3-Day Lake of the Ozarks Itinerary: Best Things to Do and See

View of Lake of the Ozarks and surrounding foliage and cliffs from Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Looking for a Midwest Lake Getaway? Check out Lake of the Ozarks in South-Central Missouri. A popular destination in the warm summer months, Lake of the Ozarks is known for boating, fishing, golfing, and more fun-in-the-sun. For the outdoor lovers, two state parks fill the area – Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park. 

Sam and I road-tripped from Madison to Lake of the Ozarks over the Fourth of July weekend a couple of years ago and we were surprised by how much we loved it. We had heard the area would be busy, full of partying, and crowded with boats, and while there was plenty of fun, there was also tons of space for everyone. The area is beautiful and there is so much to do around the lake.

This post provides a 3-day itinerary for Lake of the Ozarks, including how to get there, where to stay, and what to do during your visit. 

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About Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks is located in South-Central Missouri, an hour southwest of Jefferson City and an hour-and-a-half northeast of Springfield. According to the City of Lake Ozark, the lake is the largest man-made, non-flood control lake in the United States. 

Boats in Lake of the Ozark at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

The lake area can be divided into four regions – East, North, South and West, with the West portion being most quiet. 

Head to Lake East for the City of Osage Beach, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, and the Landing on Main Street for shopping. Lake North features the Bagnell Dam Strip which is known for shopping and dining options, along with the popular Lodge of Four Seasons. Lake South is where you’ll find Ha Ha Tonka State park, located in the City of Camdenton. This city is also known for its beautiful golf courses and wineries. 

How to Get to Lake of the Ozarks

While there are a couple of large airport options within an hour or two of Lake of the Ozarks, you are more than likely going to need a car, even if you fly to the area. I also highly recommend a car if you are planning to check out local highlights like the state parks in order to get the most out of your trip.

Airport Options Near Lake of the Ozarks: 

  • – Springfield-Branson National Airport – 1.5 hour drive 
  • – St. Louis Lambert International Airport – 2.5 hour drive
  • – Kansas City International Airport – 4 hour drive

Lake of the Ozarks is about 500 miles from my home city of Madison, WI. Sam and I decided to make a road trip out of the adventure and add a couple stops on the way down and back. 

On the way down, we stopped in Jefferson City so Sam could visit the Missouri State Capitol. For his fellow State Capitol enthusiasts’ out there, Sam loved this one. We took photos, explored the grounds, and hopped back in the car to head to Lake of the Ozarks. 

Where to Stay in Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks is a popular summer destination with many lodging options. Since Sam and I traveled over Fourth of July weekend, prices were pretty high with a lot of places already sold out by the time we planned the trip. We opted to stay an hour away in Jefferson City, which was much more affordable, and we earned hotel points. 

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Jefferson City and were very pleased with our stay. We were gone from early morning to later evening exploring Lake of the Ozarks so we really just slept there, but it did the trick. I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Jefferson City last year for a separate trip and that hotel is wonderful so I’d highly recommend it if you’re staying in Jefferson City. 

For my next trip to Lake of the Ozarks, I’ll be booking in the area just to get more out of my experience and my top lodging choices are The Lodge of Four Seasons, Camden on the Lake Resort, and Margaritaville Lake Resort. There are several other options in the area, including some beautiful privately-owned rentals that would be perfect if traveling with family or a larger group. 

One thing to keep in mind when selecting lodging is that partying and drinking is huge in Lake of the Ozarks. If you plan to indulge during your trip, please consider lodging that is easily accessible via Uber or Lyft. 

Day 1 

Plan to arrive in Lake of the Ozarks around late-morning to early-afternoon so that you have time for an activity or two before dinner. The itinerary for your first day in the area focuses on the Lake Ozark and Osage Beach areas. 

Lake of the Ozarks State Park 

I highly recommend visiting Lake of the Ozarks State Park during your trip to the area. This park is over 17,000 acres and is Missouri’s largest state park. Here you can hike, bike horseback ride, boat, fish, and even take a guided tour of Ozark Caverns. 

Young woman on a tree-filled trail at Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Missouri
Trail signs at Lake of the Ozarks State Park

Hikers have several trail options to choose from. I’d suggest checking out White Oak Trail (0.9 mile loop) and Woodland Trail (3.1 mile loop) to explore the park and take in the scenery. Consider cooling off after your hike at one of two of the park’s sandy beaches. Keep in mind that no pets are allowed on the beaches. 

Young woman dipping her feet in the beach at Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Missouri

If you’d like to stay within the park, both basic and electric campsites are available, along with cabins and yurts. 

Spa Shiki 

For a relaxing day during your Lake of the Ozarks vacation, head to Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons. Spa Shiki is a Japanese-inspired spa that strives to provide all guests with peace and tranquility. 

Services for both men and women are offered, including facials, beard trims, sports massages, manicures and pedicures, body treatments, and so much more. Each guest receiving spa treatments is able to enjoy the mineral whirlpool, infrared sauna, and eucalyptus-infused steam room during the day of their visit. 

Appointments can be requested online through a form, but cannot be booked on their website. The spa website recommends calling 573-365-8108 at least 1-2 weeks in advance to book your services. 

Jolly Mon Indoor Waterpark 

In the event the weather does not cooperate for your Lake of the Ozarks getaway, consider heading to Jolly Mon Indoor Waterpark. The waterpark is part of Margaritaville Lake Resort, but requires separate admission and is open to non-guests. 

Jolly Mon features over 600 feet of waterslides, a lazy river, large whirlpool, and three-story treehouse full of water fun. It’s a great spot to head with antsy kids who want something fun to do. 

Keep in mind that the waterpark is only open Friday-Sunday and tickets for non-resort guests are $25 per person per day. They do offer a $5 per person per day observer ticket if you are just tagging along with kiddos and not actually utilizing the waterpark. 

Day 2

The activities for your second day are focused in the Camdenton area. 

Ha Ha Tonka State Park 

One of the most unique state parks I’ve visited is Ha Ha Tonka State Park. There is so much to see at this park, including castle ruins. 

Image of stone castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri
Entrance sign to Ha Ha Tonka State Park

While there are several trails within the park, there are three I recommend to really get a feel for the park and see some of the highlights: 

– Castle Trail is 0.4 miles (one-way) and takes you around the carriage hours ruins and to beautiful overlooks of the water and surrounding area. The trail is paved/concrete, but is quite steep in spots and has sharp drop-offs. There are plenty of benches along the route. 

– Spring Trail is  a 1.4 mile (one-way) trail that’ll take you to a natural spring and water-filled cave. I was so surprised by how different the ecosystem of this trail was compared to the rest of the trails in the park. The first 0.4 miles of the trail is paved and accessible, but past that point there are several sets of stairs you will encounter, along with more challenging terrain. 

– A short and relatively easy trail is the 0.6 mile (roundtrip) Colosseum Trail which takes you to a natural bridge. It’s a beautiful stroll and the natural bridge is really cool to see. 

While Ha Ha Tonka State Park does not have a designated swimming area, there is a spot where you can access the water at Lake Shelter. There are no lifeguards on duty and it can be very difficult to get in and out of the water. Additionally, boats frequent this area so I do not recommend going out into the water very far.  

Young woman enjoying the water at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Camping at Ha Ha Tonka is only allowed for backpackers at three designated sites.

Bridal Cave at Thunder Mountain Park

The whole family will enjoy a trip to Thunder Mountain Park for a guided tour of Bridal Cave. This cave is the only one in Missouri that is accessible by water (don’t worry, it’s also accessible by land!). 

Tours of the cave are available year-round and are 50-55 minutes in duration. The cave maintains a cool 60 degrees all year, so it’s the perfect activity to cool off from the summer heat and to warm up in the winter months. 

There is also a half-mile scenic nature hike at Thunder Mountain Park that you can enjoy before or after your cave tour. 

Make sure to check out these additional cave tours in Missouri for more exploration options. 

Rent a Boat 

Boating is one of the most popular activities in Lake of the Ozarks and you’ll often see photos of the lake filled with boats out together enjoying the sun and water. 

There are several locations where you can rent a boat to join in on the fun. Captain Bob’s Boat Rentals and Charters is one option where you can rent tritoons or bowriders, along with all of the equipment for a day on the water like water skis and tubes. 

Day 3

As you prepare to check out of your Lake of the Ozarks accommodations, I’ve included a few different options of places to stop on the drive home in anticipation of hitting the road early in the day. Of course, I always recommend taking advantage of the time you have in a place, so if you don’t have to leave until later you can always explore the area some more or sneak in a little more beach time. 

Castlewood State Park

As you head northeast of Lake of the Ozarks toward St. Louis, you’ll run into Castlewood State Park.  There are several wonderful hiking trails throughout the park that follow, or provide beautiful views of the Meramec River. The park is also known for having the best mountain-biking trails in the St.Louis area.

Sam and I stopped at Castlewood State Park for a little more exploring before heading home. I found a “beach” area where I put out a couple of towels and did some reading, but I’m not sure it was even a designated beach. Although, there were a few other people doing the same.  

Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park is located in the heart of St. Louis so I’d recommend making a stop here if your travels home take you near the city. The park surrounding the arch is very beautiful and walkable.

There is no charge to walk around the grounds, view the arch, or visit the museum under the arch. However, if you want to do an activity like ride to the top of the arch or take a river tour, you will need to pay. I have a complete guide to visiting Gateway Arch National Park to help you plan your visit. 

Image of Gateway Arch at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri

Springfield, Missouri

Springfield, Missouri is an hour and a half from Lake of the Ozarks and offers so much to do. I have guides on the top things to do in Springfield and the best spots to eat in the area


Lakes of the Ozarks is a great, family-friendly spot to visit that offers so much to see and do. Is this Midwest destination on your travel bucket list?



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