When someone mentions the state of Missouri, many people’s minds immediately route to St. Louis, Kansas City, or Branson. Maybe they think of Joplin, as it was made famous due to the devastation of a vicious tornado.
But how about Lake of the Ozarks? I discovered this area to be a wonder for its natural beauty. Having been named the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” by the readers of USA Today, it is nestled into the Ozark Mountains.
Did you know the lake has more shoreline than the Pacific Coast of California? Lake of the Ozarks is one of the world’s largest manufactured lakes. Created by the construction of the Bagnell Dam on the Osage River, it covers 54,000 acres, boasts 1150 miles of shoreline, and holds 600 billion gallons of water.
As someone who loves nature and the outdoors, I found many places to explore. Boating and fishing are a huge draw to the Lake of the Ozarks, but let’s not forget hiking, kayaking, or caving.
Many types of accommodations
There is an endless array of resorts, hotels, condos, cabins, etc., located in the area, from casual, family-friendly to high-end elegant and everywhere in between. My choice was Alhonna Resort. Alhonna has been providing informal, family-friendly lodging for close to 40 years. As a side note, local lore also has this resort as an inspiration for the Netflix drama OZARK.
They offer fully equipped cabins with one or multiple bedrooms. My cabin was just a few yards from the Lake, and the porch was a perfect place to watch the sunrise each morning, with stunning results. They offer boat and kayak rentals, as well as other amenities. Taking advantage of kayaking along the shore, I returned to take a dip in their swimming pool and finished the day watching the fabulous sunset from the dock.
Do you know the history of the Lake?
One of the first places where I enjoyed an overview of the area is Willmore Lodge and Bagnell Dam Museum. This grand 6,500 square foot lodge, built in the Adirondack style, offers fabulous views of the Lake from inside through the huge picture window or from the wraparound porch of the building.
Willmore Lodge is home to the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, where I found an abundance of brochures from the area. Taking a stroll through the Bagnell Dam Museum was very interesting for me. Here I learned details of the construction of the Bagnell Dam and the general history of the Lake of the Ozarks before the dam was built.
Be sure to visit the gazebo and tour the outdoor area and gardens as well. What I anticipated being a quick visit to gather some information and grab some photos pleasantly turned into much more. Allocate time to enjoy yourself.
Enjoy the outdoors
Missouri State Parks has over 92 parks under their jurisdiction. One of those state parks is Ha Ha Tonka State Park. One of the fantastic things I found at Ha Ha Tonka is the preserved ruins of an early 1900s castle and estate.
The castle and estate were constructed by a prominent Kansas City businessman and were set to rival the castles of Europe. Unfortunately, in 1942, a fire broke out and gutted the castle. Hiking to the ruins allowed me to see the remaining outline of what was once a wonder of architecture, a place where one man tried to bring his dream to life.
In another area of the park, I discovered a wonder of nature in the form of a natural bridge. A natural bridge, or arch as they are sometimes called, is a geological formation caused by erosion in the horizontal limestone or sandstone. There are also sinkholes, caves, and Missouri’s 12th largest spring housed within Ha Ha Tonka.
For the outdoor and nature person, this state park is truly a must-see.
Take an aquatic tour.
Another state park in the area is the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. This park has 85 miles of shoreline and is Missouri’s largest state park. A visit here brings a myriad of things to keep one entertained, from sandy beaches, campgrounds, hiking, and bike trails to what was my adventure for the day, the Aquatic Trail.
The Aquatic Trail covers close to 10 miles and affords a different perspective of the Lake –viewing the shoreline from the water. The boat I boarded at Grand Glaize Marina guided me to various points along the trail. Among them were the woodlands and glades, limestone bluffs up close and personal, geological formations called Nature’s Window and Nature’s Apartment House, to name a few.
Aside from seeing these natural marvels, simply being on a boat enjoying the beautiful sunshine and brilliant views of the Lake was the perfect way to spend a morning.
Explore a show cave.
If you are ambivalent about exploring caves, Lake of the Ozarks has a show cave that will change your mind. Bridal Cave is one of the most beautiful caves I’d had the pleasure of visiting. Osage Native Americans discovered this miraculous place, lying under Thunder Mountain, hundreds of years ago. There was a fabled wedding in the 1800s, for which Bridal Cave took its name.
Bridal Cave has all the requirements for awe-inspiring views and has the most onyx formations of any known cavern. There are massive columns, stalagmites and stalactites, wall draperies, and an underground lake whose color is mineral-rich and fabulous.
While I did not partake, they also offer a Lantern Tour. The guided tour of the cave by lantern simulates the experience early cave explorers had before using electric lights.
Enjoy the Lake from a kayak.
I enjoy the peacefulness of kayaking, so I wanted to experience Lake of the Ozarks this way. Many places offer kayak and boat rentals, including many resorts. While I took advantage of my resort’s kayaking experience, I also enjoyed that offered by Super Dave’s Paddle Craft Adventures.
Whether one is a novice or expert, the staff takes the time to offer a brief lesson on handling and safety. They offer not only kayaks but are one of the few places where stand-up paddleboards are available. With a close-by beach and swimming area, it is also very family-friendly.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
After my kayak adventure, I walked across the sand and into the ultra-casual beachfront bar and grill called Franky & Louie’s, known as the ‘Key West of the Midwest. I enjoyed my meal while watching children and adults alike frolicking in the water and playing in the sand. It was a fabulous way to while away an afternoon.
Lake of the Ozarks is truly a gem snuggled in the heart of mid-Missouri. The outdoor adventures and beauty of the Lake itself lend to the fact that millions of tourists visit the area each year. Whether your joy is fishing, hiking, caving, or simply being in nature, this area has something for everyone. Experiencing the area firsthand has given me a whole new perspective, understanding, and appreciation of the Show-Me State.