Missouri doesn’t get a lot of attention for travel spots outside of St. Louis, but that’s a big mistake. The state is filled with beautiful scenery beyond the Gateway City.
I was invited to check out two very different areas, Lake of the Ozarks and Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains. I brought my friend Jaimee along for a fun-filled girls’ getaway.
Jaimee has spent the last few years teaching in Haiti. During that time we have kept in touch and meet up when she came back to the U.S. to visit. We actually had our last getaway in the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti. This time we decided to do a road trip.
I drove the two and a half hours from my home to the Sheraton Westport Chalet in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights. I picked that hotel because it was close to the airport and was a bit different from the city hotels I had been to in the area.
The hotel was the perfect choice for the night. It was spacious and rather European in the design, adjacent to a quaint shopping plaza. It was there I met my cousin Linda for a delicious Italian dinner at Paul Mineo’s Trattoria while I was waiting for Jaimee’s plane to come in.
Her flight was delayed and I dozed off, but we caught up in the morning over breakfast in the executive club lounge at the hotel. The breakfast there was quite extensive and I recommend upgrading to the club level so you can enjoy it.
It took us about four hours to get to Jefferson City, Missouri, where we were meeting the Lake of the Ozarks tourism representative. We picked up a packet filled with information, directions, and an itinerary filled with food, fun, and activities.
It was only about an hour to the Country Club Hotel and Spa. Neither one of us had been to Lake of the Ozarks before and we were excited to check it out, but we were also quite hungry so we asked the hotel’s director of marketing, Lance Utley, if we could move up our lunch.
Lance obliged and joined us for delightful chicken salad and conversation. He told us about the hotel, which was quite spacious with an indoor pool and spa. He is also a big fan of the region in general and his enthusiasm quickly took us in.
Our rooms were ready after lunch. They were spacious with kitchenettes and next door to each other. We didn’t have long to unpack. We got into the car for a quick drive to Tan-Tar-A-Resort, where we picked up the Tropic Island Cruise.
The 90 minute trip took us around the lake, which was much bigger than I had thought. I was surprised to find out that, with 1,100 miles, Lake of the Ozarks had more shoreline than the coast of California!
We heard about how this has become a vacation destination, and the guide pointed out some of the beautiful homes, restaurants, and bars along the way.
We were back at the hotel just long enough to get changed for dinner at The Duck. It turned into an adventure because the best way to get there was by water taxi. It was worth it as everything at this waterfront fine dining experience was wonderful.
I was up early the next morning for a relaxing massage at the hotel’s spa. Our first outing of the day was for lunch at Dog Days, another boat-in dining experience. This one was a lot more casual than the previous night and we enjoyed trying out their various frozen cocktails.
We spent the rest of the afternoon riding around Lake of the Ozarks. We did a little shopping, walked along the Bagnell Dam strip, and followed the recommendation on our itinerary to make a stop at Randy’s Frozen Custard.
We were glad that we didn’t have to rush to dinner at the nearby Savannah Grille. Chef Robert Sills greeted us upon arrival and helped us make some amazing dinner choices. Everything here is prepared fresh with local ingredients so I’m sure all the choice were good ones, but the Southern Fried Chicken is a must, as is the Candy & Cake desert plate.
The next morning we continued our Missouri road trip southwest in Ridgedale, just outside of Branson.
I had heard about Big Cedar Lodge a few years ago and had been trying to work out a visit ever since.
I was not disappointed when we arrived at the resort. The property was even bigger and more scenic than I expected, filled with hills and lakes. It was also quite rustic in décor. I can’t say that was unexpected as it is owned by Johnny Morris, who also owns Bass Pro Shops.
We hadn’t had much breakfast in the morning so we were ready for lunch at the resort’s Devil’s Pool Restaurant. They did a great job with the pizza, which I had with real Italian sausage, which is hard to find in the Midwest.
After lunch we headed to our log cabin, one type of accommodation offered at the tremendous property. Our cabin had lots of room, including two bedrooms with bathrooms, and a stone fireplace.
Public Relations Manager Michelle Wait met us and took us around the property, which included Top of The Rock, an Ozark Heritage Preserve, and home to some of the best golf, restaurants, and views in this region. Big Cedar and the way it lived up to its reputation of being both luxury and comfortable.
After the tour, Jaimee went back to the cabin and I spent some time at the Swimmin’ Hole hot tubs and pool, where I did some laps to burn off some calories, get up an appetite for the big dinner to come.
I’m not sure which was better at Osage, one of the restaurants at the Top of the Rock, the views or the food. The sunset while a bagpipe player performed over the lake and hills was just breathtaking.
We both slept well that night and I used my peaceful surroundings to ease me into some yoga to start the day before breakfast at the Truman Café, where everything was fresh and tasty.
From the café we headed to the Top of the Rock Welcome Center to explore what we had missed the day before and take the Lost Canyon Cave Nature Trail. It was so much fun as we drove the golf cart around the hills, over the bridge, and into the caves.
Lunch was at Arnie’s Barn, named after famed golfer Arnold Palmer. This Tex Mex style restaurant was a treat and I enjoyed my first Mexico City Street Corn.
Next on the agenda was kayaking on Table Lake. It’s one of the activities that are complimentary at Big Cedar and we took full advantage of it, paddling our way around in the calm.
Our day at Big Cedar Lodge ended with a dip in Devil’s Pool. We decided to stay in that night for some girl talk over wine and leftover pizza. It was as fun as the rest of our Missouri girls’ trip had been.