Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
"Show Me" Lake of the Ozarks
Missouri's Boating "Center"
Located in central Missouri and situated almost equidistant between Kansas City and St. Louis, Lake of the Ozarks has a longer shoreline than California (1,150 miles) and is one of the largest man made lakes in the United States (Lake M-ead occupies the #1 position).
Lake of the Ozarks began in 1929, as a way to harness hydroelectric power to supply nearby St. Louis. The 2,543 ft. long Bagnell Dam was built across the Osage River, creating a lake that was 92 miles long and shaped like a dragon. That's the reason for the nickname: Dragon Lake. A private company, AmerenUE that generates electricity from the Bagnell Dam, owns it.
"This is a fishing lake and it's a water skiing lake and, depending on the day of the week or the season, it's a quiet lake," says Mike Feeback, Marketing Director for Village Marina & Resort in Eldon, Missouri (a BoatU.S. Cooperating Marina). "If you want tee shirt shops, car shows and fast food, go to 'the Strip' along Bagnell Dam. If you are going to take your boat and fish, the entire lake is known for terrific catches of bass. There are campgrounds for the folks with RV's that pull a trailer boat and there's probably a dozen golf courses."
Village Marina offers a dollar off the launch fee for BoatU.S. Members as well as discounts on gas and dinner (Regatta Club Restaurant is part of the marina). If you want to spend a few days exploring the lake, the marina will allow the trailer to be left overnight if prior arrangements have been made (this unique benefit is rarely available at boat ramps throughout the country).
Lake of the Ozarks locations are described as being either "the St. Louis side" (east side) or "the Kansas City side" (west side). It is not uncommon during baseball season to see boats with St. Louis Cardinals pennants (National League) or Kansas City Royals flags (American League) which is repeated during football season with team banners for either the St. Louis Rams (National) or the Kansas City Chiefs (American). It's also not uncommon to hear exchanges between fans of either team if their boats are anchored within shouting distance.
Boating season begins on St. Patricks Day weekend around Lake of the Ozarks and continues through the Harbor Hop (a poker run) in October. "If the weather is good," notes West Marine Osage Beach employee Ron Adams, "you'll see boats on the water pulling up to docks at many of the waterside restaurants in March and this will go on way past Labor Day."
More than 3 million tourists come to Lake of the Ozarks every year, many of whom combine a trip here with a visit to nearby Branson (about two hours away) for live music shows. There are a pair of state parks along the Ozarks shoreline: Lake of the Ozarks States Park located on the "east side" is Missouri's largest park covering more than 17,000 acres (and a pair of boat ramps) while the 2400 acre Ha Ha Tonka State Park is on the southeast end of the lake.
The state park system offers a 9-mile "Aquatic Trail" for visiting boaters. A map and description of 14 sites to be seen by boat is available at the Lake of the Ozarks park office. The "trail" is marked with white and orange buoys and includes a solar heated limestone bluff, an outcropping of rock believed to have been used by the Osage Indians for shelter and a natural stone chute once used by loggers to push lumber into the water for transport to nearby sawmills. The Aquatic Tour will take about two hours to complete.
Lake of the Ozarks has four "arms," each fed by a separate river flowing into the main body of water and each with a mile marker designation of #1 where it enters the lake and continuing the length of the river. The largest is the Osage Arm with mile markers from 1-92, the Niagua Arm 1-18, the Glaize Arm 1-15 and the Gravois Arm with miles marked from 1-10. The Osage Arm begins at Bagnell Dam and runs northwest to mile marker #92 at Truman Dam in Warsaw, Missouri.
The first 30 miles of the Osage Arm are always the most crowded between now and Labor Day. Boaters should be aware of restrictions near the Bagnell Dam as there is a "buoy barrier" set about 100 yards from the dam as a result of September 11th.
"The newcomer to this lake needs to be aware of the wakes from big boats," notes Village Marina & resort's Mike Feeback. "It happens on Saturday because that's when the 40-50 foot cruisers go out and, too often, they pay no attention to speed or how close they are to other boats."
"Swamped boats is a common call on a weekend," says Charles Meyer of TowBoatU.S. Lake of the Ozarks. "The problem doesn't happen very often with fishermen because they tend to take care of themselves, but the general recreation boaters who are (1) inexperienced or (2) have too many people in the front or back of their boats or (3) have been partying too much or (4) all of the above are the ones who get into trouble in heavy boat traffic."
Meyer points to the Glaize Arm of the lake as the place where TowboatU.S. is called most often. "Party Cove is a popular area where as many as 1,000 boats will anchor or raft up on weekends. To get there you have to go through a mile and one-half no wake zone (in effect between Memorial Day to Labor Day) that stretches from the entrance of Glaize Arm to the other side of the Glaize Bridge. Once they get out of the no wake zone, a lot of boaters will kick it in the tail for a mile or so, then they'll round a peninsula on port that juts out from Lake of the Ozarks State Park before slowing down again to enter Party Cove at Mile Marker #4 (the real location is called Anderson Hollow). It's not uncommon to have a dozen boats doing this at the same time and a boat with too many people in the wrong place going through that confused wake is going to be in trouble. I've had two swamped boats at the same time in that area."
When he's asked for suggestions of places to go by newcomers who are buying supplies at the West Marine Osage Beach store (it's on the St. Louis side of the lake), Ron Adams usually directs families to Bridal Cave. "You can get there by car or by boat and it's at the 10 mile marker on the Niangua Arm. The nice thing is there's a boat dock and if you time it right, you'll see a wedding taking place (more than 1900 couples have been married there). The cave gets its name because the Osage Indians performed weddings there."
A common phrase for Lake of the Ozarks boaters describes anchoring or rafting with friends on other boats: it's called "coving" or "people you cove with" or how you spent a nice afternoon "coving out" with another boat. There's a reason---more than 100 coves are found along the shoreline and as a result, a boater can choose to be in the middle of it all (i.e. Party Cove") or far away (i.e. mile marker #7 and beyond in the Gravois Arm) where nature is the only sound.
The Community Bridge is a huge structure built in 1998 that connects the "east side" of the lake (Osage Beach) with the "west side" (Shawnee Bend). Now the commute is about ten miles where before the bridge was built, one had to travel five times that distance. It's a toll bridge ($2.50/car and $3.75 if pulling a boat/trailer). Boaters need not worry about going under the bridge-it's high and there's plenty of water no matter what span you pick (although the shallow areas near shore are clearly marked).
Fishing is serious business here. There's a tournament every weekend with most participants using the Grand Glaize Recreation Area Boat Ramp (formerly called "PB#2" ---Public Beach #2 boat ramp (located south of Grand Glaize Bridge and north of Party Cove). But because of concerns about boat traffic from the nearby cove, more and more fishing tournaments are being held during the week or in off hours on weekends (6PM-10:30PM). The boat ramp has four lanes and parking for more than 300 tow vehicles and trailers. The Osage Beach West Marine store is about two miles from this launch site.
Records have been broken on Lake of the Ozarks. Denny Brauer, one of the country's top anglers is from the area and has done so well fishing that he's on a Wheaties box. With his son, Chad, Brauer hosts the Bass Class TV show. Anglers have pulled in muskies weighing as much as 41 lbs and freshwater drum in the 40 lb range.
Fishing, shopping, waterfront dining, exploring and doing nothing at all are a way of life in the Lake of the Ozarks. That's why so many make the trip to the middle of Missouri. It may be called the Dragon Lake, but it's in the "Show Me" state and anyone with a boat will do well to see what can be found both on and off the water.
from Chicago 467 miles
from Dallas 529 miles
from Tampa 1190 miles
from New York City 1120 miles
from Seattle 2076 miles
Village Marina & Resort (BoatU.S. Cooperating Marina) www.villagemarina.com
TowboatU.S. Lake of the Ozarks 573-216-4701
West Marine Store, 3872 Highway 54, Osage Beach 573-302-0552
Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau www.funlake.com