Lake Of The Ozarks: A Gem In Mid-Missouri

Alhonna Resort
Sunrise ©Lisa Evans

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.

Bagnell Dam
Bagnell Dam ©Lisa Evans

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.

Alhonna Resort
Beautiful Sunset ©Lisa Evans

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.

Willmore Lodge view
Willmore Lodge view of the Lake ©Lisa Evans

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.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Castle Ruins ©Lisa Evans

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.

Aquatic Trail
Bluffs ©Lisa Evans

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.

Aquatic Trail
Aquatic Trail cave ©Lisa Evans

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.

Formations inside Bridal Cave ©Lisa Evans

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.

Bridal Cave
Lake inside Bridal Cave ©Lisa Evans

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.

kayaks at Super Dave's
Kayaks used from Super Dave’s ©Lisa Evans

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.

Franky & Louie's Beach Bar
Franky and Louie’s Beach ©Lisa Evans

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.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Hiking trail Ha Ha Tonka ©Lisa Evans



Alhonna Resort and Marina

Willmore Lodge

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Lake of the Ozarks State Park

The Aquatic Trail

Bridal Cave

Super Dave’s Paddle Craft Adventures

Franky & Louie’s



Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is an author, freelance travel journalist and photographer. She has always enjoyed the outdoors and nature and often includes them in her writing and photography. History is another passion – every place has a story to tell if only you find it. This love of history, along with her admiration for beautiful, poignant photographs pushes her to author stories and take photos to instill a desire in her readers to explore the world and discover new places. Lisa’s book, 100 Things To Do In Coastal Mississippi Before You Die, is available now from Reedy Press. She is a member of professional writing organizations IFWTWA, TravMedia, SATW, NATJA, and Travel Writer’s University. Lisa maintains a website at Her social handles are @MyGypsyTravel and @100ThingsCoastalMS.