Big Sandy Lake, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Northeast -

Big Sandy Lake is located in Minnesota’s northeast Aitkin County, home to over one million acres of hardwood forest and 365 lakes. With the majority of the woodlands available to the public, Big Sandy Lake provides the perfect setting to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with family and friends. Part of the state’s Northeast tourism region, Big Sandy Lake is easily accessible from Duluth, 67 miles to the east, and the Twin Cities, 175 miles to the south.

The tranquil setting of Big Sandy Lake and the Big Sandy Watershed Area does not reflect its turbulent past. Claims to this land were held by Spain, France and England before becoming part of the United States. The Sioux people, who originally settled this area, were displaced by Ojibwe, who were forced from their eastern homeland. Big Sandy Lake derived its name from the Ojibwe word Mitaawangaagamaa which translates to “Lake with flat, sandy beaches.”

As early as the 1600s, fur traders were exploring this region and trading with native people. During the 19th century, the American Fur Company established a post at Savanna Portage on Big Sandy Lake. Savanna Portage connected the Mississippi River waterways to Lake Superior and southern transport connections to St. Louis. As the fur trade declined, lumber industries grew, along with a large transport steamboat industry. Today, the natural beauty of Big Sandy Lake and surrounding woodlands has replaced its industrial base with a growing recreation and tourism business.

In 1991, the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project was organized to protect and enhance area lakes, rivers and watershed. Multiple water-quality improvement projects were implemented, yet Big Sandy Lake’s water quality declined. Big Sandy Lake was placed on Minnesota’s list of impaired lakes in 2006. A pollution reduction plan, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), is being used to identify and reduce sources of excessive nutrients polluting the 6,623-acre lake.

Four tributaries feed Big Sandy Lake: West Savanna River enters from the north, Prairie and Tamarack Rivers from the east. Sandy River enters Big Sandy Lake from the south and provides the outlet for the lake at Big Sandy dam near the lake’s northwestern corner. Three basins lie within Big Sandy Lake: Main lake, located at the northern shore, has an average depth of 19 feet; Webster Bay, at the southern shore has an average depth of 17 feet; Bill Horn Bay, along the eastern shore, has an average depth of 44 feet. From north-to-south, Big Sandy Lake extends 18 miles and contains 25 islands. The combined shoreline for both lake and islands is 64.3 miles.

For many years, anglers have known that Big Sandy Lake has a reputation for excellent walleye fishing. Big Sandy Lake is currently being managed for walleye, northern pike and black crappie. The varying basin depths and diverse shoreline provide habitat for additional species including black and brown bullhead, bluegill, bowfin, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, shorthead redhorse, silver redhorse, white sucker, yellow bullhead and yellow perch.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the outlet dam to Big Sandy Lake and opens the surrounding Sandy Lake Recreational Area to public use. Located at the northwestern shore, attractions include a swimming beach, playgrounds, picnic shelters, fishing platforms, and a museum. Campgrounds include “43 single-family electric sites, 8 walk-in tent sites, 2 group sites, and 5 double-occupancy sites.” Additional amenities include “dump stations, laundry facilities, showers, two boat ramps on the lake, one boat ramp on the river.”

In addition to private and commercial campgrounds along Big Sandy Lake, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources maintains public access at Savanna Portage State Park. Within the park, portions of the historic trail used by Native Americans, explorers and fur traders are open for hiking. The Continental Divide Trail runs through the park’s 15,818 acres, as do 50 miles of trails groomed for winter cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Summer facilities include a swimming beach, picnic shelters, playground and fishing pier.

Birding and wildlife watching are popular activities at Big Sandy Lake. The shallow bays and bogs located along the south, east and northeast shores produce acres of wild rice that in the fall attract migratory waterfowl. Songbirds, loons, deer, bear, wolf, moose and coyote can be found among the waterways and hiking trails around Big Sandy Lake.

With 48 additional lakes in the Big Sandy Watershed Area, fishing, hiking, canoeing and wildlife watching opportunities are only miles away. Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies 15 miles south of Big Sandy Lake. Designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the American Birding Association, the refuge is also open to fishing, some hunting, hiking and wildlife photography. Drive an additional 15 miles to the southeast and you arrive at Mille Lacs Lake, home to the reservation of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

With a combined population of approximately 500 people, the surrounding rural communities of McGregor and Tamarack offer shopping, restaurants, resorts and motel accommodations. Lakeside and woodland vacation rentals and real estate properties offer solitude. Choose to reside at Big Sandy Lake for a week or a lifetime. Feel stress roll away as you relax to the sound of songbirds. Rejuvenate your spirit as you paddle into the wilderness. Reconnect with all that is important at Big Sandy Lake.

Things to do at Big Sandy Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • State Park
  • Museum
  • Playground
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Big Sandy Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Bowfin
  • Brown Bullhead
  • Crappie
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Redhorse
  • Sucker
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Bullhead
  • Yellow Perch

Big Sandy Lake Photo Gallery

    Big Sandy Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Water Level Control: US Army Corps of Engineers

    Surface Area: 6,263 acres

    Shoreline Length: 64 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,217 feet

    Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,208 feet

    Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,225 feet

    Average Depth: 21 feet

    Maximum Depth: 84 feet

    Water Volume: 134,018 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1886

    Drainage Area: 406 sq. miles

    Trophic State: Eutrophic

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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