You can revel in the views of the shimmering waters of the Lake or the depths of the lush Ozark forests as each passing season presents a different color palate and a different feast for the eyes. Summertime features verdant greens to contrast with the deep blues of the Lake while autumn offers spectacular shows of reds and oranges while the hardwoods are aflame with color. Winter offers soft muted hues and ephemeral blankets of white snow. Springtime is painted with the light shades of green of new leaves and warm pastels of blooming dogwoods and redbuds presenting a different background for whatever year around activity vacationers choose to enjoy at the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation.”
Outdoors Any Time And All The Time
The Lake of the Ozarks’ two celebrated state parks are open year around and offer hikers and outdoor enthusiasts ample opportunities to stretch their legs and head off the beaten path to discover the Lake’s natural side on the area’s many hiking, walking and biking trails. Ha Ha Tonka State Park, named the “most beautiful place in Missouri by Condé Nast Traveler, features the ruins of a 1900s “castle” constructed atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Niangua River arm of the Lake as well as 13 hiking trails covering over 15 miles of the park located just outside of the City of Camdenton. Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri’s largest and most visited state park, offers 12 trails for hiking and biking covering over 42 miles as well as the state’s first self-guided Aquatic Trail that boaters can enjoy.
The Lake’s state parks, and 28 different Conservation Areas provide bird watchers with one of the best areas in the state for birding. Three locations at the Lake of the Ozarks in the Tri-County area – Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area, Saline Valley Conservation Area and Ha Ha Tonka State Park – are part of the Great Missouri Birding Trail, a statewide initiative between the Missouri Bird Conservation Foundation and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Lake’s diversity of natural habitat attracts hundreds of species of birds providing birders of all stripes – whether casual, beginner or experienced – the opportunity to catch a colorful array of avian creatures in their natural settings.
Spring and Summer
The warmer weather and extended hours of daylight make spring and summer the most popular seasons with anglers, but that doesn’t mean the fish stop biting in the fall and winter. The cooler temperatures and vibrant fall foliage make fishing at the lake in autumn both beautiful and productive. Those willing to layer up and brave the colder conditions may have the largest payoff as some of the Lake’s record-breaking fish have been caught during the winter months. And a handful of Lake-area resorts feature enclosed heated fishing docks for catching crappie. Some are even furnished with sofas and televisions to ensure a comfortable and pleasurable winter fishing experience.
No matter what season it is, golf is always a hit. There are 13 great golf courses to experience, set among the forested hills, impressive rock bluffs and lakeside views. Every skill level will enjoy the well-manicured courses carved from the rolling Ozark hills and tree-lined fairways with impressive elevation changes and some beautiful vistas. Each course offers its unique set of challenges and most stay open year-round.
Willmore Lodge is an excellent place to get oriented to the entire Lake area and to learn about the Lake, past and present. It is operated as a visitor center and museum by the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. Just two miles northeast of Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark, Willmore Lodge was completed in 1930 for the Union Electric Company during the construction of Bagnell Dam. The Adirondack-style 6,500-square foot lodge, built of white pine logs, served as an administrative and entertainment center for the company during the first few years of the Great Osage River Project. Visitors can get brochures at Willmore Lodge on Lake-area attractions and facilities, then tour a museum with exhibits on the area’s pre-Lake history, the construction of Bagnell Dam and the Lake’s development. The huge picture window affords a spectacular view of the Gravois Arm of the Lake. Admission to Willmore Lodge and the Bagnell Dam Museum is free.
The Historic Bagnell Dam “Strip” in Lake Ozark is an experience in All-American Kitsch. Shortly after the Lake of the Ozarks was impounded in 1931, the area closest to the Bagnell Dam became a favorite destination for visitors. Today, “The Strip,” just west of the dam, is still a family favorite, with shops, restaurants, flea markets, arcades, antique stores, fudge shops and souvenir stores. It’s the quintessential “tourist” area and it still attracts lots of Lake visitors all year and also hosts different events each month.
The Lake of the Ozarks continues to showcase its year around appeal with its four different “show” caves. Throughout all seasons, visitors can head underground to enjoy spectacular scenery in the area’s unique caves. Their paved walkways, lights, bridges and handrails (and a consistently comfortable temperature), make them a fun destination regardless of weather or season. Travelers may choose a guided tour of Bridal Cave near Camdenton, with its stalactite-adorned wedding chapel, which has hosted over 3,700 weddings. Or see geological evidence of six ice ages and three earthquakes in Jacob’s Cave near Versailles. Visitors to Lake of the Ozarks State Park’s Ozark Caverns in the Linn Creek area are guided through the cave with hand-held lanterns. And Stark Caverns near Eldon has served as a shelter for Native Americans, a storage space for early settlers and a speakeasy during Prohibition. Stark Caverns also is home to the country’s only “escape room” located in a cave. The caves add an extra dimension to the Lake, with fun on the water, on the shore… and underground.
Shopping is always in season at the Lake of the Ozarks. From name-brand outlets to unique boutiques, Lake of the Ozarks provides a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for any “shopaholic.” Whether shopping for the home, family, outdoors or holidays, the hundreds of shops, big “box” stores and antique shops around the Lake have everything a shopper could want or need.
The Lake’s more than 200 restaurants and night spots stay open year around, along with the area’s three wineries and new microbreweries, providing excellent dining and libations for any visit to the Lake.
Additionally, there are fun, family-friendly events that take place around the Lake of the Ozarks each month of the year. In the springtime, there’s the annual Dogwood Festival, Spring Harbor Hop and the Spring Big Bass Bash. The summer months are loaded with classic car events, an on-the-water music festival, two high-octane powerboat races, golf tournaments and tons of concerts. Autumn brings many fall festivals, the Fall Harbor Hop and the Fall Big Bass Bash. The winter months feature lots of holiday parades, Christmas light parks, New Year’s Eve celebrations, a Polar Plunge and the Eagle Days festivities.
Finally, just about all of the Lake of the Ozarks’ comfortable accommodations are open year-round, meaning visitors will have a nice selection of places to choose from when it comes to where to rest and stay the night for an extended weekend getaway. There are full-service large-scale resorts, smaller family-owned and operated resorts, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and rental homes or condominiums. For those who prefer sleeping under the stars, there are several campgrounds and RV parks available from which to choose.
For more information, visit https://www.funlake.com or call the visitor’s bureau at 1-800-386-5253.