Many of Missouri’s smaller lakes rival the pleasures of our bigger, better-known lakes. Whether you favor a city setting or a country escape, you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy. These are just a few standouts.

Kayakers paddle over the 970-acre Lake Jacomo.
Photo courtesy of Jackson County Executive’s Office

By Paul Cecchini

For many Missourians, a trip to a lake is far more than a fun way to spend a weekend. It’s a lifestyle. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin while casting your gaze across the shimmering blue water as a symphony of birdsong wafts on a water-cooled breeze—it’s an experience you simply can’t get anywhere else. While many might automatically think of Missouri’s largest and well known lakes, like Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Bull Shoals Lake, Table Rock Lake, Stockton Lake, and Mark Twain Lake, they’re not the only ones to offer lake plea sures. There are over 400,000 lakes and ponds throughout the Show-Me State, according to Andrew Branson, Fisheries Program Specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. What’s the difference between a pond and a lake? The National Park Service says there’s no technical difference. As a general rule, if the water is deep enough in some places that sunlight cannot penetrate, call it a lake. If it’s small and shallow, call it a pond. 

Blue herons and other wildlife flock to the rural setting of Pony Express Lake.
Photo courtesy of David Stonner/Missouri Department of Conservation

Regardless, whether you’re lazily floating on an inner tube, plunking in a fishing hook in the hopes of nabbing “the big one,” or simply taking in Missouri’s natural splendor from the deck of a boat, all feels right with the world when you’re on a lake. The many cares and worries of life melt away like the ice in your drink. Perhaps best of all, you don’t even have to be on a lake to fully appreciate it. The water makes the perfect backdrop for any other kind of recreational activity, like walking, biking, or hosting a cookout. 

Wherever you are, you’re probably well within driving distance of one or two lakes. Here are nine lovely smaller Missouri lakes, from fine fishing destinations to delightful family swimming holes and more. Everything is better at a lake. 

Mozingo Lake

A short distance outside of Maryville in northwest Missouri, you’ll find the pristine lakeside paradise of Mozingo Lake. Perhaps the biggest claim to fame of this 1,000-acre lake is its status as a popular fishing spot for crappie and bass. In fact, Mozingo Lake has the distinction of being ranked among the best bass fishing lakes in the United States, according to Bassmaster Magazine. 

Lake Mozingo equips eight rustic but fully furnished cabins to rent, RV and tent camping sites, horse and hiking trails, and three different paved ramps for boats up to 28-feet. Bring your own kayaks or canoes, as you cannot rent them here.
Photo courtesy of Mozingo Lake Recreation Area

Along the lake’s 26 miles of shoreline, you may spot deer, waterfowl, turkey, pheasant, and other small game. There are plenty of other activities to enjoy as well, such as boating, waterskiing, canoeing, and kayaking. And you don’t have to stray far from the water to enjoy some land-based fun. Tee off on the lake’s picturesque golf course or hike on its 15 miles of trails. Want to enjoy the scenic trails without the wear and tear on your feet? Bring your horse with you and ride along one of the equestrian trails (be sure to make your reservation first at the RV park on the west side of the lake). After all, is there anything more romantic than riding a horse alongside a lake? 

1 Fall Drive, Maryville, Missouri 

Pony Express Lake

Pony Express Lake is in the Pony Express Conservation Area, which is about 25 miles west of the original site of Blacksnake Hills, which later became St. Joseph. The lake, of course, takes its name from the Pony Express mail service that began in St. Joseph in 1860.

Modern-day windmills set a counterpoitn to the old-fashioned charm of Pony Express Lake.
Photo courtesy of David Stonner/Missouri Department of Conservation

Fun fact: The Pony Express Museum is only about a half hour away, making it a perfect diversion from the lake during a longer visit. 

Here in this relaxing setting, nature is king. Being one of the more rural locations on our list, you can bet that flora and fauna are plentiful. You might find yourself sharing the water with a trumpeter swan, one of Missouri’s three swan species known for their trumpet-like call. 

Fishing enthusiasts might like to know that this 240-acre lake has a record-high population of largemouth bass this year, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

Adventurous folks seeking a multi-day excursion are invited to pitch a tent or park their RV and take in the sights. Whether you’re fishing, hunting, birdwatching, enjoying the water, or simply drinking in the majesty of the great Missouri outdoors, Pony Express Lake delivers.

Southwest Frost Road, Osborn, Missouri

Long Branch Lake

Nestled just west of Macon on Highway 36 in the northeast corner of the state, Long Branch State Park is considered by some area residents to be one of Missouri’s best-kept secrets. The lake’s beautiful 2,400 acres provide the perfect getaway for boating, kayaking, fishing, and swimming. There are no restrictions when it comes to boat or motor size and no launch fee since the three boat ramps are managed by Missouri State Parks, and there’s a handy, sandy swimming beach next to the marina. From the water, you can gaze at some of the last remnants of prairie and savanna in the area. 

Sometimes called a “sail/yak,” this watercraft is right-sized for either a short or long excursion on Long Branch Lake.
Photo courtesy of Missouri State Parks

Hikers who might be itching to explore these spaces can trek over to the adjacent Chariton River Hills Natural Area or explore preserved portions of the historic Bee Trace Trail area. Long Branch State Park provides camping and picnicking opportunities as well. 

Sample the beach lifestyle without hitting a coast! Long Branch Lake supplies miles of sandy shoreline to dig your toes into. Did we mention the beach volleyball court? 

28615 Visitor Center Road, Macon, Missouri

Lake Jacomo

Blue may be the color of choice around the Blue Springs area of midwestern Missouri, but there are plenty of other colors to be seen on Lake Jacomo, due to the many colorful sailboats and kayaks that cut a path across its water. 

Bring your own sailboats or other watercraft and use one of three boat ramps to get on Lake Jacomo.
Photo courtesy of Jackson County Executive’s Office

Windsurfing, sailing, and paddleboarding are among the most popular activities at this 970-acre lake. Don’t fret if you prefer the rev of a boat motor; all sorts of boating are allowed, though there is a horsepower limit to keep the sound low so fellow visitors can still enjoy a quiet, relaxing day on the lake. 

Anglers, we haven’t forgotten about you. Lake Jacomo has plenty of crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, carp, catfish, hybrid striped bass, and walleye awaiting your lure or bait. 

The Kemper Outdoor Education Center is on the east side of the lake. There, youngsters can learn about the natural world, attend the Jacomo Summer Camp, visit the Hooved Animal Enclosure to see bison and elk, and stroll through the Missouri Town Living History Museum, a reconstructed 19th century village.

7401 West Park Road, Blue Springs, Missouri

Creve Coeur Lake 

Creve Coeur Lake, near St. Louis, is one of the largest natural lakes in Missouri, and it has a distinct shape. The 320-acre oxbow lake was formed when a meandering loop of the Missouri River was cut off. 

Creve Coeur Lake has a lover’s leap legend to enhance the romantic scenery.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The French name Creve Coeur means “broken heart.” While versions of the story behind the name differ, like many lover’s leap legends, the majority claim a forlorn Native American princess lost the man she loved and threw herself off of a cliff and into the water. 

Speaking of love, there is certainly plenty to love about Creve Coeur Lake, including its abundant boating, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding opportunities. The long stretches of sandy beach are great opportunities for sunbathing, and exercise enthusiasts can use the workout machines located right on the shore. 

If walking or biking is more your preference for a workout, you can enjoy the lake scenery as you traverse the 3.8 miles of paved trails that surround it. 

Throw in four playgrounds and a spray fountain area for the kiddos, tennis and pickleball courts, disc golf, picnic shelters, baseball diamonds, and trails, and you have something for everyone at this lake.

13725 Marine Ave., St. Louis, Missouri

Twin Lakes

When it comes to Missouri lakes, smaller lakes can pack in just as much fun as their larger cousins. Case in point: the 18-acre Twin Lakes located in south Columbia on a 73-acre recreation area.

Twin Lakes is a lovely little city lake and park next to the popular MKT Trail.
Photo courtesy of Columbia Parks and Recreation

Twin Lakes is so named because two small lakes lie near each other. Not only is it a popular fishing destination, but it also provides great opportunities to discover some of Missouri’s flora and fauna or to bust out some binoculars and watch the birds. 

And what lakeside activity isn’t made better by bringing your furry, four-legged friend along? Twin 

Lakes has three dog parks with access to the water, including one reserved for small dogs. These spaces, totaling about 10 acres, allow you and your dog to enjoy the lake together. 

If the sun’s heat gets overbearing, retreat to a picnic table under one of the plentiful shade trees lining the shore. The lake also connects to the two-mile County House Trail and the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail. The latter, which was built on an old trail bed, was ranked second in the nation for “Best Urban Trail” in the 2016 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Twin Lakes certainly offers enough lakeside enjoyment to hold its own among the big boys. 

2500 Chapel Hill Road, Columbia, Missouri

Lake Wappapello

Averaging 2.5 million visitors each year, the popularity of the 8,400-acre Lake Wappapello speaks for itself. Since it is the smallest of Missouri’s big lakes, it made the list. This water retreat, located in the heart of southeast Missouri around two hours south of St. Louis, provides great opportunities for kayaking, swimming, fishing, camping, and picnicking. 

Lake Wappapello and a nearby town were named after a friendly Shawnee chief.
Photo courtesy of Missouri State Parks

Take in the natural landscapes and wildlife from the comfort of your boat or the lake’s 180 miles of shoreline. Numerous coves provide a quiet respite where anglers can cast for crappie, bluegill, bass, and catfish. Wait until nightfall, and go fishing by the light of the moon at the lake’s specific locations designated for night fishing. 

You can also take advantage of Lake Wappapello’s more than 25 miles of hiking, backpacking, equestrian, and all-terrain bicycle trails. Visitors can enjoy cabins, two campgrounds, and three picnic areas with shelters. 

For a pleasant atmosphere and some breathtaking views that you can only get in the heart of the Missouri Ozark hills, Lake Wappapello is a sure bet for a relaxing lake getaway. 

8005 State Highway 172, Williamsville, Missouri 

Kellogg Lake

Kellogg Lake can be found in the southwest corner of the state, just north of Carthage. At only 25 acres, this lake may be small, but it’s packed with plenty of outdoor activities for individuals and groups alike to enjoy for a day, weekend, or even a week. 

A walkway and fishing pier at Kellogg Lake gives easy access for children and others to fish for catfish, crappie, and bass.
Photo courtesy of Carthage Convention and Visitors Bureau

In addition to the standard picnicking and boating or kayaking options, Kellogg Lake is home to one of the largest outdoor classrooms in the region, perfect for educating Missouri youngsters about the state’s great outdoors. Fishing along the banks is popular, and anglers can catch largemouth bass, catfish, black bass, white bass, sunfish, and crappie. 

After a day on the water, play a rousing game of disc golf on a full course, or take the chill off of a cool evening by one of the lake’s fire pits. Two first-come, first-served shelters are available. One of these sits beside the lake near Spring River, which flows along the 22-acre park’s borderline, and the other smaller shelter sits alongside the river. Two boat ramps are located on the river and the lake. 

History buffs will appreciate that the lake is right off famous Route 66 and that a portion of the Mother Road’s original pavement runs beside the river, which borders the park. 

1215 Esterly Drive, Carthage, Missouri

Fellows Lake 

If you’re around the Springfield area and hankering for some fun on the water, Fellows Lake on the far north side of town has plenty to deliver—specifically, about 860 acres of water with 25 miles of natural surface trails for hiking, biking, and walking. 

Fellows Lake has a 40-horsepower maximum boat motor limit. A store rents kayak, canoes, and sailboats from March through October.
Photo courtesy of Fellows Lake LLC

All manners of water transport are welcome here, so feel free to launch your canoe, kayak, paddleboard, sailboat, or fishing boat. If you don’t have any water transport of your own though, the lake rents motorboats. The dock at Fellows Lake is handicap accessible, and its pontoon boats are set up to allow wheelchairs to roll right onto them. Swimming is not allowed, as the lake supplies drinking water. 

 Kids who might feel restless after a few hours on the water can head to the nearby playground for some fun. One of the lake’s many pavilions provides a perfect covering for a nice picnic or gathering. Speaking of gatherings, Fellows Lake plays host to various events throughout the year, including regattas, kid fishing days, Paddlefest, moonlight paddles, and much more. Just minutes outside of Missouri’s third largest city, it’s a beautifully serene spot to embrace nature. 

4200 E. Farm Road 66, Springfield, Missouri 


Here are a few more little water wonders for you to explore. 

  1. Big Lake 
    The shallow nature of this 615-acre oxbow lake in a state park with the same name makes it popular for watching wetland birds.
    204 Lake Shore Drive, Craig, Missouri 
  2. Bushwaker Lake
    This 157-acre lake, along with the 29-acre Willow Lake, is in the Bushwhacker Lake Conservation Area.
    527 East 6th Street, Bronaugh, Missouri
  3. Clearwater Lake
    Hills, bluffs, and coves showcase the grandeur of this 1,630-acre lake.
    821 County Road 418, Piedmont, Missouri 
  4. Council Bluff Lake
    Swim, fish, or rent canoes or paddleboats at this 440-acre lake during Missouri’s hotter months, typically May through September.
    State Highway DD, Belgrade, Missouri 
  5. Henry Sever Lake
    This 158-acre lake is on a conservation area of the same name. It is stocked with channel and blue catfish and is home to one of only two muskellunge populations in northeastern Missouri.
    State Highway KK, Newark, Missouri

Feature image courtesy of Mozingo Lake Recreation Park

Article originally published in the July/August 2024 issue of Missouri Life