Known for its stunning scenery and abundant water activities, the Lake of the Ozarks is a popular vacation destination in central Missouri. Growing up in St. Louis, there was never a question about what “the lake” referred to in my family. One of the oldest and largest man-made lakes in the United States, it was originally designed to provide hydroelectricity for the community from the Osage River with the Bagnell Dam. Boasting 1,150 miles of shoreline, the serpentine-shaped reservoir spans 54,000 acres.
For most of my life, we liked to think of the Ozarks as our own little hidden Midwest vacation destination. That is, until the hit show Ozark thrust the region into the mainstream. Although the show wasn’t actually filmed in the Ozarks, the region is surrounded by the beautiful rolling Ozark Mountain range. Contrary to the show, though, the Lake of the Ozarks is actually an extremely family-friendly destination that offers an abundance of outdoor activities for all to enjoy.
Visiting the Lake of the Ozarks and not making it out onto the water is like going to Kansas City and not trying the barbecue; it just shouldn’t happen. Exploring the 92-mile lake by boat is arguably the fastest — and definitely the most fun — way to get around. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being anchored in a cove, jumping off the boat deck into the deep water below, and getting whipped around in a tube. As we got older, we loved spending the afternoon tooling the shoreline gawking at the real estate and yachts tucked in their docks.
If you don’t have access to your own watercraft, many boat rental options are available throughout the area. You can even find some that include your own personal captain! Most rental companies have jet skis, deck boats, ski boats, and pontoon boats available for half- and full-day use so you can choose which fits your group size and needs.
The main channel can get extremely congested with boating traffic on weekends during the summer. If you’re looking for a quieter time, or interested in watersports like water skiing or tubing, I recommend finding a cove.
Boating License Required
Missouri requires boating licenses for anyone born after January 1, 1984. Licenses can be obtained via an online exam.
Whether on a boat, from a dock, or from the shores of the many public beaches, fishing is another must while at the lake.
Since I’m not a big fan of putting live bait on a hook, I personally recommend catfishing. Catfish love stink bait and chicken liver and tend to hide in the cool shadows that private and community docks create, especially during the summer. Whiskerfish are known for being a fighter fish once hooked, but reeling one in is worth it. If you’re the adventurous type, head down to the fishing area near Bagnell Dam. Rumor has it that with the correct gear, it’s not unheard of to catch a 60-pound catfish!
Bass And More
If the catfish aren’t biting, there are plenty of other fish, as the saying goes. Every year, Bassmaster Magazine ranks Lake of the Ozarks as one of the top 100 bass lakes in the country. The waters are also home to large populations of crappie, bluegill, sunfish, and walleye.
Midwest Fishing Tournaments
The Lake of the Ozarks also hosts fishing events, including the Big Bass Bash for amateur anglers and the Anglers in Action Tournament Trail and Major League Fishing events for pros.
There’s nothing better than sitting in the sunshine with a cold drink and listening to some live music by the water. Perhaps that’s why the Lake of the Ozarks live music scene has been exploding recently. Catch a lakeside show at The Encore Lakeside Grill & Sky Bar or Backwater Jack’s. But the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down — here are a couple of can’t-miss locales for live music lovers.
Dubbed the “Party Capital of the Lake,” Shady Gators is a multi-story lakeside bar and Cajun restaurant that hosts live touring acts. House and boat rentals are also available. Check out the lineup for this year’s Lazy Gators Concert Series.
Although it is not located on the lake, Ozarks Amphitheater hosts many of the most popular concert tours each summer. In fact, it is the best large music venue in the state according to Missouri’s Best Magazine readers. With a capacity of 10,000, the open-air amphitheater is a perfect size for an up-close-and-personal experience with your favorite artist. Upcoming performances include Dwight Yoakam with Aaron Lewis, Chicago, The Avett Brothers with Gov’t Mule, Trace Adkins, and Earth, Wind, & Fire.
Although I’m personally better at putt-putt, do yourself a favor and make a point to spend an afternoon at one of the beautiful world-class golf courses. Here are just a few of the many wonderful places to tee off.
Osage National Golf Resort
Home to not one but two Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Courses, Osage National Golf Resort is open to the public all year long.
The Oaks Golf Course At Margaritaville Lake Resort
Part of Margaritaville Lake Resort, The Oaks Golf Course is a public course that offers a great experience without breaking the bank.
Part of a 700-plus-acre community of the same name, Old Kinderhook is an 18-hole, par 71 Tom Weiskopf signature course that’s also open to the public year-round.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The Lake of the Ozarks is also home to one of Missouri’s most unique parks, Ha Ha Tonka State Park. This stunning natural attraction is known for its unique geological formations, including sinkholes, caves, and natural bridges. Visitors can explore the park’s trails and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding Ozark landscape.
One of the park’s most popular features is the ruins of an early 20th-century castle that sits atop a bluff overlooking the lake. It was built by a wealthy businessman but was destroyed by fire in the 1940s. Today, visitors can hike to the castle ruins and explore the stone walls and archways that remain and enjoy views of the lake as well as Ha Ha Tonka Spring. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Lake of the Ozarks area.
Festivals And Events
There’s something going on every weekend during peak lake season, but the Lake of the Ozarks hosts events throughout the year — here are some of our favorites.
The Lake of the Ozarks hosts a Harbor Hop in the spring and one in the fall. Contestants stop at seven of the 40 spots on the lake, picking up a playing card at each one in an attempt to make a winning poker hand.
Old Tyme Apple Festival
Get ready for a slew of events as the community crowns its Apple Festival King and Queen. Along with the crowning ceremony, there will be a Fiddler’s Contest, an Apple Pie Baking Contest, live music, a corn hole tournament, a festival parade, and so much more. The Old Tyme Apple Festival is a 2-day event in Versaille, Missouri, scheduled this year for October 7–8.
If you’re looking for “high stakes racing at its finest,” you’re going to want to visit the Lake of The Ozarks from June 1–3. The LOTO Powerfest is the epitome of speedboat racing. Perched on the waters of the Lake of the Ozarks, contestants and spectators get together to experience a schedule of events including meet and greets and a party on Friday, and racing all day on Saturday.
Lake Of The Ozarks Shootout
The self-proclaimed “largest unsanctioned charity boat race in the U.S.,” Lake of the Ozarks Shootout offers a full week of events in August. Attracting thousands of visitors, this annual speedboat racing event features some of the fastest boats in the world.
Lake Of The Ozarks Bikefest
Lake of the Ozarks is home to some super scenic rides. Each September, tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend upon the area for Bikefest.
Lake Of The Ozarks Christmas Parade
If you happen to be visiting during the holiday season, try to catch the Lake of the Ozarks Christmas Parade, a parade of boats decorated with Christmas lights and decorations.
Where To Eat At The Lake Of The Ozarks
Whether you’re in the mood for fine dining, casual barbecue, or a glass of wine with a view, the Lake of the Ozarks has something for everyone. Be sure to check out these great restaurants during your visit!
If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience, JB Hook’s is the place to be. Located on the lake’s west side, this restaurant offers a breathtaking view of the lake and an extensive menu of seafood, steaks, and pasta dishes. Their wine list is also impressive, with over 600 labels to choose from.
Wobbly Boots Roadhouse
For a more casual dining experience, check out Wobbly Boots Roadhouse. This barbecue joint offers a variety of smoked meats, including ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, as well as burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Their outdoor patio is perfect for enjoying a cold beer on a sunny day.
Baxter’s Lakeside Grille
Another restaurant with a stunning view of the lake, Baxter’s Lakeside Grille offers a menu of American classics with a twist. Their award-winning sushi rolls are a must-try, as well as their burgers, steaks, and seafood dishes. They also have an extensive wine list and cocktail menu.
Shawnee Bluff Winery
If you’re a wine lover, be sure to visit Shawnee Bluff Winery. This family-owned winery offers a variety of wines made from grapes grown on their estate, as well as a selection of small plates and appetizers. Their outdoor deck is a great spot to relax and take in the view of the vineyards and the lake.
H. Toad’s Bar & Grill
Located at Camden on the Lake Resort, H. Toad’s Bar & Grill is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. They offer a menu of classic American fare, as well as a variety of craft cocktails and beers. They also have live music on the weekends, making it a great spot to unwind after a day on the lake.
Where To Stay At The Lake Of The Ozarks
Whether you’re looking for a luxurious resort or a cozy cottage, there are several great places to stay in the Lake of the Ozarks area. Here are some of the top resorts to stay at in the area.
Margaritaville Lake Resort
This resort offers a range of accommodations, including guest rooms, suites, and private cottages. It also has several restaurants and bars, a spa, and a variety of water activities, including a water park and marina.
Stay at the property that inspired the Blue Cat restaurant from Ozark — so much so they even bought the sign from the show. The Alhonna Resort is family fun on the Ozarks offering kayaking, paddle boating, and pontoon boating. With its onsite restaurant, the Blue Cat Lounge, guests will never go hungry. The menu features classic pub grub and delectable seafood options, from the lobster roll and the smash burgers to the catfish basket and the Blue Cat’s Famous Italian Beef Roll.
Camden On The Lake
Claiming to have the “newest and most luxurious rooms” on the water, Camden on the Lake Resort, Spa & Yacht Club offers spacious suites with lake views, as well as amenities such as a pool, hot tub, and fitness center. There are also several restaurants and bars, as well as a marina and boat rental service.
Old Kinderhook Resort
Perfect for golfers, the Old Kinderhook Resort, Golf Club, & Spa offers a range of accommodations, including guest rooms, suites, and cottages. In addition to the golf course, the resort boasts a spa, a fitness center, and several restaurants and bars. Several popular attractions, including the Bridal Cave and the Lake of the Ozarks Winery, can be found nearby.
Be sure to check out these Lake of the Ozarks lodging options to complement your getaway.