With its mountains, forests and deep lakes – including the legendary Lake of the Ozarks – Central Missouri is rooted in outdoor adventures on the water and in the woods. Cities and towns in the area such as Camdenton, Eldon, Osage Beach and Gravois Mills share a similar history and culture here. From relaxing and recreational lake life, to local bars, restaurants and more … there’s plenty to enjoy in the region.
Whether your version of the ideal property is a luxury lake home, a farmhouse with acreage, a hunting cabin in the timberland, or even a home in town, Central Missouri has a lot of options. Many of the small towns here were established mid-19th century and there are some historic Victorian homes. Camdenton, however, was settled in the 1930s and you’ll notice flashes of dazzling Art Deco architecture here and there.
So, if the idea of morning sunrises over the lake, waking to tend to your land or livestock, or just appreciating the serenity of nature from a country home appeal to you, the Missouri Ozarks may be a great fit. Let’s take a closer look at the area’s draw for residents and visitors alike.
The Lake of the Ozarks, spanning some 54,000 acres, is a man-made reservoir created by building the Bagnell Dam in the Osage River. Other rivers and creeks feed into the water system, including the Niangua River, which runs right through Camdenton. These waterways, along with the surrounding Ozark Mountains, create the perfect environment for all kinds of outdoor recreation in Mid-Missouri.
Wildlife thrives in the woods, while lovers of the great outdoors spend weekends fishing, hunting, boating, horseback riding and the like. Throughout Camden County and neighboring ones such as Miller, Benton, Morgan, Laclede, Hickory and Dallas, hunters pursue big bucks and turkeys. Anglers cast for black bass and catfish. Summer vacationers set up their campsites.
Central Missouri has several well-rated state parks, including Lake of the Ozarks State Park (Missouri’s largest), which is a great spot for the whole family. This midwestern oasis features swimming beaches, hiking and bike trails, camping and more. Camdenton’s Ha Ha Tonka State Park provides breathtaking views of the Ozarks and a peak into the history of the region. Check out a turn-of-the-century stone castle, a cool natural bridge and the caves and bluffs for which this part of Missouri is known.
There are a lot of other parks and preserves in the region, including Saline Valley State Wildlife Area in Eldon, Mo., and Lead Mine State Forest in Tunas. One of the standouts is Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, with its rushing spring water teaming with rainbow trout as canoes and rafts drift along. Lastly, experience a nearly-unrivaled scenic cave tour at Bridal Cave and Thunder Mountain Park, and marvel at magnificent caverns millions of years in the making.
Many of the communities in Camden County, as well as in surrounding counties such as Miller, Morgan, Benton and Laclede, have relatively small populations. Still, there are ample attractions, activities and amenities to enjoy, and all are part of Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks culture.
Seen by some as the town equivalent of a backyard BBQ, Camdenton, Mo., is also home to some actual barbeque restaurants, as well — and really good ones including Smokin Jones Ozark Style BBQ and HalfSauced Barbeque. For a local spot with a wide range of frosty lagers and ales, try Shortleaf Brewing, or Shawnee Bluff Winery if you’re more into a nice red and a romantic evening.
For a top-shelf, Lake of the Ozarks nightlife experience, visit the Horny Toad Entertainment Complex at Camden on the Lake Resort. The venue features several bars, restaurants and live music, while the resort has a hotel, spa and yacht club for the luxury-minded guest.
Golfers will want to head to Old Kinderhook, a public course that makes excellent use of the area’s natural beauty, with fairways winding through valleys, over hills and past waterfalls and the lake. Near Osage Beach, Lake Valley Golf is another nice public course with a pro shop and bar/grill. The best private course in the region might be The Club at Porto Cima in Sunrise Beach. It’s the only 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Missouri.
Those who like to spend their downtime shopping should check out the local shops, art galleries, unique boutiques and markets around the Lake of the Ozarks. Feel like seeing some live music? All the big-name bands and performers come to the Ozarks Amphitheater.