Spread over Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, the Ozarks is a region known for its alluring mountains, cascading waterfalls, dreamy lakes and springs, and its wide array of unique geological formations.
Because it encompasses over 32 million acres across four different state parks, the Ozarks is a massive playground where nature lovers can spend their days hiking, exploring under the ground, enjoying water activities, and so much more. During your visit, you’ll find yourself in a world of incredible nature, a vast array of cultural offerings, and a plethora of dining options and activities!
If you’re currently planning your trip to this mesmerizing region in the Midwest United States, here are all the best things to do in the Ozarks!
1. Visit Lake of the Ozarks
As the largest state park in Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks boasts 17,000 acres of pristine nature. Here, you’ll get access to some of the best the Ozark Mountains have to offer, not to mention you’ll also find plenty of activities to enjoy one of Missouri’s most iconic lakes.
During your visit, you’ll get the chance to go boating, water skiing, tubing, paddle boarding, or simply relax lakeside with gorgeous views of mountains all over. Fishing is also a popular activity here, with catfish, walleye, bass, and bluefish being just a few species roaming the waters of the lake!
If you’re keen to continue adventuring on land, there are plenty of incredible scenic drives in Missouri and hiking trails to enjoy the surroundings.
There are many options of routes to take that range from easy strolls to full-on hikes. If you have time, one of the best trails at Lake of the Ozarks is the Trail of Four Winds, a 13-mile trek providing incredible lake and mountain views.
2. Check Out The Ozark Caverns
Caves and caverns are incredibly common throughout the Ozarks due to the geological formation of the area, which makes going underground to explore beneath the floor a must on your itinerary!
The Ozarks Caverns are one of the best ones to visit. Being here will transport you into a world complete with stalagmites and helictites. You’ll also discover an incredibly unique cave phenomenon – Angels Showers, which is a seemingly never-ending shower of water that comes out of the ceiling.
When you visit, you’ll get the chance to choose from two different tour options: the traditional one, which lasts an hour and will take you through a big part of the cave, and the kid’s tour, which lasts only around 30 minutes and is a little less challenging.
3. Go Camping
Camping in the Ozarks is as dreamy as it gets. With virtually hundreds of campsites spread through different state parks, you’ll pretty much be spoiled for choice when it comes to picking out where to spend a night under billions of stars.
Some of the best campsites are found in the areas of Lake of the Ozarks, Osage Beach, and Camdenton, where you can pitch a tent and sleep in nature, have a fun RV staycation, or get to sleep inside a real-life teepee. Whatever you pick, you’ll be guaranteed stunning views of nature and access to plenty of hiking trails and outdoor activities.
4. Marvel At Bagnell Dam
Even though most of the best to see in the Ozarks were created naturally throughout millions of years, Lake of the Ozarks, one of the biggest attractions in the area, is actually man-made!
Bagnell Dam is an engineering marvel that was completed in 1931 and became responsible for creating the Lake of the Ozarks. This remarkable structure spans 2,500 feet and seizes up the Osage River, creating the gorgeous lake we see today.
While here, you’ll get to stand at the imposing Bagnell Dam Overlook on Upper Plant Road, which provides the best views out there of the hydroelectric powerhouse and the nature around it. If you want to get more personal with the dam, you can also head over to the Bagnell Dam Strip, where you can take a relaxing stroll around the dam and find plenty of restaurants, shopping options, and activities for a day outdoors.
5. Find a Castle at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Encompassing over 3,000 acres of woodland, Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a wonderland for outdoor adventures, especially if hiking, backpacking, and gazing at striking geological formations sounds like your idea of time well spent.
Aside from hiking and marveling at the natural eye candy spread all over the park, there’s a very unique activity you can also do here: Finding the ruins of a castle! The Ha Ha Tonka Mansion was built back during the 20th century high among the bluffs of the Ozarks, but it burned to the ground during the 40s. Today, you can follow the famous Castle Trail to see the abandoned remains of the castle, which are still a treat to look at!
6. Take a Dinner Cruise on the Lake
For the ultimate sunset experience, book yourself a dinner cruise over the Lake of Ozarks. This marvelous experience will allow you to travel through the lake while getting a dose of history, delicious food, and glasses of wine to bid the day goodbye.
As a tip, dinner cruises tend to book out quickly, so try making a reservation as soon as possible to ensure you can snag a spot!
7. Explore a Few Vineyards and Wineries
Yep, the Ozarks have a pretty cool wine scene, and you can get to know it in a super personal way by visiting the plethora of wineries and vineyards spread all over the region.
If you have half a day to spare, you can create a wine-hopping route or join a tour (can’t miss spots include Shawnee Bluff Winery and Vineyard, Dale Hollow Winery, and Buffalo Creek Winery). If your time is limited and you can only visit one, Seven Springs Winery is a great choice and one of the most classic wineries in the Ozarks for wine-tasting and dining as well as gorgeous views and architecture.
8. Take a Helicopter Tour
If you want to see as much of the Ozarks as possible in a short time, book yourself a helicopter tour to get a birds eye view of the Lake of the Ozarks State Park!
Usually, helicopter routes take you to see some of the biggest highlights in the area, including the lake, the Ha Ha Tonka Castle, Bagnell Dam, and more – undoubtedly one of the most exciting things to do in Missouri!
9. Visit The Willmore Lodge
Home to the Bagnell Dam museum, the Willmore Lodge is an incredibly historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its original charm.
Aside from getting to learn all about Bagnell Dam and its construction at the museum, you’ll also get the chance to explore the lodge’s manicured gardens and enjoy spectacular views of the lake.
10. Catch a Show at Main Street Music Hall
Located in Osage Beach, the Main Street Music Hall is where you can come and enjoy various shows, ranging from live music to comedy skits and just about everything in between!
Music varies from country classics to hits from every decade and coupled with comedians, you’ll be guaranteed a great way to spend a night in the Ozarks!
11. Have Fun at Big Surf Waterpark
If you’re looking for what to do in the Ozarks with children, checking out the Big Surf Waterpark is a wonderful activity for kids and adults alike.
Here, you’ll find plenty of fun rides, including waterslides, lazy rivers, fumes, wave pools, and more for the smaller ones to get entertained as well as plenty of eateries and relaxing cabanas for adults to relax in under the sun.
12. Explore Bridal Cave
With a yearly temperature of 60 degrees, Bridal Cave is one of the best things to do in the Ozarks, no matter what time of the year you visit!
This cave was formed as a result of millions of years of geological activity. Today, you can explore its chambers on a guided tour in order to gawk at its gigantic columns, impressive draperies, and the unique onyx formations that make up the cave (Bridal Cave has more onyx formations than any other cave or cavern in the entire world!).
As a fun fact, the cave’s name comes from local folklore about a Native American wedding ceremony that took place in the cave centuries ago. Today, you can actually reserve the cave as a wedding chapel! So far, over 3,000 couples from all over the world have tied the knot here!
13. Go Golfing
Golfing is a pretty huge aspect of everyday life in the Ozarks, and if you’re a fan of the sport, you’ll find yourself in heaven here!
Plenty of golf courses spread all over the region, most of which are lakeside and provide glorious views of the mountains. Almost all the golf courses here are open to public play, with some of the most popular ones being the Osage National Gold Resort, the Bear Creek Valley Golf Club, and the Old Kinderhook Golf Course.
We hope this has helped inspire your planning for a trip to the Ozarks this year, the perfect nature escape in the Midwest. Let us know if you have a favorite spot in the Ozarks for your family you think we should include on our list.
© Family Road Trip