When the Weather Cools Down, Hit the Lake
By Michael Cochran
Now that readers of USA Today’s website 10Best have named it the “Best Recreational Lake” in the nation, the whole world knows that Lake of the Ozarks is the premier summer playground of the lower Midwest. From late May to early September, the lake is vibrant with vacationers who come from near and far to enjoy its mixture of outdoor activities, camping, fishing, water sports, golf, attractions, wineries, an indoor waterpark, fine dining and outlet shopping. But does everything suddenly stop when Labor Day rolls around? No way! As a growing legion of savvy lake goers know, the good times and memorable moments at Lake of the Ozarks carry through every season of the year.
The best of times
With kids back in school and family vacation time drawing to a close, the number of lake-area visitors tapers off as September progresses, and that’s just what the doctor ordered for folks who appreciate a little more elbow room and a broader choice of prime lakeside rooms and camp sites, many at attractive off-season rates. Hooked on fishing? Serious anglers tout Lake of the Ozarks as one of the best year-round fisheries in the nation, and winter is a particularly great time for bass fishing on the lake. Numerous marinas and outfitters provide sport boats, jet skis and pontoon boats throughout the year to enable your cool weather fun on the water. If golf is your bag, take your choice of preferred tee times at more than a dozen championship courses around the lake. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as playing a leisurely round of golf on a beautiful fall day, especially on a manicured layout that’s been carved out of ancient Ozarks topography. Even the sound of the ball being struck, echoing off limestone bluffs and hardwood trees, sounds different. A mild breeze, warm sun to keep you loose, the fall colors backdrop, lively banter among friends; if you love the game, it just doesn’t get any better.
Mother Nature’s palette
For sheer beauty and variety, the lake’s autumn colors rival any other region in America. The multi-layered flora of the Ozarks’ upper highlands combined with Missouri’s fortuitous southern latitude results in a stunning array of seasonal hues unique to the region. Starting in early October, the first colors begin to appear along the steeper shorelines and in lower valleys, with the turning of the leaves progressing up the hillsides. Colors begin to reach maximum intensity in mid-October, with the peak normally lasting into early November. Around the lake, it’s not just trees that show their colors. More than 200 native plant species, including vines, bushes and berry plants, all have their own distinctive colors. Add the dense forests of maple, hickory, sweet gum, beech and oak, and you’ve got a veritable symphony of colors, from scarlet and russet orange to mahogany, purple and gold. Driving the back roads or, better yet, walking the trails of Ha Ha Tonka or Lake of the Ozarks state parks are great, but for my money, one of the best ways to savor the lake’s fall wonders is by boat!
Last fall, on a picture-perfect late October day, we got the family together, rented a deck boat and spent the day puttering along the 1150 miles of shoreline of the lake’s innumerable coves and inlets, stopping a few times to fish or take an on-shore excursion and finding a new array of autumn splendor around every bend. The sun was low and we had just finished our picnic when we were blessed with a moment I’ll never forget. The kids had gathered around listening to Grandma tell stories when Granddad suddenly interrupted. “Hey,” he said, “Listen!” High above and faint, we heard the magical, unmistakable honking of wild geese. And suddenly, there they were: Two enormous flocks of Canadian geese winging south in classic V formations, their shimmering forms reflecting the sinking sun’s golden light. Nobody said a word as we listened to their mystical language and watched them fly out of sight. I can’t tell you what a moment like that is worth, but being together on the lake that day touched us all.
From leaves to lights
Just as the leaves are losing their luster, another kind of color illuminates the lake to usher in another, different season. Beginning in mid-November and continuing through the holidays, Lake of the Ozarks offers four holiday light parks, each with its own unique array of seasonal light displays that will elicit oohs and ahhs from every member of your family. Making a tour of all four light parks presents a perfect evening’s activity for grandparents and grandchildren to enjoy together, and can also give parents the opportunity to slip away for some holiday shopping at Missouri’s largest Premium Outlets offering 110 stores, and many other quaint shopping areas including the landing on Main Street.
Thanksgiving through Christmas, the lake offers a full slate of seasonal activities to make your holidays fun and cheery. Not to be missed are Main Street Music Hall’s annual family-oriented Christmas Show and a visit to Old Kinderhook’s Christmas Village, where the kids can meet Santa, enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and explore a wonderland of Christmas-themed settings. Other fun ways to spend an evening include boarding the Celebration for a Deck the Docks Holiday Light Cruise around the lake or attending one of several performances by the Lake Area Community Orchestra. For times, dates and directions to these activities and much more, check out the events calendar.
The relaxed pace, combined with sunny days still warm enough for hitting the water and cool nights perfect for getting out and about, create the perfect atmosphere for making the most of your precious leisure time. Here, the good times never have to end.
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