A vacation destination for decades, southern Missouri has the magic touch when it comes to family-friendly attractions and outdoors adventures. From the Wild West roller-coasters of Silver Dollar City, to the Arnold Palmer-inspired links in Lake of the Ozarks, this road trip boasts the best of the Show Me State, all without sacrificing the amenities of larger, less accessible destinations. For legendary lake life and one-of-a-kind natural wonders, there’s nowhere else quite like it.
1. Lake of the Ozarks
With 1,100 miles of shoreline, this man-made reservoir boasts more coast than California – and it shows. Between the boating, swimming and top-notch bass fishing, you may never want to step foot on dry land again. There are plentiful public beaches, but anglers will get the most out of their stay with a little local help by hiring a charter-fishing guide to show you the lake’s secret coves. And don’t worry, if you need a break from lake life, there are 13 world-class golf courses in the area, as well as wineries, ziplining, caverns and more. In fact, even the shopping is first-rate. With everything from high-end outlets to antiques, you’re sure to find everything you need.
Drive 90 miles • 1 hour, 33 minutes
Discovered in 1862 just north of town, Fantastic Caverns has become one of the Ozarks must-see attractions. This incredible cave system is a fragile collection of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and cave pearls, all of which continue to “grow” to this day. Tours are available on a Jeep-pulled tram system that allows visitors an up-close look at the stunning formations without damaging the site. For more natural wonders, head to the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, a sprawling celebration of wildlife and conservation that in 2017 was voted the “Best New Attraction” in the U.S., with immersive wildlife galleries and a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium.
Drive 44 miles • 48 minutes
Located in the heart of the Ozarks just north of the Arkansas border, Branson has become synonymous with variety shows and country concerts, but there’s more to this family vacation mecca than just live music. Silver Dollar City is like a Midwestern Disneyland, featuring 1880s-themed rides, a waterpark and costumed craftsmen creating everything from candy to blown glass. Table Rock Lake is another must-do for nature lovers with an eye for outdoor fun. There’s boating, and beaches, and even historic paddleboat cruises, but the real draw here is the absolute unmatched fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish.