat Access
The shallow water that makes the beach so popular limits the use of this boat landing to boats with shallow drafts. This boat access is located next to the group camp on the south end of the park.
Picnic Area and Shelter
The picnic pavilion is located to the south of the main beach on a bluff above Sturgeon Lake. It contains picnic tables and a large round fireplace. The shelter can be rented by the day, and is sometimes rented in conjunction with the adjacent group camp. Water spigots are located near the building and there is a vault toilet by the parking lot.
The rustic group camp is located between the picnic shelter and boat landing. Its location on a bluff above the lake makes it a great spot to watch the sunset. Water spigots and vault toilets are available, but there is no access to showers. While primarily a tenting area, some visitors are able to fit small trailers in between the trees.
Park Entrance Road
During the busy summer season, vehicles are usually lined up in front of the office as visitors purchase vehicle permits or register to camp. The entrance road comes to a “T” just past the office. The Side Lake Campground is to the right, and the beach and day use area on Sturgeon Lake are to the left.
The park office is the first stop for campers arriving at the park, or for day visitors needing a vehicle permit. Within the building, visitors will enjoy the Nature Store’s selection of outdoor-themed merchandise, as well as interpretive panels describing the cultural and natural history of the park. Brochures and information on local attractions are also available.
The pier is a popular spot for watching the sunrise over Side Lake, as well as for trying to catch a bluegill or crappie. No fishing license is required for Minnesota residents fishing from the pier or from shore. Fishing rods and tackle can be borrowed for free from the park office, so this makes a great spot to try fishing for the first time. Some of the park’s electric campsites can be seen along shore.
The roads in the popular Side Lake Campground are narrow, as depicted in this scene. This intersection is at the end of the first campground loop, where most of the electric campsites are located. A nearby shower building and rental boat area can also be seen. Canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and a paddleboat are all available to rent.
Side Lake Boat Ramp
This can be an extremely busy area in the summer since the boat landing is located along the very heavily used campground road. The ramp’s location makes it convenient for the many campers who bring a boat along to explore the five interconnected lakes of the Sturgeon chain. Boats may be tied up on the docks at night, or pulled up along the sandy shoreline. Two electric campsites are visible in the distance, along with rental kayaks.
Middle Campground Loop
The interior lanes of the middle campground loop offer shade and relative privacy while still being close to the lake and sanitation building. These sites are not suitable for long trailers or motor homes due to sharp turns at the ends of the lanes. A number of the sites work well for groups camping together.
Tall pines tower over a narrow trail that meanders along the lakeshore from the campground up to the back bay of Side Lake. Loons and eagles can often be seen in this quiet backwater. Most park trails are accessed by vehicle due to private land between the main use area of the park and the trail system, but this scenic one-mile loop leads directly from the campground.
Far Campground Loop
Gravel roads and big pines give the last loop in the campground a more primitive feel, making it popular with tent campers and those with small trailers. The narrow and winding roads make it unsuitable for most large motorhomes and trailers. The sanitation building is a 4/10 mile walk, but vault toilets and water are located nearby.
This small trout lake is a favorite destination for anglers and hikers. While the trail does not go all the way around the lake due to private land, hikers can make a nice loop hike using parts of the Big Hole Trail and the Red Top Trail. The carry-down access requires a bit of work, but kayakers and canoeists appreciate the more protected waters of Pickerel Lake on windy days.
While the beach may be famous, the trail system is the hidden gem of McCarthy Beach State Park. Eighteen miles of trails wind through heavily wooded hills and around pothole lakes. Stands of pure birch are interspersed with mixed forest and stands of red and white pines. The hilly trails are enjoyed by hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, skiers, and snowmobilers. The Taconite State Trail passes through the park, providing access to many miles of additional trails in the George Washington State Forest.
Beatrice Lake Campground
This rustic campground is located seven miles from the main use area of the park, and is situated on a peninsula jutting out into Beatrice Lake. Most campsites have a view of the lake and several have direct lake access. Campers can take advantage of the adjacent boat landing to launch a fishing boat, or choose to relax in a lawn chair by the lake. Mountain bikers have access to many miles of trails both in the park and in the adjoining George Washington State Forest. There are no modern facilities in this campground. Water is available from hand pumps and vault toilets are provided.
This view from the top of a nearby fire tower shows the vast expanse of forest surrounding the park. Side Lake can be seen in the foreground, with Sturgeon Lake visible behind the narrow strip of land containing the campground and day use facilities. This tower is still in active use as a fire lookout when wildfire danger is high.