Camping, hiking, and exploring nature at Table Rock Lake
By Brian Wright
The natural beauty of southern Missouri is stunning. Rugged hills covered with oak and hickory, and deep hollows teaming with flora and fauna, meld seamlessly with the clear, spring-fed waters found throughout the region. Near Branson, Table Rock Lake’s scenic setting is the perfect base camp for families looking to experience the great outdoors.
The Port of Kimberling Marina and Resort, in Kimberling City, is centrally located—adjacent to the Highway 13 bridge, which bisects the lake. This 177-acre waterfront facility can accommodate the largest of modern RVs, yet still maintains secluded sites for tent campers. The resort also offers comfortable cabins complete with linens, dishes, television and air conditioning—perfect for a turnkey family getaway.
Bar-M Resort and Campground, located off DD Highway in one of Table Rock’s popular resort areas, is also a great option. Visitors can choose from cabins or RV and tent sites. The resort has boat rentals, a picnic pavilion and a large playground for the youngsters.
Hiking and biking
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park (pictured above) sprawls across the Missouri-Arkansas border, just south of Table Rock Lake. This 2,200-acre slice of Ozarks paradise is incredible. Created by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, visitors can choose from self-guided walking or biking trails, guided tram tours, trout fishing or horseback riding.
Table Rock State Park is located near the lake’s dam and offers some great options for outdoors recreation, too. If you’re looking for an easy lakeside stroll, try the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail. The trail is 2.25 miles in length and runs along the shoreline, between the Dewey Short Visitor Center and State Park Marina. It’s easy to navigate and wheelchair accessible.
For something more vigorous, the White River Valley Trail System has four loops and covers 11.75 miles of very scenic and rugged terrain. The loops are best suited for those seeking a challenging hike or mountain bike ride, and will definitely get your blood pumping. Elevations range from 700 to 1,200 feet.
With more than 45,000 acres of water and 800 miles of shoreline, Table Rock is surrounded by a stunning landscape with diverse opportunities for nature-loving families. Deer, wild turkey, raccoons and even an occasional black bear roam the hills. For birders, eagles, turkey vultures, hawks and various waterfowl can also be seen soaring above the landscape. Other critters you are likely to encounter include woodchucks, roadrunners and red fox.
Probably the best way to explore the natural wonder of Table Rock Lake is by water. In addition to traditional boating, the lake is very popular with stand-up paddleboarders, kayakers and canoe enthusiasts. The hundreds of coves and secluded stretches of water provide serenity and a great appreciation for the area’s natural beauty.
By vehicle, the adventurous lake roads lead to some of the best sightings of wildlife and best views of expansive landscapes. Lake maps are available at the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce visitor center, which come in handy when looking for out-of-the-way areas.
If you’re interested in must-sees, a trip to the Dewey Short Visitor Center is definitely in order. The interpretive area hosts a wealth of knowledge. Gain a greater understanding of the region’s complex ecosystem, and how the natural resources are maintained, from exhibits about the White River Watershed and local habitats. Be sure to step out on the viewing deck overlooking Table Rock Lake, the dam and Lake Taneycomo (formed by the tail water of Table Rock Lake).
For a unique excursion, a visit to Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, below Table Rock dam, is one of the best family activities you’ll encounter. Run by the Missouri Department of Conservation, take a guided or self-guided tour of the state’s largest fish hatchery, producing nearly 400,000 pounds of rainbow and brown trout each year. The hatchery features a visitor center with exhibits and displays, a pavilion and picnic tables, nearly three miles of hiking trails, and a wildlife-viewing blind and tower.
If you’re seeking a destination that will check all the boxes for a nature-loving family adventure, Table Rock Lake should be on your short list, because it checks off everything and encompasses so many great activities that go beyond the usual list.