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Missouri’s entertainment hub, Branson, may draw visitors for its neon lights, country music, quirky roadside attractions, and major amusement park Silver Dollar City — but it’s also home to Table Lake, one of the Ozark Mountains’ most popular recreation areas. With 800 miles of shoreline, the lake has something for everyone: plenty of motorized water sports, fishing opportunities galore, and even wreck diving for scuba fanatics. It’s also a great place for birders to visit — expect to see eagles, hawks, and many species of waterfowl — as well as for fans of wildlife in general, with woodchucks, roadrunners, red foxes, and black bears calling this region of Southern Missouri home. The lake’s sandy beaches are primed for lazy afternoons in the sun, and its many coves are ideal for those who like to explore the water from paddleboard, canoe, or kayak.
The small regional Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) is 63 miles north of Table Rock Lake and is serviced by several domestic air carriers with nonstop service to many U.S. cities. There’s also Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA), which offers daily nonstop flights on many domestic routes and is 108 miles from Table Rock Lake. If you’re flying into the Ozarks from abroad, the closest major airport to Table Rock Lake is St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL), 267 miles away. You will want a rental car to get around the region, as transportation options are limited.
Summer in Table Rock Lake is no doubt the time to go if you want to take advantage of boating, water sports, and all the seasonal activities; the hottest month — and often most crowded — is July. The fall months are particularly picturesque, with the surrounding Ozark Mountains dotted with specks of gold, orange, and red; peak foliage usually occurs in October or early November. Spring at Table Rock Lake is delightful, too, and it’s often warm enough to get out on the lake in April, if not earlier. If you’re a big fan of holiday festivities, you may want to consider visiting Missouri in November and December as all of Branson gets into the Christmas cheer; bear in mind, though, certain facilities along the lake may be closed for the off-season at that time.
Scenic waterfalls, bluffs, rock outcroppings, and watering holes pepper the landscape of Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. The 10,000-acre park has 6.5 miles of paved walking trails with springs, dams, and other stopping points along the way, as well as ample rainbow trout that draw fishers of all skill levels.
The centerpiece of the region, Table Rock State Park boasts myriad land- and water-based activities within its 356 acres. You can rent ski boats and other equipment such as paddleboards from the full-service State Park Marina, take advantage of the many trails that flank the lake, or enjoy the show (and the views) via an evening on the massive Showboat Branson Belle.
Though Missouri is far from an ocean, Table Rock Lake is a surprisingly popular spot for scuba diving thanks to the robust fish population, warm water temperatures in the summer months, above-average visibility, and interesting underwater sights such as kelp forests and the sunken town of Oasis. There are several outfitters in the area that provide gear rentals and guided scuba diving excursions.