I have a few friends who don’t consider it camping unless you build your own lean-to and source your own food on the spot. Contrarily, I also know people to whom “camping” means staying in a hotel that doesn’t have room service. As a casual recreationist I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Obviously, across the country, the options for overnight stays in the wilderness are wide and varied. The US Forest Service has been in on the act, throwing open doors to older structures like cabins, yurts and even fire lookouts. Though I haven’t been able to track down a fire lookout rental in the Ozark area (if you’re looking for one, Montana and Oregon have many) there are a plethora of woodsy hideaways available. The three I mention here are all available year-round.
The Lake of the Ozarks State Park
If your priorities lean more towards bringing your blue heelers or golden retrievers along, but care less about things like running water – the yurts at Lake of the Ozarks State Park are calling your name. With numerous trails and 80 miles of lake frontage, this is a popular destination for boating and mountain biking. If you’re feeling a tad more spelunk-y, the Ozark Caverns are a fascinating geological treasure: limestone caves featuring ancient stalagmites and, if you’re lucky, a glimpse at the subterranean-dwelling blind grotto salamander, whose relatives have been around a lot longer than ours. The yurts are rustic, centrally located and definitely an adventure.
The Mark Twain National Forest
Clearly the wittiest of all American wooded regions, the Mark Twain National Forest spreads across 75,000 acres of the Branson/Table Rock Lake area. With towering limestone mountains, deep clear streams and a wealth of wildlife (including bald eagles, black bears and armadillos), this is considered some of the most remote terrain in the Midwest. This is the place to go for all manner of outdoor recreating – hunting, hiking, fishing, camping – and it’s the kind of forest where you can ride your horse or your ATV. For quick access, the Branson cabins are nestled conveniently into Grand Mountain and offer cozy log rentals with all the modern amenities. Samuel Clemens would have definitely written a story about being there…even if he actually slept two states away.
The White Rock Mountain Recreation Area
A perfect destination for hiking enthusiasts, the White Rock Mountain Recreation Area features three stone cabins built in the 1930’s by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Renovated by volunteers in the late 1980’s, the cabins feature stone fireplaces and some original furnishings. The White Rock Mountain trails, curling through the high bluffs of the Ozarks and intersecting with the Boston Mountains, include many hiking trails – like a 13.4 mile loop to Shores Lake and 1.5 mile loop along the ridgeline. They also have a lodge that can accommodate up to 30 people. You could reasonable say this place…rocks.
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