I was hosted by Getaway House. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I’m always surprised by just how much the scenery can change if you drive an hour or two outside of the city. Kansas City, and its proximity to the Ozarks, are a perfect example of this. During a recent road trip in Missouri, my boyfriend Jacob and I set out to uncover some unique things to do in the Lake of the Ozarks, particularly for couples looking for a romantic, adventurous weekend getaway from Kansas City.
The show Ozark has given this area an interesting rap in pop culture, to say the least. When we visited the Lake of the Ozarks, I actually hadn’t seen the show yet! Being the sucker for state and national parks that I am, I was drawn to the area because of the parks in the area, and I knew there had to be tons of beauty here. Especially if the Lake of the Ozarks attracts over 5 million visitors a year!
While many think of the Lake of the Ozarks solely as a family destination or a boating / fishing destination for midwesterners, what I found was that the Ozarks has something to offer for couples and adventure seekers, too – yes, even if you don’t own a boat!
You just have to know where to look.
Read on for my recommendations for six things to do in the Lake of the Ozarks on a weekend trip from Kansas City!
Things to Do in the Lake of the Ozarks: Your Kansas City Weekend Getaway
1. Go Glamping in the Ozark Highlands
Boaters and families may want to stay close to the action down in Osage Beach. But, if you’re in search of a romantic getaway near Kansas City, you’ll want to head straight to the Ozark Highlands.
The ultra-popular Getaway House recently launched a brand new location perfect for a quick escape from Kansas City. If you haven’t heard of Getaway House, check out my full review of the Getaway House cabin concept here.
With your own personal cabin away from the hustle and bustle, tucked in amongst the trees, you’ll have the perfect launching-off point for your weekend getaway. The Ozark Highlands are a bit removed from everything else – you’re looking at about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to the Osage Beach area – but trust me, it’s worth it.
But, if you can’t be bothered to drive any further than this, that’s fine too. The cabins offer fire pits, kitchens, full bathrooms, books, a radio, and s’mores so you and a friend or significant other can unplug and enjoy.
This glamping location is one of the newest things to do in the Ozarks, and by far one of the most unique!
2. Explore the Lake of the Ozarks State Park by Jetski or Pontoon Boat
Do you need to have a boat to enjoy the Lake of the Ozarks? Absolutely not.
In fact, there are so many places to rent watersports equipment, especially near Osage Beach.
Two of the most popular, affordable, and easiest recreational watersports rentals you’ll find are:
- Pontoon Boats: Flat, buoyant boats that are popular for lake recreation. This was my first time seeing a pontoon boat, and they looked pretty fun – some had lounge areas, sofas, and even bars.
- Jetskis: Jetskis and waverunners are very popular things to do at the Lake of the Ozarks! Rent your own, or share one with your partner to save money. Jetskis can be rented by the hour all the way up to a full day. Ultimately, we found 2-3 hours on the water to be the perfect amount of time.
In order to take a jetski or pontoon boat out on the water, you’ll need to either present a boating license or obtain a temporary Missouri boating license onsite using this link. The process takes about 10 minutes and costs just $9, with your license becoming valid for 7 days.
Prefer to just enjoy instead of worrying about maneuvering out on the water? You can charter a powerboat or even a yacht at the Lake of the Ozarks! It’ll be more expensive, but in exchange you’ll have a skilled captain with you that can show you around.
When you get your rental, you’ll also receive a map of the Lake of the Ozarks and instructions on how to get around.
Jacob and I opted for a jetski from The Getaway Watercraft Rentals and toured around the massive lakeside houses before making our way to Lake of the Ozarks State Park.
And let me tell you – Lake of the Ozarks State Park is beautiful! From the water, you can easily see the surroundings change from developed Osage Beach, to unspoiled state park. Here, even the water seems bluer, and the dense spread of woodlands reflecting the sunlight offers up a fairy-like allure. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was both shocked and thrilled by Missouri’s beauty.
We did also try to visit the legendary Party Cove, but there wasn’t much going on. Our weekend getaway from Kansas City was early in May, right before peak summer season at the lake begins, which is probably why the lake was relatively calm for a Sunday afternoon.
3. Find the Castle at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Did you know? A state park with a towering stone castle hides not far from Osage Beach! In fact, Conde Nast Traveler named Ha Ha Tonka State Park the most spectacular state park in all of Missouri.
The main and most unique draw of Ha Ha Tonka State Park is the castle ruins. Just over a century ago, a Kansas City businessman by the name of Robert McClure Snyder dreamed of constructing a castle here on a high cliff overlooking the Niagara Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks, but died in a car crash just a year after construction began. His sons completed the project in his name, and opened it as a hotel in the 20s only to be immediately hit by the Great Depression. Two short decades later, the structure caught fire and fell into disrepair. Despite the tragic beginnings, today, the frame of this European-meets-American Gothic structure remains a unique and impressive landmark with dramatic views.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park is also home to over 15 miles of hiking trails, and several fascinating geological features, like natural bridges, sinkholes, and caves.
After visiting the castle, we explored Ha Ha Tonka’s Natural Bridge and wandered some of the state park’s many well-marked trails. Ha Ha Tonka – which means ‘laughing water’ in Osage Indian – is also home to the spectacular Ha Ha Tonka Spring. Unfortunately, a storm passed through Missouri right before our Ozarks weekend getaway, so the water was pretty murky when we visited. But normally, it’s supposed to be a resplendent sapphire blue!
4. Go Hiking Around the Lake of the Ozarks
Beyond the water activities, hiking is one of the coolest things to do in the Lake of the Ozarks. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is just one of the many places you can go to experience the Ozarks’ woodlands and lake vistas.
Here are some great places to go hiking in the Ozarks!
- Ha Ha Tonka State Park
- Castle Trail (0.8 mi)
- Devil’s Kitchen Trail (1.3 mi)
- Island Trail (0.9 mi)
- Spring Trail (1.4 mi)
- Lake of the Ozarks State Park
- Rocky Top Trail (2.2 mi)
- Hidden Springs Trail (2.5 mi)
- Trail of the Four Winds (4 – 11 mi)
- Pomme de Terre State Park
- Cedar Bluff Trail (2.1 mi)
- Indian Point Trail (3.2 mi)
- Harry S. Truman State Park
- Bluff Ridge Trail (1.9 mi)
- 1000th Mile Trail (0.9 mi)
Wherever you go, I recommend packing bug spray, sunscreen, and long pants in the summer months when hiking in the Lake of the Ozarks!
5. Explore Missouri’s Underground
Did you know that Missouri is known as the Cave State? Missouri features a distinctive karst ecosystem, and its porous limestone and dolomite landscapes make for the perfect environment for caves, springs, sinkholes, and natural bridges to form over the centuries.
In fact, Missouri is home to somewhere close to 7,000 known, mapped caves! Are there caves in the Lake of the Ozarks? You bet! Approximately 300 of these caves can be found in the areas surrounding the lake. Of these, four are considered ‘show caves,’ meaning they are easy to visit, and are outfitted with lights, walkways, and hand rails for safe viewing.
Exploring the caves is certainly one of the most unique things to do in the Lake of the Ozarks.
Here are the four places you can easily see caves in the area:
6. Enjoy a Pool or a Patio with a View
Of course, even an active Kansas City weekend getaway needs some downtime. Staying at the Getaway House Ozark Highlands, we found it to be an easy and romantic location for unwinding and enjoying each other’s company. But what do you do when you’re closer to the action, near Osage Beach, and looking to have a good time?
Fortunately, the Ozarks has tons of restaurants and bars with lake views! Some of these are more chill, but most are set up for a party – perfect for those who prefer to be on land vs out on the water. The best part? Some Ozarks hotspots even have pools!
Here are some waterfront Ozarks restaurants and bars with a view (places with pools indicated by an *):
If you only have two nights on your weekend getaway, I recommend planning to spend one sunset back at your Getaway House cabin, and one sunset here on the lake. No matter which Ozarks lake view you choose, sunset will no doubt make for a sweet moment to close out your romantic getaway near Kansas City.
Are you considering a weekend getaway in the Lake of the Ozarks? Tell me your plans in the comments!