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Lake of The Ozarks: Way More Than Water

1FlowerCove Marina
Flower Cove Marina. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

By Neil Wolkodoff

I live in Colorado, and I find big water a bit magical because we don’t have it. Hearing about The Lake of the Ozarks set off a vision of aqua activities.

The Lake started as a massive dam and hydroelectric project on the Osage River to service the states surrounding Missouri. They never envisioned this becoming a regional and national fun destination. Over 6,000 workers completed facets of the depression-era Bagnell Dam each day to create the Lake of the Ozarks in 1931.

The project created 1,150 miles of shoreline, inspiring water activities, lodges, restaurants, and an impressive array of golf courses. This was a travel box of multiple options from the descriptions, and off I went hoping this was at least one-half of the accolades. Well, it was way more.

This is not a luxury destination. It is casual fun around the Lake where shorts and sandals are the rule. It is not one straight shoreline or single town, but a series of hamlets around the Lake that follow the fingers and shore the Lake. It is best experienced by car, as you will want to visit various nooks. Something about the Lake of the Ozarks brings out a friendly vibe where people are more social than at most travel venues.

Aquatic Lake Tour By Ancient Reefs. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

Water is the prime attraction, and every resort has some boat/water experience. You can take an Aquatic Trail tour via guide or on your own with GPS points. Endless coves, small beaches, and history are on almost every lake finger. The state park operates two marinas that offer rental boats, from power down to human engine options, including kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. It’s nice to get a boating experience without the normal joys that come with ownership. Additionally, there are state park campsites close to the shore if you want to get away for a day or two.

HaHa Tonka State Park. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

Hiking and exploring allows you to discover the trails around the Lake, many accessible by boat, others by car. Ha Ha Tonka state park offers a glimpse into the region’s past before the Lake was built with a tour of the original castle and structures. You can explore sinkholes, caves, vertical bluffs, and a natural bridge. Impressive displays guide your hike with notes about history, local critters, and plant life.

While not a park, the Seven Springs winery is a massive property with a tasting room, outdoor fire pits, gazebos, and some walking trails and group options. If you enjoy museums and local history, the Willmore Lodge is a concise history of the area from pre-dam to the present.

Margaritaville Landshark Pool. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

You need a springboard lodging experience, and Margaritaville Lake Resort has Jimmy Buffet-feel from top to bottom. The Jimmy Buffet theme features WaveRunner and other aquatic rentals, the Driftwood Spa, an indoor water park, family pools with slides, and even horseback exploration of the local trails.

You can go from single rooms to cottages, many of which are lakeside. Bars, restaurants (eight total), and marinas dot the 420 acres. JB’s Boathouse makes a substantial breakfast while The Landshark Bar & Grill pairs libations with bevy of cheeseburgers. Not evident from the first walkabout is the conference area for meetings and groups. The multiple regions, like pools, allow families and adults to gravitate to specific areas of either activity or respite.

Old Kinderhook Golf Cottages. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

If you want something right on a golf course property with access to the Lake, then Old Kinderhook on 700 acres provides many options. The golf course meanders through the property with no adjacent holes. Lodging ranges from lodge rooms to golf cottages to resort homes. Old Kinderhook is a bit off the main road, so expect it to be quieter overall, but that does not mean less fun. The Trophy Room covers traditional resort dining, while the Hook Cafe specializes in grab-and-go all day long. The sand volleyball court converts to an ice rink in the winter and a marina just off the edge of the resort offers boat options.

Golf is an unexpected activity around the Lake. The local golf trail has 12 courses, with resort courses that are above average. From one end to the other, the driving distance is only 45 minutes, so no matter where you park for the night, it’s just 15-20 minutes to one of the courses.

6Par4, #13atTheOaksJPG
6 Par4,#13 at The Oaks JPG. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

Osage National sits a bit off the road in the hills and offers three different 9-hole tracts on the Palmer design. The Oaks at Margaritaville Resort meanders up and down through the hills and oak woods. The Cove requires precise tee shots as half of the holes have some form of water as it flows along the mountains. Bear Creek Valley has a hidden start as you can’t see much of the course from the pro shop, yet on the trail, it meanders up and down by Bear Creek and the local pristine woods. Lake Valley is only 6,373 yards from the back, but the twists and elevation changes make it big fun. My impression was you could make this just a golf vacation and be happy with the very different, yet stellar courses.

Stewarts Cinnamon Roll. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

Food is fun and good times at the Lake. Starting with daybreak, Stewart’s cafe has been going since the ’50s, and the brick-sized cinnamon roll is legendary. Bear Creek Valley Golf Course is the only course in the area where the head pro is also the chef of giant breakfast omelets. Post-round grub close to the Four Seasons is on at HK’s Steakhouse, where you can go from sports bar to up-scale dining in one venue.

Oysters at Tuckers Shuckers. Photo Neil Wolkodoff.

Get your oyster fill at Tucker’s Shuckers, where half-shell specialties pair with local beer and other libations. BBQ with a Missouri twist is featured at Wobbly Boots, where the chicken/rib platter oozes meaty satisfaction. Shorty Pants gives you Cajun favs like shrimp & grits and Etouffee on the Lake.

The Lake of the Ozarks is a magical, water-inspired destination. I don’t always want to go back somewhere, but I want to get more doses of the Fun-Lake experience where I can be myself and have a perfect time.


Neil Wolkodoff
Neil Wolkodoff

Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.


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