How-To: A Lake of the Ozarks Family Weekend
Follow our itinerary to leave logistics behind and focus on family fun
By Jackie Tucker
Tucked away amidst thousands of wooded acres in the heart of Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks is the premier lake resort destination for the Midwest. Long sunny days are filled with boating, fishing, golfing, hiking, shopping and so much more. With plenty to do both on and off the water, it’s easy to see why Lake of the Ozarks won Best Recreational Lake in the nation, chosen by readers of USA Today’s 10Best.
About a month ago, when my family finally got a rare weekend away to enjoy the lake life, we didn’t want to waste one precious moment figuring out what to do next, how to get there or where to eat afterward. So, my husband, Sam, and I worked out a little guide ahead of time so that we could simply enjoy the time with our two boys.
1. Fuel up | 8 a.m.
First things first—the most important meal of the day. As excited as we were to get the day started, we didn’t want to rush things. So, we slipped into vacation mode and started our trip off right with a leisurely breakfast at Blueberries Bistro. Their berry salsa appetizer is to die for, and the boys loved the home-baked cinnamon and sugar chips that came with it. Sam ordered the banana blues crepes with bananas, blueberries and honey cream cheese, and even seven-year-old Charlie, our pickiest eater, tried some and loved it.
2. Take to the skies | 10 a.m.
We didn’t tell the boys we were flying on a helicopter tour until we arrived at Lake Ozark Helicopters. They went nuts, especially our nine-year-old, James, who is a tad obsessed with all things aviation. The pilot was kind enough to show the boys the controls and explain a bit about how the helicopter works. I think they may have been more impressed with him than the amazing views, but the sights were not lost on me. We took The Bagnell Dam Special tour, and soaring high above the trees, I was in awe. The panoramic aerial view gave us eagle-eye glimpses of the Bagnell Dam, Million Dollar Row and the Grand Glaize Bridge. Definitely something to cross off the bucket list.
3. Dive in | noon
Those incredible views made the water below look extremely enticing, and we couldn’t wait to jump in. Not wanting to waste a moment, I made a quick picnic of sandwiches, and we headed to the lakeshore for an afternoon of fun in the sun. There was plenty of swimming, splashing and laughter, but apparently Sam didn’t get enough of the helicopter’s bird’s-eye view of the lake because he decided we all needed to go parasailing. The boys were up for it, but to be honest, I was a little terrified. Flying in an enclosed helicopter was one thing, but dangling from a parachute was something altogether different. The smiley-face chutes of Paradise Parasail seemed friendly enough, though, so I caved. And I’m so glad I did. Flying high with the wind in my face and the sun at my back, looking beyond my toes to the blue lake below, was an exhilarating experience that I won’t soon forget.
4. Yummy cuisine | 5:30 p.m.
After getting cleaned up, we were all pretty hungry. So we headed to Bentley’s Restaurant on the Bagnell Dam Strip. One word—delicious. Walking in the front door, we were met with the stomach-grumbling aroma of surf and turf. I ordered oysters on the half shell, and Sam went all in with the Steak Neptune, a mouth-watering 6 oz. filet topped with shrimp, crab meat, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce. The kids menu was right up my boys’ alley. Charlie got his favorite—a grilled cheese sandwich—and James ventured out a little with the French-fried shrimp. We sat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed our meals in a pleasant and happy, sun-tired silence.
5. Old-time memories | 6:30 p.m.
After dinner, we strolled down the Bagnell Dam Strip checking out the various shops. I couldn’t resist stopping by Old Time Photos. I mean, we had to have a photo to document our family vacation. Why not pull out all the stops? Sam was a little reluctant to dress up for the picture at first, but the boys’ laughter loosened him up and he actually got into it. We did the sepia-toned cabin scene, complete with wagon wheel props, cowboy hats and a prairie dress for me. Cheesy? Yes. But the silly grins in the picture were worth it.
1. Horseback riding | 10 a.m.
After sleeping in and enjoying a late breakfast in our hotel room, Sunday morning started with a trail ride. A family-run farm that gentles and trains adopted mustangs, Old Family Farm offers guided trail rides for both new and experienced riders. Our guide gave us informative instructions and outfitted us with all the necessary safety gear before hitting the trail. We kept up a nice and easy pace on the hour-long ride, and I was impressed with how well my boys took to the horses, trusting these beautiful animals to take them where they needed to go. The trail winded along a shaded route near a babbling creek, where we let the horses get a long cool drink before heading back to the stables for a brush down. I asked our guide to snap a picture of us with the horses, which I thought was a fitting follow up to our old-time photo from the night before.
2. Lunch Break | noon
By the time we said goodbye to the horses and cleaned up a bit, we were all starving and ready for lunch. We stopped by the Greenside Bar & Grill inside the clubhouse at Lake Valley Golf and Country Club. Sam had been thinking about having a golf weekend here with his dad and brother and wanted to check it out. He chatted with the guys in the golf shop, and I ordered our lunch with the boys in the cozy dining room that overlooked the golf course. It was burgers for the boys, and I had the delicious Italian wrap while Sam ordered the Greenside Club sandwich.
3. Hiking in Ha Ha Tonka State Park | 2 p.m.
With our hunger satisfied and more energy to burn, we drove over to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. I’d heard about the early 20th-century castle ruins there and wanted to see them for myself. They did not disappoint. With stunning vistas of the lake as a backdrop, the castle ruins stand tall like something from a fairy tale. Sam and the boys were patient with me as I took photos from every angle. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and hiking the trails through the breathtaking open woodlands and glades of the park.
Later in the day as we neared the end of the trail, the setting sun beamed through the trees and created a faint criss-cross pattern on the ground. The light was perfect. I hung back and took one last photo of Sam and the boys hiking ahead of me, capturing the peaceful moment and the end of an amazing 48 hours at Lake of the Ozarks.
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