Every year, from mid-September through early November, the hardwood forests that line the winding roads, rolling hillsides and shorelines around the Lake of the Ozarks transform from verdant greens into a vibrant palette of varying shades of red, orange and yellow.
"We have many visitors return every autumn for the changing of the seasons," says Tim Jacobsen, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau. "A lot of them come from around Missouri, but we get quite a few from all over the Midwest and even the west coast because they don't get to experience fall like we do here in Central Missouri. They plan their entire vacations around it."
Those that live at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoy the beauty of the seasons on a daily basis, but for visitors, just driving from their lodging to wherever their trip to the Lake may take them, it can be a very special experience. And, stopping briefly off the beaten paths and main roads throughout the Lake can reveal many colorful surprises for those hoping to bask in the autumnal glory of the Ozarks.
There are multiple designated scenic overlooks in the Lake area, each offering visitors a unique vantage point of the Lake and its impressive features. The Ameren Scenic Overlook, located just off the Bagnell Dam on Upper Power Plant Road in Lake Ozark, offers a unique perspective of the Bagnell Dam and the Lake of the Ozarks. Visitors get a distinct view of the Lake as well as the significant elevation change from the Lake of the Ozarks to the Osage River, the Lake's main tributary. Just down the road from the Ameren Overlook, visitors to Willmore Lodge, 1 Willmore Lane, can enjoy in the panoramic view of the Lake from the back deck of this Adirondak-style building that was constructed in 1930 as an administration building and recreation hall for Union Electric executives. Willmore Lodge now houses a history museum dedicated to the creation of the Bagnell Dam and the Lake of the Ozarks.
In Camdenton, there are three noteworthy scenic overlooks each offering an exceptional vantage point of the Lake and its fantastic fall foliage. On the way to Bridal Cave, there's the Thunder Mountain Park overlook located on Bridal Cave Road. From this overlook, visitors are afforded a view of the lush hillside leading down to Bridal Cave as well as the shimmering waters of the Lake. Nearby, located in the surrounding Camdenton Conservation Service Center off Thunder Mountain Road, there is a 100-foot tall fire tower with an observation deck situated 80 feet above ground that's open to the public for expansive views of the rolling topography.
About four miles south of Camdenton, visitors to Ha Ha Tonka State Park get a wonderful treat of colors at several overlooks located off paved trails that circle around the park's iconic "castle ruins." Ha Ha Tonka, which was voted the fourth best state park in the nation by readers of USA Today, is a popular attraction at the Lake during the fall. This park offers 14 walking trails covering more than 15 miles throughout the park, making it easy for visitors to experience the different geological formations - tunnels, caverns, springs and sinkholes - as well as the park's pristine woodland areas and glades. There's also a wooden boardwalk that winds around the natural spring, as well as 316 steps leading up to the stone skeleton of the once-majestic rural estate of Robert McClure Snyder.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri's most visited park and also its largest at 17,626 acres, boasts 12 hiking trails ranging from 0.8 of a mile to 13.5 miles winding through the park, including trails that accommodate mountain bikers and equestrians. These trails are great for leisurely strolls and/or more vigorous hikes through a variety of terrain and ecological systems, including hardwood forests, glades, fens and prairies. They also take hikers along the shores of the Lake and atop bluffs with picturesque views of the water below. This park is very popular with anglers and boaters as it also offers boat rentals, public ramps, docks and a designated self-guided aquatic trail.
For a birds-eye view, visitors can book an aerial tour with either Lake Ozark Helicopters, located off Bagnell Dam Boulevard in Lake Ozark, or Air Lake Aviation, located at the Camdenton Memorial Lake Regional Airport in Camdenton. Both offer narrated photography tours throughout the year, weather permitting. Lake Ozark Helicopters offers six different tour options and Air Lake Aviation offers a 30-minute scenic plane ride which covers most of the Lake area, including the historic Bagnell Dam, Ha Ha Tonka State Park and everything in between. For more information, or to book a tour with Lake Ozark Helicopters, visit www.LakeOzarkHelicopters.com or call 573-302-0022. Complete details on Air Lake Aviation's scenic flights can be found at www.AirLakeAviation.com or by calling 573-348-1088.
Those interested in taking in the sights by water can charter a narrated scenic cruise on one of three luxury motor yachts: the Tropic Island, the Celebration and the Celebration II. The Tropic Island, which accommodates 150 passengers, moors at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach and offers 90-minute cruises Tuesdays through Sundays. The original Celebration docks near the Grand Glaize Bridge in Osage Beach, while the new Celebration II docks near the Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark. The original Celebration offers luncheon and dinner cruises Tuesdays through Sundays while the Celebration II offers 90-minute afternoon and sunset cruises every day of the week except Tuesday. Each ship captain's narration places an emphasis on the history of the Lake of the Ozarks as well as the stunning homes and lakeside restaurants that overlook the water. To learn more about the different cruise options available at the Lake, visit www.TropicIslandCruises.com for the Tropic Island or www.CruiseLakeoftheOzarks.com for the Celebration yachts.
Two favorite Lake of the Ozarks pastimes heat up as the temperatures begin to cool down in the fall. Anglers and golfers alike both favor the fall weather when pursuing their favored hobby. Both fishing and golf are four-season sports at the Lake, but, there is a certain charm in being outdoors in the Ozarks in autumn. Anglers find the quieter waters favorable for fishing in secluded coves along the 1,150 miles of shoreline, as their time on the water proves to be both beautiful and productive. Largemouth bass and catfish are plentiful, while white bass become a highly sought after target in the shallower waters this time of year. Crappie become active again around brush piles planted in the Lake in September and continue to bite well into the winter.
For golfers, fall is great at any of the Lake's 13 courses. "Autumn is probably the best time to play golf at the Lake because the summer rush is over and the courses are all in great shape," says Paul Leahy, president of the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Council and director of golf at Tan-Tar-A Resort. "In mid-fall, especially, you have very comfortable temperatures and more affordable tee times and the foliage is typically quite stunning. It's certainly one of my favorite times to be out on the course."
Visitors also can take advantage of reduced lodging rates throughout the Lake of the Ozarks area as the peak summer travel season winds down. "The Lake is a popular destination any time of year, but with fall being a shoulder season, it's one of the most beautiful and also most affordable times to visit," says Tim Jacobsen. "Many of the Lake's attractions are open for business year-around, so the only thing you'll be missing are the big crowds." Lodging options at the Lake range from full-service luxury resorts to smaller family-owned resorts, comfortable cabins to familiar hotels and motels, quaint bed and breakfasts to condominiums and vacation homes. For more information on the different accommodations found at the Lake of the Ozarks, click on the "Places to Stay" tab at www.FunLake.com.
To learn more about all the fun events, attractions, as well as lodging and dining options available all year at the "Best Recreational Lake" in the Nation, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) at 1-800-FUN-LAKE, or visit the CVB's award-winning website, www.FunLake.com.