The Lake of the Ozarks is a massive body of water located right in the center of Missouri. The lake has over 1150 miles of shoreline, which is more than the state of California, and it is an excellent destination for people all over the state to visit. I got the chance to spend the better part of a week in the Lake of Ozarks last summer, and I put together this list of some of my favorite spots to visit. Let me know what I left off in the comments, and let’s jump into it.
Get out on the Water
While this should go without saying, the best way to experience the area is to get out on the water. You can rent boats, jet skis, and other water sports devices all around the lake, so be sure to spend some time cruising this massive waterway. Also, many of the restaurants along the water have areas where you can dock your boat or jet ski if you want to grab a bite to eat, which is fun on its own. Pro-tip, go out in the early morning to experience the lake at its most calm, giving you a chance to feel like you are the only one out.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Apart from the lake, Ha Ha Tonka is my favorite spot in Lake of the Ozarks. This state park was named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Conde Nast Traveler, and I would not argue that. The park features over 3700 acres and dozens of miles of hiking trails. The standout feature here is the remains of the house that was built in the early 1900s and was supposed to rival a European castle. Unfortunately, not much remains except the walls, but seeing those is still impressive. The park also has a large arch you can see and the Ha Ha Tonka Spring, which is stunning. Honestly, this is a fantastic park and you really need to experience it.
Missouri is known as the caves state, and my next three recommendations are all caves around the Lake of the Ozarks.
Bridal Cave is by far the most famous cave in the Lake of the Ozarks. It is located right along the water; you can even dock your boat and walk up to take the tour. If you follow this blog, then you know I go in many caves, and I can honestly say this is a really amazing one to explore. The cave features some genuinely unique formations and some of the best-preserved formations I have seen. The tour feels very adventurous as you must duck under some passageways as you traverse back into the cave. I loved this cave and was blown away by how impressive it was once you got past the first few rooms.
Jacobs Cave is in the northwest area of Lake of the Ozarks, further away from the main towns near Bridal Cave. Because of that, it gets fewer visitors, but it is still a great cave to explore. This cave was the first commercial cave in the area to be opened. The cave has lots of impressive formations, with some areas with water and rooms where the ceiling seems to be covered in soda straws. I was in this cave for about an hour, and my tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the cave and surrounding area. It was a lot of fun to explore.
The last of the three caves I visited was Stark Caverns, and like the other two, this one was also impressive in its own way and worth exploring. This cave has been voted one of the best in Missouri, and they have been giving tours for over 70 years. What’s impressive about this cave is how much water there is inside of it. As you enter the cave, you walk on a bridge to cross the water below you. On the way back into the cave, you follow the water, and there are areas with little waterfalls as well. The tour was an hour long, and you got to everything from a moonshiners area to a wishing well, with lots of fantastic formations along the tour.
Here are a few historic recommendations in the area.
Built in the 1930s Bagnell Dam is an engineering marvel and it is worth checking out while you are in the area, especially if you like history. There is a good overlook from the town of Lake Ozark where you can see the dam, but it is tough to get close to it without a boat. You can also visit the small park which is known as the Bagnell Dam historic site and which has plaques and information on the area and the dams history.
While there, head over to our next recommendation, the Willmore Lodge. This historic log building was built in 1930 and is beautiful to see. Inside the building is a small museum on the dam and how it was built, including a few exhibits and a movie. The lodge has a beautiful garden and many outside paths that take you to incredible viewpoints of the lake, so don’t miss that as you are also exploring.
Let me know what you would add to this list in the comments!