Explore > Missouri > Missouri Spotlight
spotlight header

Spotlight on Lake of the Ozarks

Hit the water or explore the caves in a Missouri wonderland

From deep caves to homemade candy, there is something for everyone at this Missouri hot spot, starting with a vast lake surface to enjoy.

Twisting through the rugged countryside of western Missouri like a watery serpent, the Lake of the Ozarks brings thousands of visitors each year to its 80 miles of shoreline. That means plenty of room for zooming in a speedboat or gliding across the surface on water skis. Folks seeking a slower pace can discover ample fishing, biking, hiking and wildlife spotting on the lake’s lush banks.

Landlubbers can explore the many Missouri state parks that surround the 54,000-acre lake, nicknamed the Missouri Dragon for its winding shape. Lake of the Ozarks State Park, situated on the western end of the lake, boasts thousands of acres of wooded terrain, with dozens of trails snaking through beautiful landscapes. The 17,000-acre park also has two on-site marinas, located at Public Beach No. 1 and the Grand Glaize area. The first rents canoes, kayaks and paddle boats. It also has six open dock slips for nightly rental. The latter has 38 covered slips (plus a dozen more open slips) for rent. Both marinas have a general store with assorted items, including live fishing bait, boating supplies and even hand-dipped ice cream.

Craving Cave Exploration

A visit to Ozark Caverns near the southern border of Lake of the Ozarks State Park opens the door to a subterranean world populated by bats, salamanders and bizarre insects, some of which never venture beyond their lightless environments. There are interpretative lantern-light tours for all ages. Stalagmites and other geological formations will dazzle would-be geologists. Keep your camera ready for Angel Showers, a hypnotic, never-ending downpour of water that seems to emerge from a solid ceiling of rock.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The terrain above the caverns holds as much fascination as the underground chambers below. The Coakley Hollow Trail is a one-mile interpretive loop that begins and ends at the cavern’s parking lot. This pleasant walk traverses a variety of habitats, including an Ozark spring branch. Deepen your knowledge of this habitat by purchasing a trail book at the park’s visitor center. Bring a picnic basket along and take advantage of the picnic sites on the grounds.

Come to the Castle

Located on the southernmost banks of the Lake of the Ozarks is Ha Ha Tonka State Park, which attracts both nature lovers and architecture buffs. Some 15 miles of trails lead visitors to surprising finds. Castle Trail (wheelchair and stroller accessible) is one of the most popular because it leads to some spectacular views of the park — and to the towering stone ruins of a majestic residence. Spend some time at the Ha Ha Tonka Castle, built by Kansas City businessman Robert McClure in 1905 and completed by his sons the following year after McClure died in a car crash. Used as a summer home by the family and later converted to a hotel, the impressive structure was destroyed by fire in 1942. All that remains are high walls that loom forbiddingly over the forested landscape.

The trail’s upper portion features three scenic overlooks with park benches, adding to the dozen benches dotted along the trail route.

Colosseum Trail is part of the Ha Ha Tonka Karst Natural Area. This trail winds under a natural bridge and through a large sinkhole that gives the park its name. The natural bridge, a massive stone arch left behind after the cave system around it collapsed, spans 70 feet and towers 100 feet off the ground. Hikers amble over the crossing for a chance to view flowering dogwood and other nature sites.

At 150 feet deep, the Colosseum Sinkhole serves as a virtual bowl for the spring wildflowers that grow abundantly on its slopes. The steep climb into and out of the sinkhole to the top of the nearby bridge is arduous, but the views of the castle ruins are worth it.

Beauty Beyond the Lake

If you can tear yourself away from the beauty and serenity of the water and surrounding wilderness, you’d be well-advised to venture into some of the local communities that cater to lake visitors. Grandma’s Candy Kitchen, with hand-dipped chocolates, 20 flavors of homemade fudge and 40 kinds of saltwater taffy, is located on the Strip in Lake Ozark. Osage Beach and Laurie are popular spots, each with a variety of restaurants. Old Kinderhook Golf Resort, in Camdenton, offers an 18-hole course designed by PGA champion Tom Weiskopf.

For More Information

Lake of the Ozarks



Missouri Division of Tourism