Road Trips and Destinations

Family fun in the Ozarks: Our top 7 picks


More from Outdoor Living Newsletter May Outdoor Living Newsletter
 
A tree dangles over a rapidly flowing river
Big Spring.

Ask people to define fun and the answers will vary dramatically. Ask a dictionary to define fun and you will receive a definitive, precise description: "something that provides amusement". Ask Missouri to define fun and you will receive a succinct answer: "The Ozarks".

The Ozarks, otherwise known as Ozarks Mountain Country, the Ozark Mountains, or the Ozark Plateau, are a nature lover's paradise and a playground for children. This highland region of the Central United States spans four states and provides a variety of geographical terrain including mountains, forests, caves, and lakeside bluffs that offer recreational opportunities for all ages. We focus on the Missouri section of the Ozarks.

When to go

Spring and summer are the most popular times for visiting the Ozarks. We recommend you go in the Spring to take in the natural beauty of the budding flora when dogwoods, wildflowers, and forsythia are in bloom. It's an ideal time to get out to one of the lakes, bike, or hike on a nature trail. Although the Summer can be awfully hot in the land-locked Midwest, the lakes provide a perfect respite from the steamy weather during this season.

How to get there

At the heart of the Missouri Ozarks region is the Lake of the Ozarks. The Lake is 3 hours from St. Louis and Kansas City and sits between I-44 and I-70, the key east-west interstates that cut through the state.

Main airports are Kansas City International Airport and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

What to see and do

At the center of all the fun is Lake of the Ozarks. The lake, which holds the title to the largest manmade lake in the Midwestern United States, provides visitors with over 1,100 miles of shoreline that runs through four different Missouri counties. Recreational activities run the gamut from fishing to parasailing, boating to swimming.

Outdoor activities extend far beyond the water. The Ozark Mountains provide a playground for the active family. Whether you're a hiker, mountain biker, mountain climber, or simply looking to take a stroll in beautiful natural scenery, you can fully engage your active self in the Ozark Mountains.

If mountains aren't your cup of tea, head below ground. One of Missouri's nicknames is the cave state, and for good reason. According to the Springfield-Greene County Library, Missouri has 4,769 recorded caves and many of these are located in the heart of the Ozarks.

For those looking to keep the children entertained, the Ozarks also has you covered. Many of the lakeside towns offer family entertainment, from Go Karts to waterparks, carnival rides to miniature golf.

One of the greatest aspects of the Ozarks is the diversity of things to do. With so many options how do you decide where to go and what to do? We've selected our top 7 destinations in Missouri.

1. BRANSON

Yellow and green trees sit in the foreground with Table Rock Lake in the background
Table Rock Lake

Family Entertainment:

Known as the "Live Music Show Capital of the World", Branson offers the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas with a focus on wholesome family entertainment. The city has more than 50 live performance theaters, three lakes, a theme park, and 12 championship golf courses.

Outdoors:

Table Rock Lake is as popular for scuba diving as it is for water sports. The lake's water is crystal clear, making it attractive from both above and below the water. Wake-boarding, boating, tubing and fishing are all very popular on the lake, and largemouth bass, catfish and crappie are abundant.

Around the lake are numerous trails that offer picturesque views.

You can stay at Table Rock State Park, right next to the lake, or at any of the RV parks and campgrounds around Branson.

2. BAGNELL

Aerial painting of Bagnell Dam
Bagnell Dam

Outdoors:

Bagnell Dam Overlook - Sometimes the best road trip experiences are the cheapest. In 1998 a scenic overlook was created at Bagnell Dam to provide visitors with incredible views of the Lake of the Ozarks, at no expense to the visitors.

Aside from wonderful views, you can also get up close and personal with wildlife at the fish and bird observation area that is along a walkway leading to the Osage Plant's main office on the downstream side of Bagnell Dam. Among the animals that are often in the area are ringed billed gulls, and bald eagles. The bald eagles catch and eat fish in the river below the Dam.

The entrance to the overlook is on Upper Power Plant Road, about one mile north of Bagnell Dam.

Find campgrounds and RV Parks in the Bagnell area.

3. OSAGE BEACH

A child plays a game of ski ball at Miner Mike's
Ski Ball at Miner Mike's

Family Entertainment:

Osage Beach is a childhood dream come true. Entertainment for the little ones abounds in this lakeside town, with plenty of rides and entertainment options, as well as lakeside fun. Highlights include:

Parks:

Lake of the Ozarks State Park Marina offers swimming, fishing, and boat rentals.

Visit Redbeard's Ranch for a peaceful, quiet, wholesome camping environment on the river. Or you can splash around in the pool at Bass River Resort. With many Osage Beach RV parks and campgrounds, your camping options are abundant.

4. LAKE OZARK

A paddlewheel boat floats along Ozark Lake
A paddlewheel boat floats along Ozark Lake

Family Entertainment:

Tom Sawyer Cruises - Jump aboard the grand Tom Sawyer riverboat for a cruise along Lake Ozark. Options include scenic tours and sunset cruises.

Other recreational activities available include horseback riding, boat rentals and fishing.

Keep close to the shoreline at any of the RV parks and campgrounds close to Lake Ozark.

5. CAMDENTON

Sun shines down into a cave and illuminates the rock
Rocks are illuminated at Bridal Caves

Cave Tours:

Bridal Caves - Bridal Caves offers tours that provide visitors views of reflective pools, ceiling sponge-work, and prehistoric bones. Evidence of six ice ages and three earths can be seen on the tour.

Museums:

Orion Science Center & Dino Space Adventure - Orion Center's DinoSpace Adventure is a unique combination of science center and theme park with serious exhibits for adults and fun activities for kids. It showcases hands-on science activities, intriguing exhibits, good science and family fun. In addition to a science center for museum visitors, we offer rewarding opportunities for volunteers and mentoring experiences for young people. General admission is $6 per person.

Parks:

Ha Ha Tonka State Park - A visit to the Park will be a treat for any nature enthusiast. Within the park is Missouri's twelfth largest spring, fifteen miles of trails, spectacular scenery, castle ruins perched on a 250-foot bluff, sinkholes, caves, a huge natural bridge, and soaring bluffs. Paved walkways dot the landscape.

Find RV parks and campgrounds near Camdenton, accommodation is easy to come by.

6. VERSAILLES

A hand sketch of the Morgan County Museum
Morgan County Museum

Museums:

Morgan County Museum - located in the old Martin Hotel in Versailles, the Martin Hotel was established more than 150 years ago. There are 28 rooms decorated with exhibits, including a chapel, a Doll Room, a Military Room, and a Tool Room.

Let the children run free on the nearly 400 acre fairgrounds property of Missouri State Fair RV Park. Or find another Versailles campgrounds and RV Parks.

7. MIDDLEBROOK

Sunlight shines through tree tops
Edge of the Forest

Outdoors:

For the adventurous family Johnson's Shut-In State Park offers rock climbing on some of the oldest exposed rocks in the nation. The rocks are short, making them ideal for novices to practice on. If you plan on climbing be sure to register for a permit at park headquarters, as they are required. The park is open to climbing from Sept. 2nd through the Thursday before Memorial Weekend.

Other activities available include swimming, fishing and hiking. There are a series of swimming holes on the East Fork of the Black River, and hiking trails that include several miles of the 500-mile Ozark Trail.

NOTE: a 100-car visitation limit is maintained by park staff. Gates open at 7 a.m. and visitors are advised to arrive early to avoid waiting for entry to the park. Pets are not allowed at the Shut-Ins or on trails.

Johnson's Shut-In State Park offers RV and tent sites. Be sure to call ahead to check for availability.

 

Campgrounds and RV Parks

There are many campgrounds and RV Parks spread throughout the Ozarks. Use our Smart Search to find their locations around Lake of the Ozarks.

Whether it's family fun, fishing, boating, hiking, or just plain relaxing, the Ozarks has something for everyone.

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