For colorful fall foliage, a road trip to Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks is a can't-miss seasonal tradition for anyone that loves the colorful bounty of autumn.
Last October, readers of USA Today recognized the area for one of its many charms: its autumn colors. The Lake of the Ozarks was voted the second-best place in the country for viewing fall foliage, officially confirming what many locals already knew: there's nothing like autumn in the Ozarks.
The area is beautiful in any season, but in the fall it really shines. The landscape around the Lake of the Ozarks features many rolling hills, scenic overlooks and expansive views of the water, all offering wonderful glimpses of the thick hardwood forests that abound in the region and turn vivid shades of orange, red and yellow each fall.
"Those of us that live at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoy the beauty of the seasons on a daily basis, but for visitors, fall can be a very special experience," says Jim Divincen, administrator for Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. "Regardless of wherever you are at the Lake, you'll have lots of colorful surprises. Mother Nature puts on quite the show and many vacationers visit every October to enjoy it."
The peak of the fall colors at the Lake of the Ozarks typically occurs in mid- to late-October when the maples, ashes, oaks and hickories are at the height of their fall display. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the peak season varies from year to year depending on the weather and can last until early November.
"I think there's going to be outstanding fall color this year," says Ann Koenig, a forester with Missouri Department of Conservation. "It's been a relatively mild year with not too many hot days and we've had steady rain throughout the state. It's been a good growing season for trees and that will lead to a lot of bright color."
To help plan a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks to coincide with the most vivid colors, visitors can utilize the Department of Conservation's Fall Color Forecaster at nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/fall-colors. The Lake of the Ozarks' information is included under the column titled "Central Region."
There are numerous ways to enjoy the bright colors around the Lake of the Ozarks, both from land and on-the-water.
The area's two state parks feature numerous walking and hiking trails that traverse hardwood forests, glades, meadows and offer wonderful views of the Lake of the Ozarks. Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri's largest and most visited state park, boasts 14 different trails while Ha Ha Tonka State Park, recently named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Conde Nast Traveler, has 12 unique trails. Both parks offer a variety of trails that range in ease and difficulty, from paved walking trails to rugged cross-country treks.
Divincen, who is both an avid hiker and angler, says two of his favorite ways to enjoy the fall colors is getting out on the trails at Ha Ha Tonka and spending time on the water. "I really like the Turkey Pen Hollow hiking trail at Ha Ha Tonka," Divincen says. "There are some spectacular views and it's a beautiful experience. That, and catching a big bass out on the lake with the colorful shoreline as a backdrop is a memorable experience, especially with family and friends," Divincen adds.
Other popular ways to take in the scenery are self-guided driving tours, visiting the various scenic overlooks around the Lake, playing a round or two of golf on the Lake's 14 championship golf courses, taking a guided horseback ride along a rugged Ozark trail or enjoying a meal at one of the area's 60 lakeside restaurants.
For on-the-water fun, visitors can rent a boat from a local marina or hop aboard a scenic narrated cruise on one of the Lake's three different 150-plus-passenger luxury yachts. There also are professional fishing guides that help ensure vacationers find fishing success while also enjoying the pretty foliage around the Lake of the Ozarks, whether it's out in the middle of the Lake or in a secluded and quiet cove.
Travelers also will find the perfect accommodations at the Lake of the Ozarks for fall getaways of any length of time at affordable, shoulder-season prices. There are full-service large-scale resorts and smaller family-owned and operated resorts as well as charming bed and breakfasts or comfortable cabins and cottages. There is no shortage of fully furnished vacation rental homes and condominiums. For those who prefer sleeping under the stars, there are spacious campgrounds and RV parks interspersed throughout the area.
To discover more ways to have fun at the Lake of the Ozarks and to get information on additional events, year around attractions, and available lodging and dining options, visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau's award-winning website, www.FunLake.com, or call 1-800-FUN-LAKE (386-5253).