America's Boating Capital? Lake of the Ozarks

Towering bluffs and forests line the natural shorelines of Lake of the Ozarks.

Ask most boatbuilders where their top-five markets are, and Lake of the Ozarks will be on that list. Ask any boater who has seen this central Missouri giant, and he’ll describe it as the most remarkable boating experience of his life.

I know. I lived there for 30 years and have boated in all of America’s top waterways since. One other inland waterway, Lake Powell in the desert on the Utah/Arizona border, stands out in terms of stark beauty. The Great Lakes are beautiful, but so treacherous as to be beyond many inland boaters’ skill level. I positively love Florida’s coastal waters — all of them — but they simply don’t engage one visually as do the rolling hills and stark limestone bluffs laced with deep-green hardwood forests. They border the serpentine impoundment once nicknamed the Dragon Lake because, from the air, if you squint a bit, it does look like a dragon.

But at water level, even in the bustling summer months, its 1,100 miles of winding shoreline offers private relaxation for boaters and anglers. Nearly a dozen public landings with parking for hundreds of vehicles with trailers complement hundreds of private ramps, giving Lake of the Ozarks the easiest access of any U.S. waterway I’ve visited.

Even before the lake was formed by a private enterprise construction of Bagnell Dam in 1931, the area was sought by industrialists like Robert Snyder — a natural-gas mogul from Kansas City — as a retreat. He bought more than 2,000 acres along Niangua Creek, which was one of the four tributaries impounded by Bagnell Dam in 1931. The ruins of Snyder’s dream retreat, a Scottish-castle-like affair of native limestone, stand today as one of the lake’s great attractions — and like dozens of restaurants, marinas and lodges, it’s accessible by boat.

This was the setting of our Midwestern stop on the Boating Life Boat Buyers Guide test tour this past October. During our stay, the Inn at Grand Glaize in Osage Beach, Missouri, hosted our team and our boat companies. A handy launch ramp and secure floating concrete docks were our base of operations for photography, videography and boat testing.

October is a sleepy time in the Ozarks, so while we enjoyed the quiet privacy of the Inn, we didn’t get to sample the fare of its sports café, J.D. Waddles. But we did enjoy its panoramic view of the lake — every room at the Inn has one.

My history at the Lake of the Ozarks goes back to 1972, when my family moved there to launch into a family resort and rental marina. That year was the cusp of a boom for the Lake of the Ozarks that lasted more than 30 years. The lake is still growing, still beautiful and still a ringer for America's boating capital. For more information, visit