Find family fun and adventure this holiday season at Lake of the Ozarks
By: Hilary Stunda
My son Sam’s 7th grade English class was reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Christmas break was nearly upon us. Our vacation plans were looking like a visit to Grandma’s house—again.
As we sat around the dinner table, my husband and I reminisced about the good ole days—when the most complicated holiday dilemma was determining how much hot chocolate we would need for a day of ice skating on the local pond.
Suddenly, Sam got up from the table.
“I have an idea,” he said, raising one finger in the air.
“I’ll be right back.”
He ran upstairs—taking the steps two at a time—his little brother, August, following behind. Two kids on a mission with Google at close reach is a dangerous thing.
Before long, we heard shouts of excitement. They came bounding downstairs.
“Let’s get a cabin!” August said, eyes ablaze.
“Would this qualify as ‘glamping’?” I said, in hopeful jest.
Glamping had become my new catchphrase after a previous camping trip involved a tent drenched in water and our weekend’s food supply devoured by raccoons (we forgot to tie our provisions up in a tree).
“Sure, mom,” Sam said with an ironic smile. “Glamping. Just what we’re looking for!”
“So, where would this cabin be?” my husband asked, waiting for the punch line.
“How about at Lake of the Ozarks?!” Sam said in excitement.
Winter Adventure Begins
Lake of the Ozarks is as American as apple pie and as archetypal as Huck Finn. It’s one of the world’s largest manmade lakes and it’s only a few hours drive from Kansas City. We didn’t have much to bring, just our winter garb: Parkas, mittens, hats and gloves.
As a busy family, Sunday nights had become our only “free” night when we weren’t pulled in different directions. We were hoping for a hiatus from electronics, sports commitments, work and school. We needed to reconnect. A cozy cabin by the Lake seemed like the answer.
Sam found the perfect accommodations online: Long Cabin Rentals.
The family-owned cabins were steps from the water in a private cove called Possum Hollow. Quiet, peaceful and just 15 minutes from Bagnell Dam—the focal point of Lake of the Ozarks—we spent evenings on our deck watching the sunset on the Lake, talking about the day’s adventures and planning the next.
“It’s just how I imagined it,” Sam said, as he stood out on the deck, surveying 40,000 square miles of oak and hickory surrounding the Lake. He was envisioning Huck Finn on his adventures.
Lake of the Ozarks runs 92 miles, end to end, from Bagnell Dam to Truman Dam, with more than 50 miles of unobstructed tributaries. That’s more than 1,150 miles—more shoreline than the Pacific Coast of California—to explore. The Lake itself is 54,000 acres. Fishing reigns supreme here for professionals and amateurs alike as the waters are home to the most diverse species of fish in America: Black bass, white bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish, paddlefish and many more.
Being surrounded by the calm water inspired us to rent our own boat at Point Randall Resort, just two miles from Bagnell Dam in a mile-long cove. We took off at 9 a.m. The sky was a perfect light blue and the air was crisp. There was no one else on the Lake and we had endless tributaries to explore.
The next morning, we dedicated most of the day to hiking the miles of trails. We had a picnic lunch by the edge of the Lake and hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Later that afternoon, we discovered Timber Falls Indoor Waterpark at the Tan-Tar-A Resort on Osage Beach.
While the kids played water basketball and slid down every inch of the 600 feet of water slides, my husband and I soaked in the jacuzzi and made plans to go out on the town.
Among the perks of visiting Lake of the Ozarks are the many small towns nearby with special attractions, events and museums.
While we were quite content with our basecamp back at our cozy cabin, we decided to experience a little holiday flair.
We took the kids to their first variety show. The Best of Main Street Opry is a classic resort cabaret with singing, comedy and improv sketches.
Boys being boys, they had enough glitz and wanted to get back to nature. I, on the other hand, had a hall pass and opted out.
While the boys were hiking 15 miles of trails and discovering the two caves in the region of Ha Ha Tonka State Park, I was basking in blissful decadence at Spa Shiki—a luxurious, world-class spa at The Lodge of Four Seasons.
After my massage and facial, my husband and kids met me in the lobby.
The kids showed me their pictures and told me all about the Bridal Cave—how they had to travel down a precarious flight of winding wooden steps to begin the hour-long tour and how there used to be wedding ceremonies there between Indian tribes.
“I’ve got a surprise,” my husband said.
“A shopping spree at Osage Beach Outlets?!” I said, only half kidding. I had overheard the ladies at the spa talking about the premier shopping nearby. Calvin Klein was on my mind.
But alas, the boys had a different idea altogether.
The next morning, we rose at dawn. Bundled in coats, hats and gloves, and sporting binoculars around our necks, we jumped in a canoe and floated silently out on the Lake, taking in the natural beauty. Eagles nest in the bluffs around the Lake and we hoped to catch a glimpse of one of the majestic birds.
More than 2,000 bald eagles are reported each winter at Lake of the Ozarks, making Missouri one of the leaders of eagle sightings anywhere. Each January, Lake of the Ozarks celebrates Eagle Days, attracting bird lovers and watchers from all over the world.
Later that night as we sat by candlelight out on our deck, the silence of the evening blanketing all, Sam turned to me.
“This is the best.”
Go Out With a Bang!
Our last night was a Saturday.
We decided no winter holiday on the Lake would be complete without a scenic dinner cruise.
It was a magical way to end our holiday. Aboard the luxury yacht Celebration, we relished a long and uninterrupted dinner, enjoying one another as we sailed past the boat docks and houses festooned with Christmas lights.
“If this is your idea of glamping, I’m OK with it,” Sam said.
After dessert, the kids disappeared out the doors and onto the bow of the boat.
I peered out the window and saw them huddled together, looking at the twinkling reflections on the water.
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