Nothing says summer fun like one of Missouri’s myriad lakes. Fishing, swimming, waterskiing, parasailing, and even flyboarding—the Show-Me State has it all. Missouri has literally hundreds of lakes on public lands, including those of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and numerous cities and towns. Here is our guide to your summer of fun on Missouri lakes. Grab the sunscreen and go!


Many people would guess Lake of the Ozarks, but Truman Lake surpasses water acreage by several hundred acres. Lake of the Ozarks is 55,000 acres, and Truman is 55,406 acres.


Person on a lake
Harry S. Truman Lake. Photo courtesy Missouri State Parks.

SIZE: 55,406 surface acres

CREATION: Stretching across Benton, Henry, St. Clair, and Hickory Counties, this reservoir took shape from 1964 to 1979 during construction of a hydroelectric power plant and the Harry S. Truman Dam on the Osage River. Originally called the Kaysinger Bluff Dam and Reservoir, Congress renamed both the dam and reservoir in 1970 to honor the former president from Missouri.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWNS: Clinton, Osceola, Warsaw

VISITOR CENTER: The visitor center in Warsaw sits on Kaysinger Bluff overlooking the confluence of Tebo Creek, South Grand River, and the Osage River. An observation deck offers spectacular views of beautiful scenery, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and waterfowl. Displays feature old-fashioned buildings, reproductions of archaeological fossils and artifacts, exhibits, and a timeline of the exploration and settlement of the Osage River Valley.

ACTIVITIES: fishing, camping, boating, swimming, and hiking

FISHING: crappie, black bass, catfish, and white bass

PARK: Harry S. Truman State Park encompasses more than 100,000 acres of bluffs, rugged hills, forests, and prairie that surround part of the lake and extend into it on a peninsula.



BEACHES: 2 in the state park, 1 at Shawnee Bend Recreation Area, and more at local campgrounds

NOTEWORTHY: The park allows horseback riding on trails that circle the lake. Kaysinger General Store and the Concord Schoolhouse are located just off a nature trail along Kaysinger Bluff.

BIG EVENT: Warsaw’s Heritage Days takes place annually the third weekend in October, featuring demonstrations of historical crafts of Missouri pioneers; modern-day crafts are available at Drake Harbor in downtown Warsaw.

SURPRISE: The southwest portion of the lake is part of the Weaubleau structure, a 19-mile-wide crater probably made by a meteoroid about 330 million years ago. The crater is one of the 50 largest known impact craters on earth and the fourth-largest in the country.


  • The Lost Valley Fish Hatchery and Visitor Center, located a few miles east of Truman Lake’s visitor center, has an aquarium and views of the hatchery production room.
  • The Warsaw Riverfront Trails system runs along the Osage River, links three parks, and provides a scenic waterfront path with breathtaking views of the Ozarks.
  • Truman Lake Mountain Bike Park & Hiking Area near Warsaw has beginner and advanced trails.


  • Warsaw’s Common Ground Café, with its rustic barn-wood decor, serves homemade food that includes vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
  • Cosmic Coffee in Warsaw offers breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Try the steak huevos rancheros, homemade biscuits and gravy, a signature sandwich, or the Shooting Star, promoted as the best burger in town.
  • Sweet Tooth Fudge Factory in Warsaw delivers the sweet ender.


One of Missouri’s busiest fishing lakes is Clay County’s Smithville Lake, located in northwest Missouri about half an hour from downtown Kansas City.
7,200 surface acres | 175-mile shoreline | 5 boat ramps | 3 marinas


girl jet skiing on a lake in missouri
Lake of the Ozarks. Photo courtest Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau

SIZE: 55,000 surface acres

CREATION: Bagnell Dam, built in the 1930s for hydroelectric power, impounds the Osage River, creating Lake of the Ozarks. This massive lake in central Missouri spans four counties—Benton, Camden, Miller, and Morgan.

MANAGED BY: Ameren Missouri

LAKE TOWNS: Camdenton, Eldon, Gravois Mills, Lake Ozark, Osage Beach

VISITOR CENTER: Visitors can take a self-guided tour of Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark, feed the fish, and enjoy the scenic overlook.

ACTIVITIES: fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking, tubing, water skiing, hiking, bicycling, camping, golfing, and parasailing, plus helicopter tours

FISHING: largemouth bass, spotted bass, black and white crappie, blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white bass, hybrid stripers, paddlefish, walleye, and bluegill

PARK: Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the largest state park in Missouri. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is less than a half hour to the south on the Niangua arm and offers bluff-top lake views and stone castle ruins. This park also has a huge natural bridge, caves, sinkholes, and the state’s 12th-largest spring.

MARINAS: More than 40


BEACHES: 2 within the state park, plus Coffman Beach maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and many campground and resort beaches

NOTEWORTHY: Four main arms comprise the lake: Grand Glaize, Niangua, Gravois, and Osage. In total, Lake of the Ozarks has 1,150 miles of shoreline, more than the 840-mile Pacific coastline of California.

BIG EVENT: Aquapalooza 2019 takes place on July 20. The single-day event features free live music, games, and prizes
—just cruise your boat over to lake mile marker 19. Many other events include fishing tournaments and boat races.

SURPRISE: It is the largest boating lake in the country, spanning 92 miles in length.


  • Explore the Ozark Caverns within Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Bridal Cave near Camdenton, and Stark Caverns near Eldon.
  • Experience “The Swinging Bridges of Brumley”—Mill Creek Bridge and Grand Auglaize. These suspension bridges are still open for traffic.


  • More than 200 restaurants, including 60 with waterfront options and docks, are available in the area. A few we recommend at the lake:
    Baxter’s Lakeside Grill has great food and a scenic view.
  • If you’re on the west side of the lake, try JJ’s at the Copper Pot.
  • JB Hook’s is top-rated and has a panoramic view of the lake.
  • Shawnee Bluff Winery offers pizza from a wood-fired oven along with the vineyard’s wine and live music.


The best trout lake in the country is Taney County’s Lake Taneycomo, accessible from downtown Branson and points east in southwest Missouri.
2,078 surface acres | 40-mile shoreline | 5 boat ramps | 4 marinas


Red boat on a lake
Table Rock Lake. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

SIZE: 43,100 surface acres

CREATION: The Army Corps of Engineers created this clearwater lake in 1958 when the corps built Table Rock Dam on the White River. The dam generates hydroelectric power and controls flooding; the reservoir it maintains has more than 800 miles of shoreline.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWNS: Branson, Hollister, Kimberling City

VISITOR CENTER: The Dewey Short Visitor Center is located near Table Rock Dam. Within the center, dioramas and exhibits highlight the native heritage of the area, the natural landscape, and the inner workings of the dam. There’s also a state-of-the-art interactive map of Table Rock Lake.

ACTIVITIES: paddleboarding, swimming, fishing, boating, waterskiing, scuba diving, parasailing, hiking, bicycling, camping, and picnicking

FISHING: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, white crappie, bluegill, and longear sunfish

PARK: Table Rock State Park encompasses 356 acres of hiking and cycling trails, rustic mountain cabins, campground, marina, and more in Taney and Stone Counties, along Branson’s southern side.



BEACHES: Many resorts and marinas have swimming areas, but Moonshine Beach is a sandy, oceanlike location to get your feet wet for a nominal fee.

NOTEWORTHY: The south side of the lake, near Lampe, has fly-fishing, bike and horseback trails, plenty of wildlife, a tram, and a Segway nature tour. The two-hour Showboat Branson Belle cruise on Table Rock Lake is also a great way to see the lake.

BIG EVENT: LAKE30Palooza 2019 takes place on July 27 in Coombs Ferry Cove. Just come, tie up your boat, and float with a few of your closest and newest friends. It’s free.

SURPRISE: Scuba divers on the lake have a special treat unseen by most visitors. Divers can “stroll” down Main Street in the sunken town of Oasis and explore the cabins of the Zebulon Pike, a submerged double-decker excursion boat.


  • Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is the state’s largest trout-raising facility, six miles from Branson on Route 165 just below Table Rock Dam. Explore the free conservation center.
  • The 1880s-style theme park, Silver Dollar City, features period artisans, food, games, and thrill rides.


Table Rock Lake’s shoreline has restricted commercial development, so there are not many restaurants lakeside. These offer a lakeside view: For more than 20 years, Catfish Hole has served up fried catfish and hushpuppies to visitors. You can dock your boat at the Kimberling City location and walk up to enjoy great food and live music on weekends.

  • With near-perfect reviews on Google and Facebook, Flat Creek Resort Bar & Grill at Cape Fair serves fried chicken, fried catfish, and barbecue ribs. It’s accessible by boat and car.
  • Up the hill from Bent Hook Marina at Big Cedar Lodge, the Devil’s Pool Restaurant offers stunning views of Table Rock Lake and a rustic Ozark vibe, serving southern, home-style dishes.
  • Mill and Canyon Grill Restaurant is a rustic, elegant dining option on the grounds of Dogwood Canyon in Lampe.
  • Early risers should have breakfast at BillyGail’s Cafe outside Branson or Branson Cafe in the historic downtown.
  • Diners are guaranteed a memorable meal at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, a ’50s-themed diner where singing servers take care of customers.


Missouri’s deepest lake is man-made Table Rock Lake, 220 feet at its deepest point.


a man and woman kayaking on a lake
Mark Twain Lake. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

SIZE: 18,600 surface acres

CREATION: Located in the Salt River Hills of northeast Missouri near Hannibal, Mark Twain Lake is the reservoir of the Clarence Cannon Dam, which opened in 1984.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWNS: Monroe City, Paris, Perry

VISITOR CENTER: M. W. Boudreaux Visitor Center at Clarence Cannon Dam features amazing overlooks, a grand lobby, and numerous exhibits highlighting the area’s nature, history, culture, and the impact of the lake on the region.

ACTIVITIES: boating, fishing, swimming, kayaking, waterskiing, archery, hiking, hunting, trail riding, and camping

FISHING: crappie, largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, walleye, and white bass

PARK: On a peninsula jutting into the west side of the lake, Mark Twain State Park at Florida, Missouri, features a museum and the home in which Mark Twain was born, along with period furnishings.




NOTEWORTHY: There is no private development along the shoreline.

BIG EVENT: The Annual Halloween Walk at Indian Creek Campground takes place October 18–19; costumes and trick-or-treating are welcome. The Corps also hosts a Mark Twain Lake Shed Hunt each January aimed at getting youth more involved in the outdoors.

SURPRISE: Jellyfish watching is the new fall pastime for kayakers in Mark Twain State Park. Lake Tom Sawyer within the park is home to a population of tiny freshwater jellyfish. The half-inch translucent creatures are harmless to humans as they swarm the calm water looking for microscopic meals.


  • Buzzard’s Roost overlook in Mark Twain State Park features spectacular lake and surrounding bluff views.
  • Union Covered Bridge near Paris, Missouri, built in 1871, is one of only four remaining covered bridges in the state.
  • In Hannibal, 25 minutes to the northeast, visitors will find Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum, Big River Train Town, and the Mark Twain Museum, Riverboat, and Cave.


If you’re planning on spending most of your time on the water, pack a picnic lunch. Dining locations might be 10 to 15 minutes away.

  • Downtown Perry’s Hootenanny Cafe, located in a historic building, is famous for its pies.
  • Rustic Oak Cabin Steakhouse on Route J north of Perry specializes in smoked meats, aged steaks, and pies.
  • Jonesy’s Cafe in downtown Paris has a charming, old-fashioned diner feel and serves up classic diner fare.
  • EE Grill, on Route EE off Route J near the dam, offers all-you-can-eat fish and chicken on weekends.


Just south of Hermitage is Pomme de Terre Lake and its premier muskie fishing. The southwest Missouri lake is about an hour north of Springfield.
7,820 surface acres | 113-mile shoreline | 6 boat ramps | 4 marinas


kids fishing at a lake
Lake Wappapello. Photo courtesy Wappapello Lake Project.

SIZE: 8,400 surface acres

CREATION: The US Army Corps of Engineers built a dam in 1941 along the St. Francis River that created Lake Wappapello reservoir to control flooding in southeast Missouri. The lake is primarily in Wayne County but extends into Butler County, too.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWN: Wappapello

VISITOR CENTER: The Bill Emerson Memorial Visitor Center offers exhibits and interpretive programs covering the historic sites of Civil War skirmishes and a segment of the Trail of Tears.

ACTIVITIES: swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and hunting

FISHING: crappie, bass, and catfish

PARK: Lake Wappapello State Park at Williamsville is a recreational haven with modern and primitive camping areas. The park is 16 miles north of Poplar Bluff and has close to 2,000 acres that border Lake Wappapello. Hikers, horseback riders, and all-terrain cyclists can explore miles of trails. Boaters, kayakers, canoeists, swimmers, fishermen, and families have easy access to the lake, two campgrounds, picnic and day-use sites, and playground equipment.




NOTEWORTHY: Located in southeast Missouri in an area once used by pioneers and Indians, the town of Wappapello was named after a Shawnee chief who hunted in the area. There are overlooks on the Johnson Tract, a five-mile natural area, and Lost Creek Waterfowl Refuge, part of the Corps of Engineers public ground.

BIG EVENTS: Annual events include Old Greenville Black Powder Rendezvous in April, Budweiser Drag Boat Nationals in May, Ranger Willie B. Safe Waterfest in July, and Old Greenville Days in September.

SURPRISE: This is one of the oldest man-made lakes in the United States.


  • Located about half an hour to the south, Poplar Bluff attractions include the Mo-Ark Regional Railroad Museum where displays chronicle the rail history of southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas. Additionally, the Veteran’s Memorial Wall at Black River Coliseum and the Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in nearby Bloomfield offer military history.
  • Sam A. Baker State Park, only about a 10-minute drive away, is one of the oldest parks in Missouri. It provides access to the St. Francis River and Big Creek for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and camping.
  • Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Puxico is a migratory waterfowl refuge open for hiking, fishing, canoeing, and nature study.


  • Crabb & Company, a family restaurant, serves seafood, alligator, and burgers.
  • The Fishin’ Pig Catfish & BBQ in Poplar Bluff serves Southern cuisine in a family-friendly atmosphere. Options include slow-smoked barbecue, fried catfish, and several different specialty burgers.
  • One of the claims to fame at Poplar Bluff’s Lemonade House Grille is, of course, fresh-made lemonade, but the Grille also blends handcrafted teas and serves tacos, burgers, and gourmet salads.
  • At local favorite Hayden’s BBQ, customers dine in Poplar Bluff’s old Ice Station and rave about the Double BBQ Sandwich and pink lemonade.


Spring-fed Clearwater Lake, called the “Gem of the Ozarks,” is located in eastern Missouri about 2½ hours south of St. Louis near Piedmont.
1,630 surface acres | 27-mile shoreline 9 boat ramps | 1 courtesy dock


girl swimming at a lake
Stockton Lake. Photo courtesy Missouri State Parks

SIZE: 24,900 surface acres

CREATION: In the rugged Ozark hills spanning Cedar, Dade, and Polk Counties in southwest Missouri, this V-shaped lake formed when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Sac River near Stockton. It has nearly 300 miles of shoreline.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWN: Stockton

VISITOR CENTER: The Corps has a visitor center located at the dam.

ACTIVITIES: sailing, water skiing, scuba diving, swimming, fishing, picnicking, camping, and hiking

FISHING: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, spotted bass, white bass, catfish, and bluegill

PARK: Stockton State Park provides easy access to the lake. The park is located on a peninsula that juts north between the Big and Little Sac arms of the lake. The area around the park has rich history, including archaeological evidence of a group of early hunters and gatherers known as the Dalton man, and later Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes.




NOTEWORTHY: High bluffs along the lake and prevailing southwestern winds make Stockton an ideal sailing lake.

BIG EVENT: The Stockton Lake Yacht Club hosts the 45th annual 2019 Governor’s Cup Regatta on September 27–29. The premier three-day sailing event draws racers from across the Midwest. Watchers are welcome.

SURPRISE: Stockton State Park Marina Sailing School is consistently ranked as an outstanding sailing school worldwide.


  • The Nathan Boone Homestead and Historic Site in Ash Grove is the last home of Daniel Boone’s youngest son. Travel back to the 1830s through the preserved home and cemeteries.
  • Osage Village State Historic Site in Harwood boasts hilltop scenery and hints of the Osage’s principal village there during most of the 18th century.
  • The Wayside Inn Museum in El Dorado Springs offers a peek into the area’s historic past.


  • The Squeeze Inn on Route RB in Stockton is famous for its Squeeze burgers with a fried cheese “skirt.”
  • The Boat House on Route 39 near the Stockton airport is known for its fried chicken.


Is that body of water a big pond or a small lake, and how do you know?

Lakes are usually bigger than ponds. Ponds generally have more rooted plant life, while rooted plants in lakes are restricted to shallower water near the shore.

The water temperature in ponds is mostly the same from the top to bottom, but lakes develop layers of water with different temperatures at different depths during summer and winter. Ponds don’t have many waves, but you may see bigger waves on lakes. Lakeshores may be sandy or rocky with few aquatic plants, especially on shores that prevailing winds blow toward.


a lake in missouri
Bull Shoals. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

SIZE: 48,195 surface acres

CREATION: Bull Shoals Lake formed when the Army Corps of Engineers completed Bull Shoals Dam on the White River in 1951. The quiet lake boasts nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline. It has hundreds of miles of lake arms and coves surrounded by steep bluffs and rock ledges. It meanders back and forth across the state line between Missouri and Arkansas beginning just east of Branson in southern Missouri.

MANAGED BY: US Army Corps of Engineers

LAKE TOWNS: Mincy, Pontiac, Sundown, Theodosia

VISITOR CENTER: Part of the Arkansas State Park system, the James A. Gaston Visitor’s Center is just past the dam at Bull Shoals, Arkansas. Find the observation tower and the Johnboat Theater.

ACTIVITIES: fishing, swimming, boating, waterskiing, tube floating, wake boarding, sail boating, scuba diving, camping, and hiking

FISHING: everything from bass to walleye

PARK: Bull Shoals-White River State Park is part of the Arkansas State Park system and well-known for trout fishing.

MARINAS: 2 in Missouri

PUBLIC BOAT RAMPS: 7 in Missouri

NOTEWORTHY: Visitors can tour the inside of Bull Shoals Dam, the fifth-largest dam in the country, and take in spectacular views from the top to see the lake and White River. A trout fishery is also located on the White River, downstream of Bull Shoals Dam.

BIG EVENTS: Annual events on Bull Shoals Lake include the Mark Dobbs Memorial Boat Poker Run in May and the Independence Day fireworks show each July 4.

SURPRISE: The crystal-clear water of Bull Shoals Lake attracts scuba divers from around the world eager to spearfish its 200-foot depths.


  • Stop for comfort food at Cookie’s in Theodosia, just off Highway 160 on Bull Shoals Lake. This family-style restaurant sits on a rise that overlooks the lake and marina.
  • Customer reviews of Just Jackie’s at the Pontiac Cove Marina rave about the service and the pizza.


Yes, and they are formed primarily by karst topography or the movement of rivers cutting off oxbow lakes. Sometimes, the scouring action of floods can create blue (or blew) holes, forming ponds or lakes.

The karst geology found especially in the Ozarks creates lakes like this: slightly acidic ground-water dissolves limestone bedrock, forming caves whose roofs eventually collapse, creating sinkholes that clog up and collect water, resulting in ponds or lakes. Grassy Pond in the Peck Ranch Conservation Area, north of Fremont, is an example.

Big Lake in north Missouri is among the largest remaining natural oxbow lakes along the Missouri River, and it is one of the largest natural lakes of any type in the state.

Most of Missouri’s well-known lakes are man-made.