Hidden Ozarks: The insider’s guide to 37 secret spots and things to do in the hills and lakes

Photo by Kim Horgan

Ask 20 people to describe the Ozarks, and you’ll get 30 answers.

Some mainly think of it as the shoreline around the Lake of the Ozarks, others conjure images of the misty hollows you see in Winter’s Bone.

The Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas are all that and more.

At the bottom of this page, you’ll find a map that shows the Ozarks as we see them. But, really, the Ozarks is a vibe.

This is your insider’s travel guide to 37 secrets spots scattered around the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, from great hikes to must-see museums. Here’s where to head on your next road trip.

Granny Henderson’s Cabin

Compton, Arkansas

Eva Henderson moved into a cabin in the Buffalo River Valley in the early 1900s as a recently married sixteen-year-old. She and her husband cleared their land and lived a simple life with no running water or electricity. When Henderson’s husband died in 1959, she stayed, living alone at her rugged cabin.

When the Buffalo became the first national river, the government forced Henderson to sell her hundred-plus acres of paradise. “Granny” Henderson was forced to leave her cabin in 1978, at the age of eighty-seven, and she died a few months later. Her cabin with a stone base and thin wood walls still stand today, one highlight on a trail that also includes one of the region’s highest bluffs. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: Granny Henderson’s Cabin is accessible from the Centerpoint Trailhead, which is on Highway 43 about three and a half miles north of the town of Ponca. The cabin is four miles up the trail.

Evergreen Crystal Palace

Reed’s Spring, Missouri

Not all Ozarkian abodes are as humble as the Henderson home. To wit: the $80-million, 24,000-square-foot Evergreen Crystal Palace, built in 1990 for the late oilman Robert Plaster.

This shiny glass home—it looks more like an upscale office park—overlooks Table Rock Lake and has sat empty for the past twenty years. It’s now for sale and comes complete with two time capsules, the first to be opened on September 3, 2042. —Martin Cizmar

GET THERE: The house is at 5035 State Highway DD, Reeds Spring, but it’s not visible from the road. The BigBankz YouTube channel has a detailed video tour.

Topaz Mill

Cabool, Missouri

Mills powered by natural springs were once commonplace across the Ozarks. What makes the ghost town of Topaz unique is that its mill still stands next to a clear, cold spring in Douglas County—with its original equipment mostly intact.

Folks who brought their corn and wheat here “to town” to be milled might have gotten a haircut at the barbershop, posted a letter or caught up on gossip. Visitors today can get a tour of the privately owned historic site. The same family has owned the mill since the fifties, and they welcome visitors. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: To ask about a tour, call 417-948-0154 or email friendsoftopazmill@gmail.com.The mill is off Route 60. From the highway, take the second exit for Cabool, for Route 181. Go south on 181 for ten miles to Route 76. Turn right on Route 76 and go a quarter-mile to Highway E and turn left onto Highway E. Go for five miles to the mill. —Kaitlyn McConnell

19th Hole at Payne’s Valley Golf Course

Hollister, Missouri

Payne’s Valley Golf Course at Big Cedar Lodge is the first public course designed by the legendary Tiger Woods. The course, on the site of the former Murder Rock golf course designed by John Daly, pays tribute to Springfield native Payne Stewart.

The eighteen-hole layout is spectacular, but it’s the surprise nineteenth hole that steals the show. This bonus hole was designed not by Woods but by owner Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops fame, and it’s one of the most unique golf holes in the world. A towering canyon bluff and waterfall create the backdrop. The island green of this par three-hole is surrounded by Lunker Lake, a small pond stocked with big fish.

After playing the hole, golfers follow the Cliffhanger Trail, a golf cart path winding through a cave in the bluff behind the green, back to the clubhouse. —Brian Wright

GET THERE: The course’s address is 1250 Golf Club Drive, Hollister. Book a tee time at bigcedar.com

Onyx Coffee Lab: Inside The Momentary

Bentonville, Arkansas

The Momentary art space in Bentonville is an offshoot of Crystal Bridges tailored to timely temporary shows. It’s also home to the newest location of stellar local roaster Onyx Coffee Lab, which regulars call the “M’onyx.”

The roaster is world-famous among coffee nerds, and this stunning spot is a hidden gem: it’s all pink, from the wall tile to the machinery and seating. There’s a conveyor belt that delivers your specialty drink and food items.

Popular for their creative roasts with unsuspecting tasting notes and off-menu items, Onyx is a coffee connoisseurs’ dream. Their house espresso and best-selling blend, Geometry, has a tea-like flavor mixed with lemon, berries and honey that is said to pair great with Mexican Coke—a secret menu item. —Megan Folmsbee

GET THERE: This coffee spot is open museum hours, Tuesday-Sunday from 10 am-5 pm at 507 S.E. Street in Bentonville.

Red Oak II

Ozark, Missouri

Artist Lowell Davis grew up in the idyllic small town of Red Oak, about eighteen miles northwest of Carthage. When Davis—called by some the Norman Rockwell of Rural Art—returned to the area in adulthood, he found his hometown faded and decided to recreate its heyday with “Red Oak II, Missoura.

The town is stocked with antique buildings, vintage cars, artwork, a cemetery, a jail, a church and a few private homes—all purchased by Davis and moved to an empty field to create a small and very unusual community. Davis passed away last December. Red Oak is free to drive through or walk around. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: Red Oak II is northeast of Carthage. From I-49, take exit 63 for Base Line Boulevard, then go south on County Road 130 and east on Kafir Road to the town.

Lambert’s Cafe II

Ozark, Missouri

The chicken-fried steak at Lambert’s Cafe in the town of Ozark is everything you want it to be: chuck steak coated in a wonderfully flaky, peppery breading and served with a scoop of mashed potatoes and a generous ladle of creamy country gravy. It comes with endless “pass-arounds” of fried potatoes, fried okra, macaroni and black-eyed peas that servers circulate throughout your meal.

But what really makes the place famous are its throwed rolls: soft, warm yeast rolls that’ve been lobbed at hungry patrons since the seventies. “Norman Lambert was the one that started throwing rolls,” says Andy Mills, general manager of the Lambert’s in Ozark, which opened in 1994.

“It was crowded one day for lunch and he couldn’t get down through the restaurant, and a customer just said, ‘Throw the thing,’ and that’s how it started.”

Lambert’s Cafe goes through five-hundred rolls a day. They’re best with sorghum molasses, which servers spoon out of an old-fashioned tin. Servers clad in red suspenders and a bowtie are supposed to use softball throws for the rolls so guests can catch them

.“We have decorations that hang from the ceiling, and if you’re not careful, the roll will hit something and lose its path,” he recalls. “This guy was eating and the roll landed straight in his mashed potatoes and they went everywhere. I was ready to get in trouble, but the customer thought it was wonderful, and that’s the kind of place this is.” —Natalie Torres Gallagher

GET THERE: Lambert’s Cafe II is southeast of Springfield, 1800 W. State Highway J, Ozark. throwedrolls.com

Skyspace at Crystal Bridges

Bentonville, Arkansas

Crystal Bridges is one of the nation’s finest art museums, with a collection of American art ranging from Basquiat to Thomas Hart Benton. One of the things that makes the museum unique, though, is its placement in a lush Arkansas forest, giving the museum’s collection room to stretch out.

One of our favorite pieces at the museum is outside, tucked away on a trail south of the galleries. James Turrell’s Skyspace: The Way of Color is a concrete structure clad in stone that manipulates light coming through an opening on the ceiling. There are benches inside so you can sit and watch the light and how it changes. During the midday hours it’s peaceful and contemplative.

Each morning and evening, in conjunction with sunrise and sunset, a programmed LED light display occurs inside the Skyspace. The changing colors on the ceiling cause changes in your perception of the color of the sky viewed through the oculus. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: Crystal Bridges is free, but you must reserve tickets in advance. The Skyspace installation is south of the museum on the Art Trail. From the south side of the museum, take the trail next to the “LOVE” sculpture for a third of a mile.

Bo’s Hollow

Salem, Missouri

Time machines look like Model A Fords at Bo’s Hollow, a “town” that shows visitors what life was like between the world wars. The small village south of Rolla was built by the Borel family. It grew out of their hobby of collecting and restoring vintage cars. The Borels gradually began building a period town, which now includes post and telegraph offices, a service station, a barbershop and even a hoosegow (jail). For a fee, visitors may also ride through the hills in one of the restored Model A’s, and they can even pick up a barbecue lunch at the town’s restaurant to take along. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: Bo’s Hollow is due south of Rolla, near Montauk State Park. Visit bohollow.com for more info.

Fred & Red’s

Joplin, Missouri

When Joplin’s landmark greasy spoon diner hung up the stock pots in 2012, it took the perfect buyer to get those stoves hot again. David Schaefer revived Fred & Red’s in 2016, and not much has changed in ninety-eight years, including its secret-recipe chili. The iconic platter, Spaghetti Red, is a plate of spaghetti topped with thick, greasy, meaty chili and can be embellished with onions, pickles, dusty parmesan and crackers, if you so choose. Sit in there if you can: The horseshoe bar is an ideal spot to get to know locals or out-of-towners who, like you, road-tripped there for the chili. —Nicole Bradley

GET THERE: The diner is right at 1719 S. Main Street on the main drag in downtown Joplin. Look for a big beige building with a black sign with white and red neon letter

Precious Moments Chapel

Carthage, Missouri

In 1508, Renaissance master Michelangelo decorated the Sistine Chapel in Rome with several frescos that are considered among the treasures of Western art. In 1989, porcelain figurine maker Precious Moments opened its own church in Carthage. Inspired by Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel, the Precious Moments church features eighty-four murals that cover the walls and ceiling with black-eyed, large-headed Precious Moments characters.

The largest mural in the chapel, titled Hallelujah Square, depicts children entering heaven being greeted by tiny heavenly ambassadors, puppies, kittens and a man making welcome toys for the children. The chapel is surrounded by acres of manicured grounds and landscaped gardens, a gift shop that’s a time capsule of the brand’s late-eighties peak, and a year-round Christmas Shoppe. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: The Precious Moments Chapel is at 4321 S. Chapel Road, Carthage, Missouri.

Daisies & Olives

Prairie Grove, Arkansas

When you think of a flea market, your mind probably jumps to a disorganized and overwhelming mish-mash of secondhand speakers and souvenir mugs. This is not what you’ll find at Daisies & Olives in northwest Arkansas. This sprawling spot—it’s so large it has more than one address—can eat up an afternoon of sifting through vintage books, jewelry, paintings and armadillo planters. Across the parking lot you’ll find quaint coffee shop Magnolia, whose patio is the perfect place to fuel up before pickin’. —Nicole Bradley

GET THERE: Go southwest of Fayetteville on Route 62 and get off on Sundowner Road, which will take you into downtown Prairie Grove’s Buchanan Street. Look for the big brick building with the market’s name painted on it and antique lawn ornaments set outside.

Indian Ridge Resort Community

Branson, Missouri

In 2006, the governor of Missouri came down to Branson to bellow into a bullhorn on the first day of construction for a nine-hundred-acre, $1.6-billion new development, near Branson. The project was to include a large resort with the country’s second-largest indoor water park. Fifteen years later, the McMansions that were started that day still sit, gray and abandoned, in an overgrown field, only visited by troubled teens and YouTubers. The development turned out to be a scam, and several people responsible went to prison. A video of abandoned homes posted to TikTok has millions of views, prompting a wave of visitors and a stern warning from the Stone County sheriff, who says his deputies will issue citations to “trespassers.” —Martin Cizmar

GET THERE: The abandoned mansions are near the intersection of highways 76 and 13, west of Branson. The BackyardExploration YouTube channel has a detailed video tour.

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls

Ponca, Arkansas

The Buffalo River was designated America’s first national river in 1972. Flowing freely for a hundred-plus miles in the Arkansas Ozarks, it’s one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the country. The Buffalo is a choice destination for kayaking and canoeing given its shallow ripples and calm pools, flanked by towering bluffs.

The river’s headwaters are located near Ponca, Arkansas, four and a half hours from downtown Kansas City. Nearby is Boxley Valley, where herds of wild elk appear along the river to graze at sunrise and sunset daily.

The hills and hollers along the river are home to a number of surprises. Perhaps the most spectacular is Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, which lies deep in the Boston Mountains. It’s a five-mile hike round trip from Compton Trailhead or a half mile from the trailhead on the shore of the river between Ponca and Kyle’s Landing (a sign marks the pull-out for the trail if you’re floating).

A challenging half-mile hike leads you to the two hundred-foot falls, the tallest waterfall between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges.

The best time to plan a visit to Hemmed-In Hollow is either spring or fall. In the spring, the hills come alive with redbud and dogwood blossoms while fresh rains feed the falls. —Brian Wright

GET THERE: To do the five-mile hike from Ponca, drive north for nine miles to Compton. Take a right onto the gravel road marked for “Wilderness Access.” After a mile you will see a wooden sign for the Hemmed-In Hollow trailhead.

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Lake Taneycomo

Branson, Missouri

You won’t find many people swimming in Lake Taneycomo these days. It was once a popular resort area, but that ended with the completion of an upstream dam. Instead of Lake Taneycomo getting warm river water, it’s now filled by the icy tailwaters two hundred fifty feet below the surface of Table Rock Lake. And while humans don’t like swimming in chilly water, trout do. And so Lake Taneycomo is now the state’s premier trout fishing location—and maybe the most overlooked attraction in Branson. Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, the state’s largest, is located just below the dam. The hatchery produces up to four hundred thousand pounds of trout each year, both rainbow and brown, with eighty percent going into Lake Taneycomo. —Brian Wright

GET THERE: Lake Taneycomo is on the east side of Branson

Thorncrown in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and Cooper in Bella Vista, Arkansas

Architect E. Fay Jones is often cited as Frank Lloyd Wright’s most successful disciple. And you can see why he found such acclaim at these two northwest Arkansas chapels. Tucked into the woods, Thorncrown Chapel features more than four hundred windows and over six thousand square feet of glass. The native flagstone floor and beautiful angled beams help it blend seamlessly into the surrounding trees. The design is breathtaking, so much so that Thorncrown was listed among the American Architecture Institute’s top ten buildings of the twentieth century. Similarly, when you follow the path from the parking lot to the beautiful curved arches and large wooden doors of Mildred B. Cooper Chapel, you feel like you’ve discovered a hidden hobbit land. The building is situated on a tree-filled hilltop and feels very much at home in the surrounding woods. Both chapels are filled with natural light and shadows that change throughout the day and seasons. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: The two Arkansas chapels are thirty-seven miles apart. Thorncrown Chapel is at 12968 U.S. Route 62, Eureka Springs. Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel is at 504 Memorial Drive, Bella Vista, Arkansas.

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Pedalers Bicycle Museum

Springfield, Missouri

Your mind will whirl like the wheels on the walls inside Pedalers Bicycle Museum in Springfield. The museum, located in the Commercial Street Historic District, offers visitors a look at dozens of bicycles from the collection of operator James Allen. After buying his first vintage bike at a swap meet some thirty years ago, Allen crossed from curious to collector: He has since amassed a collection that features many rare models, including a sky-scraping bicycle built in 1894 for lamplighters in NYC. Also look for a two-hundred-year-old Draisine “walking” bicycle used by surveyors in Germany, a twelve-seater that was constructed to earn mention in the Guinness Book of World Records and a bicycle that the Wright brothers built while gaining high-flying fame. The museum is currently only open by appointment but is free to see. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: The museum is at 328 E. Commercial St. in downtown Springfield. Call 417-576-1464 for more information.

Harlin Museum

West Plains Missouri

The Harlin Museum in West Plains is home to stunning charcoal portraits of old-time Ozarkers made by artist L.L. Broadfoot in the late thirties and early forties. The museum is the permanent home of the portraits and stories Broadfoot wrote about each to preserve the stories of local people and a way of life then disappearing. The portraits were published in book form in 1944, and today original copies of Pioneers of the Ozarks are sought after by collectors. The entire collection is viewable at certain times of year, but the museum also hosts other art exhibits and a display of local historical items. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: The Harlin Museum is at 405 Worcester St., West Plains. Visit harlinmuseum.com for more info.

Oldfield Opry

Oldfield, Missouri

The sounds of Ozark traditions reverberate throughout the quiet Christian County hills in the nearly nonexistent town of Oldfield. For forty-five years, oprygoers have gathered in a metal building—constructed specifically for the cause—on Saturday evenings for a jam session where friends play old favorites on banjos, fiddles, guitars and harmonica. Things have been a little different in light of the pandemic. Performances have moved outdoors onto a grassy field next to the show’s usual home. Guests bring lawn chairs and enjoy the dusky evening as musicians play from a flatbed trailer.

While many folks come from down the road, others have come from across the country and around the world. With each show, another chapter in the Opry’s story reverberates, along with the buzzing cadence of the evening as it slips away into the darkness. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: The Oldfield Opry is on Route 125, southeast of Springfield. Visit oldfieldopry.com for more info.

Golden Pioneer Museum

Golden, Missouri

Some museums show enthusiasts more of what they love while others reveal things you never knew existed. The Golden Pioneer Museum does a little of both. This museum has every collectible item known to man, from metal lunch boxes with Lassie on them to Pez dispensers and an Elvis memento display. There are full-sized tractors, cases of glassware (including hundreds of toothpick holders) and glittering crystals and minerals, including one that’s described as the “world’s most fabulous geological cluster.” Many Native American artifacts are also on display. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: Golden is southwest of Branson, just north of the Arkansas state line. Visit goldenpioneermuseum.org for more information.

Ozark Cafe

Jasper, Arkansas

In charming Jasper, Arkansas, you’ll find a cozy cafe that’s been serving up good food to locals and visitors since 1909. The Ozark Cafe is located on the town square in a historic building filled with photos and memorabilia. The restaurant serves country cooking—dishes like fried chicken, omelets, chicken fried steak and chili. The best-known dish is the Excaliburger, a hamburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches stuck with a small sword that resembles a knife. After dinner, try some ice cream, pie, cobbler or brownies. If you’re in town on a Saturday night, check out the live music, too. —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: Jasper is due south of Springfield and due east of Fayetteville. Ozark Cafe is at 107 East Court Street in Jasper, Arkansas.

Amish & Old Order Mennonite Villages

Leadmine & Tunas, Missouri

Missouri’s Amish population is among the nation’s largest and fastest growing. These two towns northeast of Springfield are great places to spend a peaceful, sunny day. In the softly rolling hills around Tunas and Leadmine, visitors can glimpse life in the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, where horses and buggies are still the preferred mode of transportation. Locals welcome visitors to a number of destinations, including a restaurant, general store (176 State Road Yy, Tunas) and the Ozark Winds Bake Shop (502 State Road E, Tunas), which has cookies, pies and whole wheat breads. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: Tunas and Leadmine are southeast of Warsaw. If you want to stay in the area, there is primitive camping at Lead Mine Conservation Area.

Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum

Ridgedale, Missouri

You’re going to the Ozarks to spend time outside and breathe in the region’s natural splendor—as well you should. But what may deepen your appreciation for the magnificent Lake of the Ozarks shoreline and its bordering parks is a visit to the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock, a dining and golf destination perched on the bluffs above.

The museum boasts an impressive collection spanning prehistoric and historic Native American culture from the Ozarks and across North America. Stand in the shadow of a towering woolly mammoth or giant ground sloth and absorb the legacy of indigenous tribes through relics like a Natchez canoe dating back to 1465. —Natalie Torres Gallagher

GET THERE: The museum is at Big Cedar Lodge, 150 Top of the Rock Road, Ridgedale. Admission is $12 for adults, $5 for kids. bigcedar.com

Dinosaur World

Beaver, Arkansas

Dinosaur World theme park near Eureka Springs has been closed for fifteen years, but you can still get a look from the outside. When it was open, this roadside attraction was home to a hundred life-size dinosaur statues spread across sixty-five acres, which are now hidden behind a short fence next to a small dirt parking lot. During its heyday, Dinosaur World boasted the world’s largest Noah’s Ark mural, and several of the dinosaurs were featured in the 1969 horror movie It’s Alive! Today, what is left of the park is disappearing into the trees and fading into history. A drive past the grounds of Dinosaur World will still allow you to view, in various states of decay, a number of statues—including a now horizontal King Kong, at one time the world’s largest. If abandoned places intrigue you, it’s worth researching. (The former park is on private property, and we do not encourage trespassing of any kind.) —Kim Horgan

GET THERE: Dinosaur World is at 8421 AR-187, Eureka Springs, just north of Beaver Dam Site State Park on Arkansas Highway 187.

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Cooky’s Cafe

Golden, Missouri

It’s no secret that Cooky’s Cafe in Golden City is the place to pause for pie. But what you might not know is that the bakery also makes rather unusual recipes like a Sawdust pie, made of coconut, graham crackers, chocolate chips and pecans. Or there’s the Paradise pie, which features layers of banana, pineapple and coconut cream. Those pies and more have been drawing diners since the forties, when founder Cecil “Cooky” Ambler opened up shop. The step-back-in-time stop is also famous for its fried chicken and baked ham. —Kaitlyn McConnell

GET THERE: Cooky’s Cafe is at 519 Main St., Golden City. Visit cookycafe.com for more info.

Fun Fact: Golden, Missouri, and Golden City, Missouri, are not the same place—the latter is 80 miles due south of the former, on the Arkansas border.

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