I was getting married and my mom was in full celebration mode. Although the wedding was still months away, she suggested a “girls only” getaway to celebrate the new rock on my finger with a Table Rock Lake. Before I could say “I do” to her idea, I learned my aunt, cousins and even Grandma had already all RSVP’d. And why not? If any corner of the earth could entertain three generations of Mercer women, it was Southwest Missouri.
As a kid, visiting Table Rock Lake meant tent camping in the state park. Don’t get me wrong—I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world! But I also didn’t pretend to be disappointed when we checked into Dooley Lodges & Resort for our girls’ trip. With its antler chandeliers hanging from massive exposed wooden beams and its three-story stone fireplace, it was as romantic as it was rustic. It was also practical. Our lakefront rental had four comfy queen beds and a fully stocked kitchen, ready to accommodate large groups with hearty appetites. They had even left a welcome bottle of champagne just waiting to be enjoyed on the deck overlooking the lake—the perfect way to start off our weekend.
“To the founder of our family,” I said, pouring Grandma the first glass.
It seemed to be a role that she was happy to fill. “I’ll be your leader today!” Grandma announced the next morning at Indian Point Marina . Why not let our 74-year-old matriarch be the first to captain the 25-foot-long, 250-horsepower sport toon boat we’d rented for the day? She’d been coming to Table Rock Lake long before the rest of us were born and knew it best.
Our first stop was an inviting secret cove where the water was so clear we accused the nearby fishermen of cheating. They continued to reel in fish as we settled into the wrap-around lounge seating under our boat’s canopy and reminisced about previous trips to the lake. We’d made so many memories here it almost felt like an honorary member of the family.
Like moths to a flame, we found ourselves on Table Rock Lake again the next morning. However, this time we provided the horsepower, taking to the lake on kayaks. Between the six of us, we had quite the colorful caravan! It was easier to organize than you would think—all we had to do was show up at the rental shop and walk to a nearby launch point. From there, we had 800 miles of shoreline to explore. As we paddled, my Aunt Katie pointed out a pair of herons wading in the shallows and a bald eagle hunting from high above—Table Rock Lake is a popular spot for birdwatchers for a reason! For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t thinking about flowers, menus or venues. Whether we were tubing at 40 mph or paddling at 4 mph, Table Rock Lake had us 100 percent living in the moment.
That said, I still needed to find a wedding dress. Fortunately, Branson is home to Touch of Class—voted the best bridal salon in the entire state. The two managers had been dressing brides long before Instagram was even an idea. Their selection was incredible and included resale designer gowns I’d seen in bridal magazines. Plus, the prices were reasonable enough my father wouldn’t have a heart attack, and they offered in-house alterations and custom modifications. But the best part may have been our spacious private dressing room. I still don’t know who had more fun: me or my ladies in waiting. But, at the end of the afternoon, it was me being photographed in front of a beautiful floral backdrop. The chalkboard sign in my hands read “I said yes to the dress.” It wasn’t necessary. You could tell just by looking at my smile.
Our final day started with sipping fresh coffee and marvelling at Table Rock Lake in the morning stillness. By noon, however, we were zipping through the canopy of trees at Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park. Individually, we’d all been to Shepherd of the Hills (Grandma remembers when it opened 60 years ago). But, collectively, we were now conquering its new ziplining and ropes course. It was recently voted the country’s best aerial adventure park by USA TODAY readers. Sure, it was high. But how could we not try something so highly rated?
First, we rode the glass elevator up to the top of the 230-foot-tall Inspiration Point—the highest point in Southwest Missouri. The older I get, the more I realize the panoramic view of the Ozarks will never get old. After taking group photos—including a synchronized jump fail destined to be framed—we slipped into our harnesses and zipped down via the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider. “Grandma’s got some lungs on her!” Sara said. We looked at each other and laughed. We’d never heard a 74-year-old woman laugh and holler so loudly. It was a beautiful sound.
“I hope I never get proposed to again, but if it does happen, I hope it’s here,” I joked that afternoon as the first plate of tapas arrived. If Vino Cellar at the Lake’s wines were as good as its sunset views from its back deck (and its bacon-wrapped stuffed dates) then we were in serious trouble. Usually, tasting award-winning wines from around the world made me want to be in those exotic locales. But now, as we toasted glasses of sparkling Tuscan rosé to Table Rock Lake sparkling in the distance, I knew there was no place I’d rather be. True, I still had a wedding to finish planning. However, after this trip I could probably check one thing off my list. Of course, my future husband would get a vote. It would be his honeymoon, too.Make a Lifetime of Memories at Table Rock Lake