They say “the best things in life are free,” and that sentiment can be applied to many things at Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. No matter what kind of budget a visitor is working with when planning a Lake of the Ozarks vacation, they’ll find they can get more for their money with numerous popular free activities, attractions and events.
“One of the best things about the Lake of the Ozarks is that your vacation can be whatever you want it to be,” says Lagina Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. “Whether you’re looking to go all-out or keep it simple, the Lake offers it all. If you’re traveling with your family or vacationing on a budget, you can enjoy many days of fun without having to spend much money at all. The Lake has numerous free attractions, activities and events that can help stretch any vacation budget without sacrificing any of the fun.”
FREE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
The great outdoors always provides many opportunities and adventures for cost-conscious travelers. This is certainly true at the Lake of the Ozarks, which has been voted by readers of USA Today as the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” and the “Best Lake for Water Sports in the Nation.”
Two of Missouri’s most popular state parks can be found at the “Fun Lake.”
Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri’s largest park, clocks in at 17,626 acres, while Ha Ha Tonka State Park, named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Condé Nast Traveler, features over 3,750 acres for exploration. Like all Missouri State Parks, there is no admission fee at the Lake’s two state parks.
Once visitors arrive at either park, they have their pick of activities. Combined, the parks have 26 different hiking trails covering 57 miles of scenic, natural landscapes. Mountain biking and horseback riding also are allowed on select trails. Public fishing accesses are available at both parks, along with fishing docks and plenty of shoreline to cast a line. Additionally, Lake of the Ozarks State Park features two sandy swimming beaches that are free and open to the public from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year. Both parks also feature unique self-guided aquatic trails that can be explored by boat, kayak or paddleboard. For more information on the Lake of the Ozarks’ two state parks, visit www.funlake.com.
With nearly 9,000 acres of public land spread throughout Camden, Miller and Morgan counties surrounding the Lake of the Ozarks, there is no shortage of opportunities to get outside and stretch your legs at the area’s 28 designated conservation areas.
Just like the Lake’s state parks, the local conservation areas are free and open year around. Each offers spectacular shows of color during the spring and fall. Springtime in the Ozarks brings soft pastels of green, pink and white from blooming trees and autumn in the Ozarks brings bursting colors of red, yellow and orange. And, native plant species and wildlife thrive in all seasons.
The unique Missouri conservation areas at Lake of the Ozarks feature designated walking trails, birding areas, boat ramps, fishing docks and natural areas to explore as well. The most popular conservation area at the Lake is arguably the Camdenton Conservation Service Center located on Thunder Mountain overlooking Bridal Cave. Here, visitors can experience one of the most breathtaking views of the Lake of the Ozarks by climbing up the Conservation Service Center’s 80-foot watchtower and taking in a true birds-eye view. The Center’s 25-yard stationary archery range is a popular attraction, too. For more details on all the Lake-area conservation areas, their trailheads, and other activities and amenities available, call the Camdenton Conservation Service Center at 573-346-2210, or head to the Missouri Department of Conservation website at www.mdc.mo.gov to access an interactive atlas for detailed maps of the different areas.
FISHING ON A BUDGET
You don’t have to spend big money to catch big fish at the Lake of the Ozarks. Anglers can hire one of the many local Coast Guard-certified professional fishing guides for a successful day on the water. However, anglers can also enjoy a successful trip without having to dig into their pockets. There are free public fishing accesses at the Lake’s state parks and the majority of the conservation areas. Additionally, many of the resorts at the Lake of the Ozarks also offer fishing docks and cleaning stations for their guests. Plus, with 1,150 miles of shoreline, there are ample other opportunities to cast along the shore for “keepers.”
Those that want to try fishing without the initial investment in tackle can borrow a fully-stocked tackle box and fishing rod compliments of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) at the Camdenton Conservation Service Center. The “checkout” process is quick and simple. Just be sure to bring the gear back when it’s due so that others also can enjoy the free program. Please note that a valid fishing permit is required for all anglers in Missouri, with the exception of those 15 and younger and 65 and older. Purchasing a permit online is easy on MDC’s website (www.mdc.mo.gov/permits) or the free MO Fishing App. Anglers also can purchase a permit at many of the tackle shops, gas stations, marinas and resorts around the Lake. Daily permits for out-of-state visitors cost just $8 and annual permits for Missouri residents cost $12.
In 2022, the team of volunteers behind Magic Dragon Trails
developed and opened the new Magic Dragon Bicycle Skills Park and an additional half-mile of single track trail adjacent to the Lake’s Tri-County YMCA in Osage Beach, which serves Miller, Morgan and Camden counties. The Skills Park is free and is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year, weather permitting. Cyclists at the Skills Park can enjoy dirt tracks, wooden boardwalks, bridges and ramps and a continuous “pump track.” Additionally, Magic Dragon Trails periodically hosts free youth cycling clinics at the Skills Park. For more information on the Magic Dragon Bicycle Skills Park, visit Magic Dragon Trail’s Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/MagicDragonTrails.
Plan some future family fun with a visit to the past at one of four historical museums at the Lake of the Ozarks, or with a visit to the one-of-a-kind shrine at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Laurie.
The Lake of the Ozarks’ museums not only showcase the Lake area’s past, but they also serve as community centers in the present. The museums host a variety of activities, such as arts and craft shows, dances, social gatherings, art classes, entertaining and educational presentations, special holiday events, and dinner theatre. All four museums welcome visitors free of charge, but donations are appreciated.
Museum guests will discover a wealth of cultural history. The four historically-focused museums offer a glimpse into the storied tapestry of life in the area from the original Native American inhabitants to early European settlers and beyond. Visitors can learn about the area’s role in the American Civil War, the lost and nearly forgotten towns that now lay under the six billion gallons of water that make up the 54,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks reservoir and the first glory days of the Lake of the Ozarks. The Bagnell Dam History Museum, located in the historic Willmore Lodge, is a great place for visitors to get their bearings when arriving at the Lake. There, vacationers can learn about the creation of Bagnell Dam, which was a massive undertaking at the onset of the Great Depression that resulted in the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world at the time. Additionally, the Lake area’s notable people and places come to life through interesting exhibits and fascinating artifacts at the Camden County Museum in Linn Creek, the Miller County Museum in Tuscumbia, and the Morgan County Historical Society and Museum in Versailles.
On the grounds of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Laurie, the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church is believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. It features a 14-foot stainless steel sculpture of Mary standing in a 6,000 seat terraced amphitheater surrounded by flowers and fountains, with a waterfall running under her feet. The statue slowly rotates in place, signifying her watchful gaze in all directions. Over 25,000 flowers planted every spring make the grounds especially beautiful. The Mother’s Wall of Life makes this one of the most meaningful shrines in the country, with names of mothers throughout the world engraved in the beautiful black granite walls surrounding the sculpture of Mary. Admission to the shrine, and the church, is free. While the Shrine welcomes visitors to enjoy its beauty in all seasons, it becomes especially striking during the annual “Festival of Lights” celebration each Christmas season. For more details, visit www.TheNationalShrineOfMaryMotherOfTheChurch.com.
FREE EVENTS AT THE “FUN LAKE”
Many of the Lake of the Ozarks’ most popular events are open to the public and free to attend. Events take place in different communities around the Lake throughout the year and bring in thousands of attendees. Some of the most popular free annual events at the Lake are the springtime Dogwood Festival, Magic Dragon Street Meet Nationals car show and the PowerFest powerboat races. Summertime favorites include the Hot Summer Nights Cruise-In event series, Canine Cannonball, AquaPalooza, and the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout powerboat races. Major fall events include BikeFest and the Olde Tyme Apple Festival and Eagle Days is a popular wintertime event. For a continually updated calendar of events, visit www.FunLake.com.
Visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks may be pleasantly surprised to find a variety of options to choose from when it comes to comfortable and affordable
accommodations for overnight stays. No matter a traveler’s budget, there are places to stay at the Lake that will fit the bill. Accommodations at the Lake of the Ozarks include full-service large-scale resorts and smaller family-owned and operated resorts, as well as charming bed and breakfasts, rustic cabins and quaint cottages. In addition, there is no shortage of fully furnished vacation rental homes and condominiums. There also is a selection of familiar hotels and motels at the Lake of the Ozarks. For those who prefer sleeping under the stars, there are spacious campgrounds and RV parks interspersed throughout the area. Learn more about all the lodging options available at the Lake of the Ozarks at www.FunLake.com.
For a complete list of all the fun events, unique attractions and enjoyable year around activities, as well as dining options available at the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” and “Best Lake for Water Sports in the Nation,” visit www.FunLake.com or call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau at