Are you looking for a new U.S. road trip destination? Something that’s a little off-the-beaten-path like the southwest Arkansas road trip itinerary that we recently published?
You are in luck! Guest writer, Lisa Evans (Writing is a Journey), ventured into flyover country in the Midwest. In the process she discovered plenty of fun things to do in Central Missouri during a sponsored press trip. Be sure to take notes for your next boomer road trip.
Have you ever been to Missouri, specifically central Missouri? Or Perhaps you have visited or even live there and already know about the gems I’ve recently experienced.
Full disclosure – I previously thought Missouri was simply a flyover state. While I knew some of its natural beauty, I honestly did not consider it a vacation destination.
I can tell you firsthand I was sadly mistaken. So please sit back and read about places that have changed my mind about mid-Missouri and have me looking forward to returning.
Adventure in the Air at Lake of the Ozarks
One experience I have never had in my many years on this earth has been to view something from the air. My participation here is limited to traveling thousands of miles in the air, on an airplane, where you might see things as tiny dots on the landscape (if you are lucky enough to have a window seat). I’m happy to report that I crossed that item off my list while visiting Lake of the Ozarks.
Many have heard about the fun and beauty of the Lake, but I can tell you that getting an aerial view is simply breathtaking. Thanks to Lake Ozark Helicopter, I was afforded a ride from the air in one of their helicopters.
I admit I was a bit apprehensive at first, but the pilot started a conversation at once, which put me at ease. He let me know he had plenty of experience, having been trained by the US military. He was a knowledgeable, straightforward young man, reminding me of my son.
Giving me my own set of headphones so we could converse, the helicopter pilot made sure I was safely buckled, and off we went. The minute he manipulated the controls and lifted me off the ground, I knew I was safe.
After that, nothing mattered but the sheer beauty out in front of us. He flew over the entire Lake, pointing out things from above that I would later look for when on the ground.
My Lake of the Ozarks helicopter tour flew over golf courses, resort hotels, the dam which makes it all work, and the inlets of the Lake. My experience from above made me sincerely appreciate all the things I would soon see firsthand with my feet solidly on the ground.
Adventure on the water in central Missouri
You can’t genuinely appreciate central Missouri without experiencing it on the water. Lake of the Ozarks is known for boating, fishing, and other water sports. As they say, the biggest attraction in the area is the lake itself.
Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest manufactured lakes in the United States. Created by the Bagnell Dam, it took three years to complete, beginning in 1929 and finishing in 1931.
The lake has a surface area of 54,000 acres, with 1150 miles of that being shoreline. Seventy thousand homes line the shores of Lake of the Ozarks. As you can imagine, a substantial percentage of these homes all have watercraft and docks as part of their property.
The allure of the water is too hard to resist. I was lucky enough to not only kayak in a couple of spots along the lake but take an aquatic tour as well. This 9-3/4 mile trail allows you to see the Lake of the Ozarks State Park (official website) from a unique perspective – looking from the water to the land.
You will have the opportunity to see the park’s distinctive qualities, such as natural geological structure, meadows, woodlands, and streams. The water perspective offers a chance to see how nature works together to enhance one of the most beautiful areas in the country.
You can experience this as a self-guided tour along the water trail or enlist the services of a knowledgeable aquatic trail guide. The guide is how I saw all the different sides of the area brought to life – through his knowledge and enthusiasm for his line of work.
The morning was gorgeous with blue skies, puffy clouds, and the breeze off the water flowing onto my face. From my seat in the boat, I enjoyed experiencing the wonders around me while listening to my guide’s commentary.
Boomer Travel Tip
Looking for a place to stay at Lake of the Ozarks? Start your search here. Or book a vacation rental for a longer stay.
Biking the Katy Trail
History is a passion of mine, which leads me to the Katy Trail. Has anyone ever heard of a couple of people called Lewis & Clark (the book Undaunted Courage will fill you in)?
Sections of the Katy Trail are part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (official website). I can proudly say I’ve ridden a bicycle on the part of this trail in Rocheport, MO.
The Katy Trail (website here) is on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. At 240 miles, it is the longest, continuous rail-trail in the United States.
The trail is perfect for exploring by biking, hiking, and even on horseback. It features magnificent views of the Missouri River and the tall bluffs that run alongside it.
My biking experience on this history-laden trail was in the small town of Rocheport, population 239. It’s a charming village, with elegant homes both big and small, some of which date back before the Civil War.
The town exudes a serenity for all – both residents and visitors. I imagine this comes from the beauty of its natural surroundings, where you can stroll along the Katy Trail and Missouri River at your leisure.
I was able to ride through a 243 ft. arched tunnel, built somewhere around 1893. This tunnel is the only one on the trail. Realizing the history and beauty of this tunnel as you ride through it is a genuinely wonderful experience.
After riding for a stretch in one direction, I turned about and went back in the other. Doing this afforded me the chance to see the magnificent bluffs which run next to the Missouri River. You can rest on benches that are strategically placed along the trail to absorb the area’s beauty.
Exploring a mid-Missouri cave
Did you know there are approximately 6300 caves in the state of Missouri? The central area of the state that surrounds Lake of the Ozarks is home to 300 of those caves.
Some of these caves have been adapted and turned into show caves through much dedication, arduous work, and expense. Installing paved walkways, handrails, bridges, and strategically placed lights is essential to be a show cave.
Having also had the experience of exploring an actual wild cave, with none of those mentioned above niceties, I can personally attest that these make the experience more pleasant. I did enjoy the wild cave. However, it was surreal when the flashlights went out, and there were no other natural light sources.
Bridal Cave, in Camdenton, is one of mid-Missouri’s most visited show caves, being named one of the most scenic caves in the U.S. Whether you are traveling alone, as a couple, as a family unit, or in a group of friends, you will enjoy this tour.
Bridal Cave is a constant 60-degree temperature. You can be transported beneath the ground and witness some truly incredible natural formations regardless of outside weather.
Centuries in the past, the Osage Native Americans discovered the untouched beauty of the cave lying beneath the Ozark Mountains, formed millions of years ago. Local legend tells of a wedding ceremony that took place in the early 1800s. In keeping with this legend, Bridal Cave has been the host to over 3000 couples worldwide, wanting to be married in the underground Bridal Chapel.
The beauty of this underground jewel enthralled me. Being able to see up close and personal all the massive columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and draperies formed millions of years ago and continue to be made today is heart-stopping.
As you walk through the cave, you will undoubtedly be the recipient of cave kisses. These are drips of water that drop from above you, proof that the cave is ever-changing.
The continual encounter of water versus rock offers an appreciation of nature that you may not otherwise recognize. This battle has created a stunning cave that has more onyx formations than any other known cave.
I was lucky enough to experience the cave with two knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides who made the experience come to life. The cave’s beauty is striking and gives a correct accounting of the true force of nature and how it sculpts beauty from such simple ingredients.
Adventures Abound in Missouri
Whether you consider yourself a true adventurer or just an outdoor enthusiast, there’s an active travel experience in Missouri that welcomes you. Did you know there are 92 state parks throughout the state?
While I only visited a handful of parks during my trip, each was distinct in its way yet connected through the natural beauty of the state. For more information on the complete list of state parks, click here.
The caves I viewed entice me to return and see more. My kayaking excursions on Lake of the Ozarks were an excellent way to get in some outdoor time. The hikes through several trails in the parks afforded me gorgeous views of Missouri I was not expecting to find.
In short, my boomer travel adventures were a reminder that you need to explore outside your comfort zone. Missouri is a place you might not have had on your radar, but sometimes it’s the unexpected that makes it worthwhile.