With its 1,150 miles of shoreline, the Lake of the Ozarks is the state’s most popular tourist destination.
There’s no doubt the lake, created by Union Electric Co. in 1931, is the main draw for the 3.5 million or so people who will come this summer. But there’s more to do at the lake than actually being on the lake.
The Lake of the Ozarks area is home to three big full-service resorts: the Lodge of the Four Seasons, with its award-winning spa; Camden on the Lake, an upscale newbie with gorgeous rooms and a swim-up bar; and Tan-Tar-A, a fun family destination with an indoor waterpark, horses, a bowling alley and more.
While you could spend all your time at any one of these resorts or the many campgrounds nearby (Cross Creek is a great, full-service one), try exploring some of these attractions:
Bridal Cave at Thunder Mountain Park: At first glance, Bridal Cave (admission $8-$16) looks fairly unassuming. After you head through a gift shop and down some stairs, you see a small hole with a barred door in a cliff. Your guide unlocks the door and you step into a room full of quartz, stalagmites, stalagtites, columns, drapery and soda straws (all terms our guide taught us). Then you begin your real journey, through narrow passageways and tunnels into rooms so amazing they will take your breath away. Couples get married here (thus the name) and Osage Indians coaxed music out of the stone formations years ago. The last stop is a stunning lake that’s worth the hourlong tour to get to the back of the cave. Don’t forget to stop at the gem shop on your way out. More info: bridalcave.com
Main Street Music Hall: Without kids, it’s easy to find something to do in the evenings at the lake: find a bar with a great band. With kids you might want something more subdued. We found the Main Street Music Hall’s Main Street Opry ($11-$20), a comedy and music show. lakemusichall.com
Miner Mike’s and Buster’s: Your kids will want to play at this 35,000-square-foot indoor play center all day. In addition to high-tech token-operated video games, you’ll find a mini roller coaster, Ferris wheel and bumper cars. There is also a huge maze with tunnels, slides, a ball pit and ball launchers. You can get entry to the maze and unlimited rides for $14 per child (one adult can ride free with a child). minermikes.com
Ha Ha Tonka State Park: The majestic “castle” ruins and accompanying majestic view of the lake at Ha Ha Tonka State Park are, well, pretty majestic. The park offers many trails, most of them fairly short. The trails bring you to dramatic locations, such as a sweeping natural bridge or the castle ruins. Really, the castle is an early 1900s home built to look like a Scottish castle. It burned along with its carriage house in 1942. The remains are perfectly situated on bluffs overlooking the lake. mostateparks.com/ park/ha-ha-tonka-state-park
Tropic Island Cruises: If you aren’t a boater, you can rent one or just take a ride on this luxury motor yacht. Tropic Island Cruises operates a beautiful boat, and most important, has a full-service bar on the upper deck. A 90-minute narrated tour of the lake is $10-$20. Tropicislandcruises.com