This article appears in Fall Boomers magazine.
Central Missouri is home to what is often referred to as the best recreational lake in the nation, Lake of the Ozarks, a summertime paradise for boaters, fishers, swimmers, water skiers, jet-boat enthusiasts and those who just want to kick back on a dock and read or take a little siesta.
But when summer begins to wane and the weather becomes cooler, the brightly green-leafed trees begin to show off their fall colors, offering mid-October leaf peepers a spectacular explosion of varying shades of red, yellow and orange.
Lake of the Ozarks is a man-made lake covering more than 54,000 acres with a span that reaches 92 miles from one end to the other. Summer fun-seekers pilgrimage to the lake to enjoy its more than 1,150 miles of shoreline.
But in the fall, by just wandering the curving, off-the-beaten-path roads, leaf peepers can get plenty of exposure to the fabulous colors of the Ozarks.
One “do not miss” fall view is from the historic Willmore Lodge. Standing on the deck of the lodge offers a panoramic view of the colors reflecting off the sparkling lake. Many visitors will see an eagle or two while taking in the scenery. The lodge is surrounded by trees and has a walking path. The lodge itself is made from pine logs brought from the Pacific Northwest — cut and assembled in Oregon then marked with numbers, disassembled and sent off to Missouri by train.
Making Willmore Lodge the first stop on any itinerary is perfect as travelers also will find information on the area there.
The Bagnell Dam History Museum, in the historic lodge, offers visitors a look into the complete history of the lake with interactive exhibits, video and audio. History buffs will enjoy spending time looking over the historic documents, photos and tools used for the construction of the dam between 1929 and 1931.
Willmore Lodge and the museum are at 1 Willmore Lane, Lake Ozark. Visit willmorelodge.com for hours of operation.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park (supposedly translated as “laughing waters”) is another perfect place for those seeking a flood of fall colors. The park offers a variety of ways to see the brilliant leaves including hiking, biking or just driving the winding roads. The Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins is not only an interesting site but offers spectacular views from its vantage high up on a bluff in the park. Visitors can see for quite a distance over the valley and colorful tree-filled hills.
The castle was built by Robert McClure Snyder, who had a dream of constructing a European-style castle in the state he loved. The wealthy Kansas City businessman purchased 5,000 acres, which included a lake. Snyder never saw the completion of his beautiful castle, as he was killed in 1906 in what was one of the first car accidents in the state. His sons completed the castle. Eventually, it was opened as a hotel until it was destroyed by fire in 1942. The state purchased the property. It is a short walk to the castle ruins, and viewing areas are along the path.
Of course, one of the best views for leaf peeping is from the lake itself. The lake zigs and zags throughout its thousands of acres, offering many coves and inlets for peepers to find color from the water. Don’t have a boat? Not a problem, as there is a long list of companies that rent boats of all kinds. There are also cruises available such as Celebration Cruises, cruiselakeoftheozarks.com, which offers year-round scenic tours.
Lake of the Ozarks was voted in 2018 as the No. 2 place in the U.S. for fall foliage by USA TODAY. The area offers an array of colors provided by its variety of trees, from ash and oaks to hickories and maples. The color show usually begins mid- to late October and can continue into early November, depending on the weather.
For information on places to stay, where to eat and things to do visit funlake.com.