Ozark Bliss at Big Cedar Lodge
Finding heaven in the Missouri hills
In southern Missouri on Table Rock Lake, Big Cedar Lodge is close enough to Branson for visiting the entertainment destination’s shows and shops, but still a world away from the hubbub and bustle of masses of tourists. It combines elegance, comfort and natural beauty in ways that few destinations manage with such grace.
The property began life in the 1920s as a country retreat for two wealthy Missouri businessmen and their families. It changed hands and landscape over the years – most markedly when Table Rock Lake was created.
When Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, bought it in 1987, its metamorphosis into one of the nation’s best resorts began. Overlooking the lake on 800+ acres, it has been augmented with amenities to create a beautiful blend of the out-of-doors and entertainment, making it a perfect getaway for couples, families, sportsmen and sybarites.
Where to Stay
There are three lodges on the main property: Valley View Lodge, Spring View Lodge and Falls Lodge. Choose a small cabin, family cabin or cottage dotted around the grounds. Or go for the ultimate in luxury with a stay in the Governor’s Suite – four bedrooms, two balconies overlooking the lake and even its own billiards room.
Other unusual choices include the romantic Spa Cottage, perched atop a picturesque stream, and the 1920s Carriage House. Part of one of the original estates, it has been completely remodeled and is full of features its first owners never imagined.
What to Do
Water activities are big here – there are several swimming pools on the property and, for lake fun, kayaks, canoes and paddleboats are complimentary for guests. You can always fish from the docks, shore or your own boat. For those who need more equipment, Bent Hook Marina rents bass boats, fishing equipment, ski boats, pontoons, party barges, pull tubes, kneeboards, wakeboards, water skis and paddleboards. The Ski School offers lessons on skis, kneeboards and wakeboards.
Book a sunset cruise on the Lady Liberty, a 62-foot, double-decker, leisure cruise yacht. The other option is an hour-long cruise on the Goin’ Jesse, a replica of a 1934 Chris Craft boat gleaming with polished walnut and teak.
Other activities include miniature golf, Frisbee golf, horseshoes, carriage rides, shuffleboard and volleyball. Hike or jog along paved trails, or visit the fitness center. And for the ultimate in pampering, make an appointment at the Cedar Creek Spa.
Opening this year – dates not available at press time – are Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill and a new Gary Player 12-hole golf course. Uncle Buck’s features 16 lanes of undersea-themed bowling, a 60-game arcade, laser tag, go-carts and bumper cars. The Player course joins the Par-3, Jack Nicklaus Signature Course – Top of the Rock – and the championship Buffalo Ridge Golf Course, home of the annual PGA Champions Tour Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf Tournament.
Johnny Morris is all about connecting people with nature. The Lost Canyon Nature Trail and Cave lets visitors experience a two-and-a-half-mile trip by golf cart through the woods, into a cave and past stunning waterfalls.
The Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum gives glimpses into the prehistoric past with skeletons of Pleistocene predators. Add to that the largest private collection of American Indian art and artifacts in the world, and you’ll discover you could spend hours in this museum and not see everything.
If shooting sports are your passion, you’ll love the Outdoor Academy, where you can learn and practice six-shot gun disciplines. In addition, there’s an outdoor arena for rodeo, bull riding and BMX.
The crown jewel of the collection is Dogwood Canyon south of Big Cedar. Most visitors take the two-hour tram ride through the property, enjoying the meandering streams, waterfalls, trees and wildflowers, and watching for bison, elk, deer and longhorn cattle. That, however, is just the beginning of things to do here.
You can walk, bike, Segway or take a horseback ride. The streams are full of trout, and there are opportunities for fishing and for fly-fishing and casting instruction. Watch a miller grind grain at a working grist mill, or look through a microscope in the education center. Plus, visitors of all ages will want to explore the tree house created by Treehouse Masters.
Top your visit with lunch or an early dinner in the Canyon Grill, where you can dine inside or enjoy the waterside patio while being serenaded by the splash of a waterfall.
Are You Hungry?
In addition to the new Uncle Buck’s Grill, on-property options include fine dining at the Top of the Rock’s Osage Restaurant and at Buffalo Bar, whose menu includes some of the favorites from the upstairs Osage plus wood-fired pizzas and a more casual atmosphere. Wind down with a beverage and small plate at the End of the Trail Wine Cellar and admire the sunset behind the namesake James Earle Fraser sculpture.
Arnie’s Barn, a 150-year-old Pennsylvania barn that was disassembled and moved here, is named to honor Arnold Palmer and overlooks the Top of the Rock Golf Course. Try lunch or dinner here for a Tex-Mex fix. Meanwhile, The Devil’s Pool restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with down-home delights such as pan-seared Missouri trout, chicken and biscuits and St. Louis-style pork ribs. The house salad with signature blueberry/poppyseed dressing is a do-not-miss. Downstairs from the Devil’s Pool is the Buzzard Bar, with lots of tasty choices plus live entertainment five nights a week by singing cowboy Clay Self.
Truman Coffee and Café, with a smaller menu, is the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch – or just a cup of coffee, a milkshake or a smoothie. Plus, if you’re staying in one of the cabins or cottages, you can order a backyard basket filled with treats ready to be prepared in your kitchen or on your grill.
► Save on Adventure
Johnny Morris has been called the “Walt Disney of the Ozarks” for his vision and creativity. And he has taken advantage of the amazing Ozark habitat to create a natural equivalent of a first-class theme park – with prices to match. Many of the activities have hefty fees. Check out Adventure Passes for Top of the Rock activities and Dogwood Canyon to save a bit of money; visit bigcedar.com for more information.