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5 Free Lake Of The Ozarks Activities To Explore

some condos on the lake of the ozarks

So, you want to visit the Lake of the Ozarks. BUT, you don't have a lake house. You don't have a condo with a pool or a beachfront. You don't have a boat. Perhaps you don't even have the money to rent any of these things or don't want to spend the money. Or, maybe you're just tired of doing the same ol' same ol' lake things.

Guess what? There are many different ways to enjoy this popular Missouri lake and to take in the sights in the area ... and they're all completely free. Here are five activities to spice up your weekend or fill up your budget-friendly day at the Lake of the Ozarks.


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Free public beach at lake of the ozarks

Swim at the free public beaches.

There are two public beaches in the area, both located at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Usually, they're just called Public Beach #1 (located off Highway 134) and Public Beach #2 (located near the Grand Glaize Bridge), but the second is also referred to as Grand Glaize Beach.

It is interesting that the state park sight calls them "sandy" beaches because it's more like small rocks as far as the beach part goes; however, I do enjoy these spots because the standing and swimming areas are nice. Plus, you can get away from the crowded areas of the lake and it's a big enough space to not feel overly crowded while you're there.

Both beaches are open from sunrise to sunset during the main season (summer), and both have an area to swim, restrooms, and picnic tables, shelters and playgrounds nearby in addition to the park itself.

For the locations of these beaches, take a look at the state park's map.

Willmore Lodge

Visit the museum and gardens at Willmore Lodge.

Built in 1930, this lodge is on the National Register of Historic Places list and houses the Lake of the Ozarks' visitor's center and a history museum about how the lake was formed. It's all free, so it's worth visiting for the information. Additionally, my aunt, who has lived in the area for many years, says inside (I believe on one of the balconies) it has one of the best views of the Lake of the Ozarks.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed when I visited, but I did stroll down the walking path, which has some gardens and a lakeside gazebo with another viewpoint of the lake. It would be a great place to go early in the morning or to take some group/family photos.

Bagnell Dam

See Bagnell Dam up close.

Not only can you learn about Bagnell Dam at Willmore Lodge, but you can also view it simply by driving to it. And rather than just looking at it from the road, which crosses it, you can get out at a few stops, the most popular one being a scenic "overlook" located just before the road crosses the dam on one side. It includes parking and informational signs about its history, and paths to get closer to the dam and water are also nearby.

While you're in the area, you can also check out the Bagnell Dam Strip, which has various shops and restaurants, plus a small cruise ship's port.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park castle ruins

Explore Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Visiting Ha Ha Tonka State Park might be one of the most popular things to do in the Lake of the Ozarks area ... after boating on the lake, of course. And for good reason! It's got a fascinating history in addition to beautiful nature spots, and it's just a short drive away.

Nature-wise, you're in for a treat, as there are caves, sinkholes, a natural bridge, bluffs and a turquoise natural spring. There are 14 hiking trails that run into these geographical features. Many of them overlap one another or connect with one another, so most of them are pretty short. However, there are a few 2- or 3-mile hikes as well as one trail that is 6.8 miles.

When it comes to the historical aspect of the park, you might be surprised. Ha Ha Tonka has castle ruins, and there's a sad but interesting story behind it, which you can learn about from all of the signs within the park. There are basically three parts to the ruins: the water tower, which fed water to the mansion and was where the servants lived; the carriage house for the vehicles and horses; and the castle itself.

Unfortunately, before Ha Ha Tonka was turned into a state park, there was a lot of vandalism, so many of the structures were partially destroyed by fires and such, and most of them are surrounded by fences now. However, they're still very fascinating, and you can get some good photos of them or with them.

You'll find dirt trails in this park as well as boardwalks, especially as you get closer to the ruins. (Something really cool to note is that all of the castle sections are wheelchair accessible.) There are scenic overlooks along the way, most with views of the lake, and if you're looking to sit for a while, there are benches by the boardwalks where you can read or just chill in nature. The picnic tables are also great spots to gather for lunch.

All in all, I suggest you visit this park because there are a variety of unique things to see, plus it's one of the most popular parks in the state of Missouri.

boats on the Lake of the Ozarks

Hike Lake of the Ozarks State Park.

You've already learned about the swimming locations at this state park, but now it's time to hear about the hiking opportunities it provides locals and tourists. There are 13 different trails in the Lake of the Ozarks State Park all ranging from about 1 mile to 3 miles besides two that are 10 to 11 miles. Of course, if you want something between 3 miles and 11 miles, simply do a few of the 3-mile or shorter trails.

What will you see as you hike? First, you'll get to discover a little bit of the variety of the Ozark terrain as there are open rocky areas, wooded areas with ferns and bluff tops for some lake views. Second, you'll find some vibrant colors depending on when you go. Some trails are extremely green, others extremely yellow. And if you hike in the fall, you'll see all sorts of autumn colors. Third, a few of the trails have historical spots along the way, such as a small family cemetery or a foundation from a former Scout camp.

I suggest grabbing/downloading a state park map, or you can use AllTrails to decide which trail to hike or to guide you.

Natural Spring at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

As you can see, you don't always need the fancy things of life to have fun at a popular tourist destination or even in nature in general. And these five free Lake of the Ozarks activities are not only exciting, but they also still allow you to be a part of some of the lake life and enjoy the lake itself.



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