The Ozarks region of Missouri is well known for its natural beauty, including rolling hills, forests, and lakes — a welcome change of pace from the flat fields and farmland most people associate with the Midwest. The area's jewel is the Lake of the Ozarks, a sprawling, artificial reservoir spanning four counties. With over 1,000 miles of shoreline, the lake offers a wide range of recreational activities. Whether you're an outdoors enthusiast or a weekend shopaholic, there's a reason why Lake of the Ozarks is such a popular vacation destination.
Lake of the Ozarks is enormous, so it's easy to find a quiet fishing hole away from the crowds. Whether you charter a guided fishing boat, rent a canoe, or stake your claim to one of the area's many fishing docks, you have great odds of coming home with a big catch. The lake is well stocked with favorites like crappie, walleye, blue gill, channel catfish, and largemouth bass.
Pitch a tent at one of the three campgrounds in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, and you can sleep under the stars. Reserve a basic site for tenting or an electric hookup for a camper. The Pin Oaks facility features a lodge and cabins and a camp store for supplies near the entrance. While you're here, you can hike, swim, and cook over an open fire.
There are several cruise companies at Lake of the Ozarks, so you can design your own perfect experience. Choose a sunset dinner cruise for a romantic evening or a daytime tour for a look at Bagnell Dam and the strip of mansions along the water. There are even paddlewheel boats that let you imagine you've stepped back in time to join Mark Twain on the Mississippi River.
Visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park to hike some of the most interesting terrain in Missouri. Over a dozen well-maintained trails allow visitors to explore natural caves and bridges, sinkholes, and even the ruins of an old stone castle. In the summer, park rangers offer interpretive programs to explain the wonders of the area's geological formations. There's a playground for kids and camping if you want to spend more time in this fascinating location.
The lake area is chock-full of marinas and water sports rental outfits, so you can take your pick of boats, kayaks, canoes, and — for speed demons — jet skis. Exploring the lake is the best way to get to some hidden inlets and quiet areas where you can experience true peace and quiet. If quiet isn't your thing, try parasailing or water skiing for the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Osage Beach is the largest city near the lake and is the central hub for nightlife. Despite its small population, Osage Beach punches way above its weight when it comes to live entertainment. There are at least a dozen bars and restaurants that feature bands, so you can take your choice from country, rock, blues, and jazz. You can also catch local talent at the Main Street Music Hall.
Hit the links at one of the lake's many well-groomed golf courses. Lake of the Ozarks is home to several golf courses, each offering a unique experience. From challenging 18-hole courses to more relaxed nine-hole options, you're sure to find a course that suits your skill level. Many courses offer vacation rentals on-site for a taste of the country club lifestyle.
If you prefer your day on the water to include slipping and sliding, the Lake of the Ozarks area offers several water parks for visitors to enjoy, many just a short distance from Osage Beach. You'll find a full range of water slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools, along with concessions and themed areas for kids. Arrive early to snag lounge chairs, as these parks fill up fast on hot days.
The Lake of the Ozarks region is home to several wineries, each offering a unique selection of wines to sip in their tasting rooms. Many of the wineries also offer tours of their vineyards and facilities, and some host special events such as live music or food and wine pairings. Don't miss a taste of red wine made of Norton grapes, a variety native to Missouri. If you prefer white wine, ask for Missouri Riesling.
Lake of the Ozarks exists thanks to the engineering marvel that is Bagnell Dam: a 213-foot high structure that spans 1.5 miles of water. The dam is part of a hydroelectric power station that generates electricity for the surrounding area and is also a popular tourist destination. Explore the exhibits in the Visitor's Center before you walk across the dam to see the turbines in action.
If you prefer indoor fun, you can go shopping at one of the area's many outlet malls and specialty stores. Lake of the Ozarks features a wide variety of shopping options, so you'll find everything from clothing and accessories to home decor and gifts. For a day of antiquing, head to the quaint downtown area of Camdenton.
When you feel the need for speed, it's time to head to a go-kart track. Go-kart racing is incredibly popular in the area and is a great way to experience the thrill of racing. Many tracks offer a choice between single and double racers and junior tracks designed for underage drivers. Call ahead to check age and height restrictions if you're bringing kids.
If you love great food, you won't go hungry by the lake. There are several fine dining options, including restaurants with views of the water to heighten your experience. Seafood and steak are the mainstays, and most upscale locations have an extensive wine list. There are also Mediterranean options for European flavor.
When you're on vacation, you're primed to relax — and there's no better way to get to bliss than with a day of self-care. Several spas in the area provide expert massages, facials, and bodywork. Some also offer additional services such as saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms. Bliss!
Hiking isn't the only way to hit the trails. If you love animals, you've got plenty of options to saddle up and explore on horseback. There are several local ranches and stables with horses for riders of all levels. You can also find hay rides when autumn rolls around.