Lake of the Ozarks, MO
June 14, 2005 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Planning a trip to Lake of the Ozarks, MO. Any advice?

I live in St. Louis and am planning a long weekend in Lake of the Ozarks. It's just me and my girlfriend, and we're interested in renting a motor boat, packing some picnics and trying some casual local restaurants (burgers!). Ideally, I would like to rent a small house or cabin on the water, with a motor boat available. My budget is about $100-125 per night.

I don't want anything fancy - I plan on being in flip flops and t-shirts the whole time. But I do want air conditioning, TV, etc.

Any advice on where to stay? There are lots of cabins and condos available for rent online, but without a recommendation, I'm hesistant to take a chance on one of them. We would consider a hotel, but I don't think I'll get the lakeside experience I'm imagining. I don't want to eat breakfast in a hotel restaurant - I want to be out on the patio overlooking the lake with a coffee and a newspaper.

I'd also like to get a reasonably priced rental boat as I imagine going out once or twice each day.

I've never been to Lake of the Ozarks - I was imagining it to be like Lake George in NY until someone described it differently. Maybe there are other places near St. Louis that can provide the same kind of experience? Any advice is appreciated.
posted by kdern to Travel & Transportation around Missouri (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Any advice? Um, don't go. I was forced to spend all of my childhood vacations here. It's just a lot of t-shirt shops, tourists, drunks, bad food, and Girls gone Wild type stupidity. Sorry, I'm bitter. No, but the lake can be very pretty. We used to stay at a place called Bass Point. I'm not sure what the price range is, but it was a decent place. Nice cabins on the water with kitchens and air conditioning. Nothing fancy though. They used to have this humongous statue of a giant at the entrance. Wonder if it's still there...

Be careful on the water. Lots of drunks renting boats!
posted by crapulent at 2:19 PM on June 14, 2005

Response by poster: Crapulent - is there another place you'd suggest? I'm not going for the parties, I just want to be on the water - to lay around, boat around the lake, swim, and go out for a burger somewhere. Advice?
posted by kdern at 2:26 PM on June 14, 2005

If you are going to go to Teh Lake...try to stay as far away from Osage Beach as possible...there may be hotels or resorts out of the way that will be more quiet and enjoyable (but I don't know any sorry.) Here is a PDF map of the area, and a Lake of the Ozarks website...

My family always vacationed at Lake Niangua (AKA Tunnel Dam), just down the road near HaHaTonka State Park...

At least you aren't headed to Branson. ;)
posted by schyler523 at 3:00 PM on June 14, 2005

I'm trying to think. Do you want to stay in Missouri? Also, I didn't mean to bash your idea. There might be some cute quiet places to stay in the Ozarks, but it might take some research. You definitely want to stay away from the main drags if you are looking for tranquility.

I've heard good things about Lake Carlyle, although I've never been there. It's in Illinois.

I went to Utica, Illinois a few summers ago. It's situated on the Illinois River. It has Starved Rock State Park, which is just beautiful. We camped at a camp site, but I know they have cabins (however, I don't know if they're on the water). Members of my family stayed in the lodge and said it was great.

Pere Marquette State Park in Alton, Illinois is some place I've always wanted to go. It's on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Alton is a very picturesque, interesting little town. It's got a nice feel to it. (I've been to the city, but not inside the park.) They have cabins, too. Again, I'm not sure if they're on the water.

Those could be good options for you. You should go to the Ozarks if you had your heart set on it, though. The lake is scenic and relaxing, but you will have to deal with the factors I mentioned above. It's especially bad this time of year. Hope you have a good time wherever you go.
posted by crapulent at 3:05 PM on June 14, 2005

Yeah, Branson is hell on earth.
posted by crapulent at 3:06 PM on June 14, 2005

Just make sure your A of G membership card is current. Ha Ha Tonka is pretty cool for an afternoon, though.

My favorite outdoorsy Missouri spot is SW of St Louis in the St Francis Mountains. Home of Silver Mines State Park, Elephant Rocks, Johnson Shut-Ins, and Taum Sauk point, the highest peak in MO.

This more of a camping and hiking thing, though there is some pretty cool floating to be had.

If you are at all a nature geek, you will know that this area is geologically active and has a very dramatic landscape (by midwest standards).
posted by sourwookie at 4:00 PM on June 14, 2005

PS: I live 30 minutes away from Branson. Best to steer clear.
posted by sourwookie at 4:01 PM on June 14, 2005

There's GGW action at Lake of the Ozarks? I totally missed that when I was there a couple of years ago. (Not like I do well in those environments... wait. I digress.)

The Lodge of Four Seasons has a run of the house rate that was 89 or 99/night the last time I was there. It's nice and quiet and full of nice, quiet old people. You'll have to call their desk, but if you ask for the run of the house, you should be able to get something reasonable.

I'm from Carbondale, so I'm always pro-Illinois, but Rend Lake may be a good option. I don't know where the Seasons Lodge is in relation to the lake, but give 'em a call. The staff there is nice, and they should be able to let you know what your options are.
posted by sachinag at 4:06 PM on June 14, 2005

Don't go! Go to Rend Lake instead. It's closer to St. Louis, it's not crowded and it's beautiful. It's in Illinois, but much prettier than Lake Carlisle, although a bit further down the road. It's a well-kept secret and I don't know why legions of St. Louisans don't go there all the time, but they don't.

That is, unless you're into bow-to-stern boat traffic, drunks, kitschy touristabilia and outlet mall shopping, then by all means go to Lake of the Ozarks.
posted by wordswinker at 4:14 PM on June 14, 2005

Apparently Mark Twain Lake in northern MO is largish and pretty seldom visited. I've never been there. I suspect that the surrounding landscape isn't nearly as rolly as the Ozarks, though.
posted by tss at 5:15 PM on June 14, 2005


My wife and I just returned last week from the annual stay-with-the-inlaws trip to Table Rock Lake, which is a bit further south from Lake of the Ozarks on the Arkansas border. The place we stayed, Big Cedar Lodge, is very nice, but probably outside what you want to spend and need. But as I understand it, and I'm not a native Missourian, Table Rock Lake seems to be a less populated version of Lake of the Ozarks. Fewer intoxicated undesirables renting boats. Though our bass fishing guide did say he refuses to work on the major holiday weekends because it's too nuts. But we had the enormous lake almost to ourselves starting out fishing on a weekday morning at 6:00. Very peaceful.

We made two good discoveries while we were there:

Firstly, Silver Dollar City; Branson. I have no interest in Branson, but my bro-in-law got the idea that SDC was some sort of artist conclave with rides from my father-in-law's visit twenty years ago. IT IS NOT. It is a weak-ass amusement park that will attempt to extricate money from your wallet at every turn, with one AMAZING roller coaster, and one new one that was down for maintenance. Judging solely by the fact you are a Metafilterian, I will make the rash assumption you will not enjoy SDC.

However, I think you would enjoy Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Due to some unknown harmonic convergence a bunch of damn artists, musicians and hippies congregated on this hillside town ~20 miles south of the Missouri border and created this very Oregon-esque community there. Lots of restaurants, art galleries, street musicians, and much more that the wife and I did not have time to explore. Reading through their local paper while waiting for lunch, I was refreshed by the civic discourse they have in this community. Next year, during the annual trip, we are going to spend an evening down there at one of the many B&B's.

Finally, seven miles south of Eureka Springs is a place called Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Holy cow. ~450 acres, only ~50 currently built out, they house over 100 big cats rescued from breeders and idiot owners around the southern midwest. ~50 tigers. ~20 lions. ~20 cougars. A Puma. A coyote. ~5 bears. They've got a fricking Liger, not very impressive. Oh! And a badger. Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger!

A caveat: this place is not a zoo, it's a rescue organization. It's not pretty. It's wire cages and a very hardworking staff of college interns and dedicated fulltime staff. They are building out enclosures on the rest of the property that are 10 to 50 acres apiece, and they just release the lions and tigers into them and they get to roam. They are doing some great work and it's one of those places you can still find in the middle of nowhere that reminds me that there are a lot of good people doing truly good things in the USA.

I have pictures if you are curious. My email is in my profile I believe if you'd like to chat about Table Rock or Eureka Springs. Also, as a transplanted St. Louisian (Chicago born and bred until 2 years ago) I'm always looking to hook up with those interested and interesting. I'll be the jackass with the blue hat with the red "C" at Busch.
On proofread:
posted by MarvinTheCat at 6:03 PM on June 14, 2005

I was going to write everything that MarvinTheCat said. I spent plenty of my youth in the area and he has it about right.

Except for the bit about Silver Dollar City. If you go there for the rides, you'll be disappointed. If you go for the old-timey life skills being displayed, you'll enjoy it. The people employed there are real artisans, not just actors (I used to know a good number of them), and they are happy to talk about their crafts. I think it's well worth the visit, and I always stop by when I'm back in the area.

My favorite spot on Table Rock is Indian Point, just past Silver Dollar City. There are plenty of lakeside cabins and camping areas (some owned by you and me and run by the Corps of Engineers), small restaurants, and places to rent pontoon and other boats.
posted by ewagoner at 6:54 PM on June 14, 2005

I'm afraid that Silver Dollar City (Steal Your Dollar City as we call it locally) has changed over the years. There are fewer artisans, and the stuff they sell has become more and more imported items tangentially related to the specific shop--with less and less of it being made on site.

Ureka Springs, however, is pretty cool.
posted by sourwookie at 7:12 PM on June 14, 2005

For water and relaxation, the Ozarks have some wonderful clear cool rivers that wind between limestone bluffs. I am on the other side of the state (sigh) so I don't know the ones closer to Saint Louis, but the Current River is popular. There are some books about canoeing and camping in the Ozarks you could find. Really, the Ozarks are one of America's under-appreciated wild places. Branson being the horrible mutant exception. Have fun.
posted by LarryC at 7:14 PM on June 14, 2005

I live in Springfield, yet I consider the 3-4 hour drive to SE MO for a few days well worth it. Where you and I live, Larry, is Karsted (limestone based) topography, whereas SE MO is all granite, and has a very different flavor to the landscape. Some of it is quite bizarre. It is not unusual to be hiking in the middle of the woods and encounter a boulder the size of a house, as if a giant had dropped it there. You should make a point of swimming in some shut-ins sometime. It's like a natural granite waterslidel.

I am also completely in love with my part of the state. I have a selection of swimming holes (most in Christian and Taney counties) I frequent. If I want to camp on the bank of a river under a 300 foot limestone bluff, I can always go to the Buffalo river in Northern Arkansas.

Did I mention the Ozarks are fucking beautiful?
posted by sourwookie at 7:36 PM on June 14, 2005

On a road trip ten years ago we drove past Lake of the Ozarks and stayed in a state park campsite on Lake Pomme de Terre. It was really nice, quiet, not full of mosquitoes as I expected, and just sort of laid back.
posted by zadcat at 7:41 PM on June 14, 2005

Have we mentioned the Ozarks are fucking beautiful? ;)

Oh, yeah. Details.

1) You must go check out the three coolest features in the state. They're not far from St. Louis -- namely, Johnson's Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk and Elephant Rocks state parks. All three are created from the same basic element -- granite, some of the hardest granite in the world -- and what happens when you try to erode it. Taum Sauk has the state's highest point, and the highest waterfall (which is seasonal, but is most likely roaring right now with all the rain recently.) Elephant Rocks are, well, Elephant Rocks. Johnson's shut-ins are a natural water park. (Hawn State park gets my vote for most beautiful, in the sense of staring and taking it all in.)

The hike between Taum Sauk and the Shut-ins is one of the most scenic hikes in the land. It's mostly easy grades, but the part up Taum Sauk is tough.

Further south is spring country. Mammoth Springs is just over the border in Arkansas, but Bennet Springs and Roaring River are on this side. The lodge at Roaring River is said to be rather nice.

As to lakes -- The Lake is overbuilt, over used, and over filled with drunks. Table Rock and Mark Twain are much nicer -- All three have State Parks, if you want the quieter parts, but have other facilites about as well.

The Ozarks were the range that stopped the Glaciers. They're tough. They're amazing.
posted by eriko at 8:09 PM on June 14, 2005

The Mills of Ozark County. Though no one has mentioned it yet, the Ozarks are fucking beautiful.
posted by LarryC at 8:39 PM on June 14, 2005

At the Tan-Tar-A Resort on Lake of the Ozarks, they have coin-op fish-food dispensers out on the pier. When you sprinkle a handful over the side, the fish (carp?) will literally FLOP AND CLIMB ALL OVER THEMSELVES to get at it. It's remarkable. If you sprinkle at the correct rate, you can get them to form a foot to foot-&-a-half high mound above the surface of the water.
posted by Tubes at 9:55 PM on June 14, 2005

So. My first post at Metafilter and I am talking about my hometown. Huh. Funny how things work out after lurking here for like 4 years.
I don't know if you all that have visited there are aware of this, but there are two completely different "sides" of the lake. The "Quiet side" or "Kansas City side" and the "Party side" or "St. Louis Side". They are actually about an hour to an hour and a half away from each other by car, and far enough away by boat that it's like a different lake when you're out there. It sounds like most of you have visited the St. Louis side. Where everything is expensive, everyone is drunk, and the boats look like they would be more at home on the Gulf than in this rinky-dinky lake.

But the KC side is different. Way more laid back. Cheaper. You can still get out in your 17' or 18' open bow Chris Craft and have a good time. Everyone is still drunk, but that's kind of the nature of the lake and the people that live and play there. Really.

You want to be looking at towns like Gravois Mills, Sunrise Beach, Stover, and Versailles (ya... that's Ver-sales... Missourians are funny), not Osage Beach, Lake Ozark, or Camdenton. I think, for what you describe you want, and for the price range, I would suggest Ivy Bend. If you are looking at a map, it's south of Stover on SR 135.

This is a very small community (most of the businesses still reside down a dirt road) where you can rent a cabin and a boat reasonably... and still have money left over to go to dinner and such. Nothing fancy, but a nice dinner at Shady's at the End of the Bend (Prime Rib on Friday and Saturday nights). There are a couple places in Ivy Bend that rent cabins and boats, but why not rent both from the same place: Ivy Bend Resort and Marine. When you get off the water, you can have a can! of beer at Eagle's Roost before dinner.

If you are hell bent on going to the St. Louis side, I can make some more recommendations. This is actually where I grew up, so I am quite familiar with it. Just not so much from a "tourist" point of view.
posted by newgrl at 6:12 AM on June 15, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great advice. At this point I'm considering Rend Lake Resort. Although I'd prefer a nice cabin, this seems affordable and on the lake. And only 2 hours from St. Louis. Anyone know this place? Any thoughts?
posted by kdern at 12:05 PM on June 15, 2005

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