Ask twenty people around town to describe the Ozarks, and you’ll get thirty answers.
The geographic contours of the region are fuzzy, of course—some people in Kansas City mainly think of it as the shoreline around the titular lake; others conjure images of the misty hollows of northern Arkansas, where spring-fed creeks flow between white oaks.
Ozarkian custom, likewise, defy easy description. Is it rowdy pool parties or aluminum jon boats trolling for spoonbill? Is it secluded cabins or glitzy resorts? Is it a kitschy gift shop/church painted with doe-eyed cherubs or museums hung with $45 million Rothkos? Is it rough and tumble motorcycle bars or trendy bicycle-themed brewpubs where cyclists come from the coasts to ride the nation’s best mountain bike trails?
The answer, of course, is that it’s all that and more. We’ve got our own definition of Ozarkia, but we’re by no means arguing our definition is definitive. The Ozarks is a vibe. If you want to find the western border, drive down to Tulsa and then head east on a windy country road with your windows down and Chemtrails over the Country Club playing. You’ll have a moment—or at least I did—where you notice the soil suddenly gets thin and the smell of cedarwood gets thick. And then you’ll see a hand-scrawled sign advertising game roosters for sale. Welcome.
This month’s feature package is our look at 37 secret spots scattered around the Ozarks. Most of these spots are pretty far off the beaten path—one requires a strenuous four-hour hike or renting a canoe (and then doing a strenuous one-hour hike). Some of the others are secrets tucked into well-known places—we’re pointing out a favorite spot at the Crystal Bridges Museum and explaining why you’ll find the best trout fishing in the region at a little lake east of Branson where no one swims.
To compile this guide to the Hidden Ozarks, our editors spent some time in the Ozarks this spring. But when it came time to share the stories, we mostly relied on the accumulated knowledge of true locals and folks who spend much of their free time there.
If you, like us, are itching to get out of town for a long weekend, the Ozarks really are the perfect place to do it—regardless of your tastes and interests, there’s something for you.