Though the landlocked state of Missouri has no natural lakes with the exception of several oxbow lake formations, summer visitors can still enjoy a plethora of opportunities for waterfront activities at the state's numerous manmade lakes and reservoirs, many of which were created in the mid-20th century as the result of flood control or hydroelectric dam construction. Public swimming beaches and fishing areas are offered at many of the state's public parks, including gorgeous Creve Coeur Lake, the site of many international rowing and sailing events, or top Branson-area attraction Table Rock Lake.
Unique natural swimming holes are found at sites such as Stegall Natural Mountain Area, home to the spectacular 40-foot Rocky Falls, or the ruins of the former Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, visible from the Current River. Several parks also offer opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating along the majestic Mississippi River, including Trail of Tears State Park.
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1.Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park
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Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, also known as Creve Couer County Park, is a spacious St. Louis County park spanning more than 2,000 acres near the city of Maryland Heights, the largest park of its kind within the county parks system. The park, which was originally developed as a private resort, was dedicated as a public county park in 1945 and offers a wide variety of public recreation facilities, including tennis courts, an archery course, and day-use picnic sites. The 320-acre Creve Couer Lake, one of Missouri's largest natural lakes, is a top spot for summer water sports, known for hosting top rowing and sailing events such as the rowing competition for the 1904 Summer Olympic Games. Visitors can also enjoy water activities on the smaller 66-acre manmade Mallard Lake, which was constructed as part of the development of the Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park Bridge in 2003. 18 holes of championship golf are offered at the Crystal Springs Quarry Golf Course, opened to the public in 2001.
13725 Marine Ave, St. Louis, MO 63146, Phone: 314-615-4386
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2.Echo Bluff State Park
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Echo Bluff State Park is a 476-acre public recreational area in Newtown Township, Missouri, located on the site of the former 1929 Camp Zoe children's summer camp. The park is one of Missouri's newest public parks, opened to the public in July of 2016, named in honor of a large cliff overlooking its Sinking Creek body of water. During the summer months, park visitors can wade and play in Sinking Creek and the Current River, with kayak and canoe rentals available for water exploration. A children's nature playground is also offered, along with an historic riding stable facility, a 50-seat amphitheater, and several mountain biking trails. Overnight accommodations include tent and RV sites at the Timbuktu Campground, fully-furnished cabin rentals, and 20 guest rooms and suites at the full-service Betty Tea Lodge. Casual American fare is served up at breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the park's Creekside Grill.
34489 Echo Bluff Drive, Eminence, MO 65466, Phone: 844-322-3246
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Finger Lakes is a 1,128-acre public recreation area in Boone County, Missouri, located near the town of Columbia. The state park is located on land formerly operated as Peabody Coal's Mark Twain Mine, which was donated to the state of Missouri in 1974 for the purposes of reclamation as a park facility. Today, it is known as one of the state's best sites for all-terrain vehicle and off-road motorcycle driving, with more than 70 miles of driving trails traversing its rolling hill terrain. Over a dozen small lakes throughout the property give the park its name, many of which have been combined into a 4.5-mile water trail that attracts canoers and kayakers. Day-use picnic sites and campground areas populate the park's wooded areas, with modern showers and restrooms available for visitor use.
1505 Peabody Rd, Columbia, MO 65202, Phone: 573-443-5315
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4.Long Branch State Park
Long Branch State Park is one of Missouri's best sites for boating, offering three boat ramps along the gorgeous Long Branch Reservoir. The park, which spans more than 1,800 acres throughout Macon County near the city of Macon, preserves some of the last remaining prairie and savannah habitats within the Chariton River Hills area, offering hiking trails and bird watching opportunities throughout the Chariton River Hills Natural Area. Visitors can swim, water ski, fish, and sail at the reservoir, which was created in 1980 with the implementation of nearby Long Branch Dam and offers more than 24 miles of spacious shoreline. A family-friendly swimming beach is maintained during the summer months, and a marina and marina store provide assistance for boaters. Overnight camping is permitted at a modern campground, and exhibits on the dam are offered at a public visitor center on the park's southern end.
3326, 28615 Visitor Center Rd, Macon, MO 63552, Phone: 660-773-5229
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5.Mark Twain State Park
Mark Twain State Park is a lovely public recreation area spanning nearly 3,000 acres throughout Monroe County, located adjacent to the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site in Florida. The state park, which is tucked within north-central Missouri's Salt River Hills region, provides access to the beautiful and sprawling Mark Twain Lake, which is home to several boat ramp access points and a public swimming beach at its northern end. Visitors should note that fishing is prohibited at the lake and that no lifeguards are staffed on duty at the swimming beach throughout the summer. More than six miles of hiking trails provide access to historic sites such as the Mark Twain State Park Picnic Shelter at Buzzard's Roost, a Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed shelter that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
37352 Shrine Rd, Florida, MO 65283, Phone: 573-565-3440
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6.St. Joe State Park
St. Joe State Park is one of two popular off-road vehicle parks within the Missouri state parks system, along with Boone County's Finger Lakes. The park, which is located within the state's Lead Belt mining region, was operated as grounds for the St. Joe Minerals Corporation until 1972 and still preserves several structures related to the company, which are operated as mining and geology museums today. A 2,000-acre off-road vehicle riding area offers trails on the former mine's tailing dumps, with areas available for snowmobiling during the winter months. Four lakes offer two swimming beaches and provide excellent chances for anglers to catch catfish, crappie, and bass. Hiking and bicycling trails are also available throughout the park's wooded portions, with electric and basic campground sites offered for overnight stay.
2800 Pimville Rd, Park Hills, MO 63601, Phone: 573-431-1069
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7.Stegall Mountain Natural Area
Stegall Mountain Natural Area is a delightful National Parks Service-operated facility located near the city of Eminence, home to one of Missouri's best summer swimming holes. The natural area is anchored around the Ozarks' Stegall Mountain and the Current River Hills region, which is home to the impressive 40-foot cascading Rocky Falls, located along Rocky Creek. Summer explorers can beat the heat in the waterfall's natural swimming hole and, in some water conditions, use the falls' bottom section as a natural waterslide. Expansive views are offered atop Stegall Mountain, which is also home to Rogers Creek, a popular fishing spot for more than 25 species of native fish.
Pike Township, MO 63941
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8.Stockton State Park
Stockton State Park is a 2,176-acre public recreation area located along the banks of beautiful Stockton Lake, created in 1969 by damming of the Sac River by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The 24,900-acre lake is a popular seasonal spot for swimming, scuba diving, fishing, and sailing in southern Missouri throughout the summer months, with a nationally-recognized marina and other public amenities offered on the peninsula between the Big and Little Sac Rivers. A gravel beach is located along the lake's northern shores, near day-use picnic sites and outdoor grills. The park's marina offers boat rentals, camping supplies, and fishing tackle for anglers looking to catch catfish, bluegill, bass, walleye, and crappie. Lodging options include basic and electric campsites, camper cabins, and rental one- and two-bedroom duplexes.
19100 MO-215, Dadeville, MO 65635, Phone: 417-276-4259
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9.Table Rock Lake
Table Rock Lake is one of Branson's top outdoor tourist destinations, spanning approximately 50,000 acres of surface water area and offering more than 750 miles of shoreline for visitors to explore. The manmade reservoir, which was formed by the creation of Table Rock Dam in 1959, is one of the nation's best fishing spots, home to large populations of Kentucky spotted and white bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill. Swimming, sunbathing, and diving are offered at Moonshine Beach, while water sport equipment is available for rental at the park's Indian Point Marina. Tent and RV hookups are offered at the Table Rock Lake Campground, while luxury accommodations are available at the Chateau on the Lake Resort, which is home to a spa, convention center, and a myriad of upscale and casual dining options. Visitors to the lake can also tour the nearby Talking Rocks Cavern or hitch a ride aboard the Spirit of America touring boat or one of the city's duck boat excursions.
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10.Trail of Tears State Park
Trail of Tears State Park is a 3,415-acre public recreation area in Cape Girardeau County, located along the banks of the Mississippi River. The park is intended to serve as a memorial for the more than 16,000 Cherokee indigenous people who were forcibly removed from their homes along the Cherokee Trail of Tears during the winter of 1839-1839, with a focus on the more than 4,000 Cherokee who lost their lives during the removal process. A public interpretive center details the history of the Trail of Tears through a variety of interactive exhibits, while an archaeological site related to the Cherokee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Park visitors can fish at the 20-acre Lake Boutin, swim or canoe along the Mississippi River waterfront, or explore the park's four visitor trails, which wind through the Indian Creek and Vancil Hollow Natural Areas. Basic and electric hookup campsites are offered at the park, along with amenities such as restrooms, showers, and a dumping station.
429 Moccasin Springs Rd, Jackson, MO 63755, Phone: 573-290-5268
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11.Wakonda State Park
Wakonda State Park is a lovely public recreation area that spans more than 1,000 acres in Lewis County near the town of La Grange, preserving one of the Mississippi River region's few remaining sand prairie habitats. The park, which was established in 1960, is named after an Osage indigenous word meaning "spiritual or consecrated ground," home to six beautiful quarry lakes that are open to the public for swimming, boating, and fishing experiences throughout the warmer months. Thousands of migratory birds traverse the region throughout the year, making the park a prime spot for birdwatching. A 20,000-square-foot swimming beach is maintained throughout the summer months, serving as the Missouri state park system's largest natural sand beach. Two campgrounds throughout the park offer over 100 campsites, with trails available for hikers and bikers to explore the beautiful natural terrain.
32836 State Park Road, La Grange, MO 63448, Phone: 573-655-2280
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12.Washington State Park
Washington State Park is known for its incredible collection of indigenous American petroglyphs and rock carvings, which were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The 2,147-acre park, which was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, protects unique carvings that date back as far as 1600 C.E., giving significant archaeological clues to the culture and practices of indigenous tribes in the Missouri region. Archaeologists also believe that the park's site once served as a significant ceremonial grounds for the Middle Mississippi people. Swimming and fishing opportunities are offered along the banks of the Big River, with spectacular opportunities for hiking throughout the Ozarks offered along three hiking trails. Many of the park's historic New Deal-era structures still stand today, including the stones of the 1,000 Steps Trail.
13041 Missouri 104, De Soto, MO 63020, Phone: 636-586-5768
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13.Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site
Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site preserves a mid-19th century-era woolen mill in Lawson, which was listed on the National Register of HIstoric Places and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s. The site, which is overseen by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, is the centerpiece of Watkins Mill State Park, showcasing a variety of historic buildings related to the 1839 Bethany Plantation, founded by Waltus L. Watkins. Park visitors can enjoy fishing and swimming at the park's 100-acre lake and swimming beach or traverse its 3.8-mile hiking trail, which follows the lake's circular shoreline. A 3.5-mile equestrian trail is also offered, along with opportunities for overnight camping at 96 electric hookup campsites.
26600 Park Road North, Lawson, MO 64062, Phone: 816-580-3387
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14.Welch Spring Hospital Ruins
© Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com
Welch Spring Hospital Ruins are one of Missouri's most unique tourist attractions, preserving the abandoned facilities of the Welch Spring Hospital, originally purchased and founded in 1913 by Illinois doctor C.H. Diehl. The health spa site was touted throughout the early 20th century for the supposed healing properties of its natural waters, marketed as a cure for conditions such as tuberculosis, emphysema, and asthma. Due to poor access conditions in the region, the site never took off as a healing tourist attraction, and following the doctor's death in 1940, the site was abandoned to nature. Today, visitors to the Current River region can swim and canoe in the waters surrounding the former spa and view the hospital's gorgeous ruins, which make for stunning photo opportunities.
Jadwin, Missouri, 65501
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14 Best Missouri Beaches
- Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, Photo: R. Gino Santa Maria/stock.adobe.com
- Echo Bluff State Park, Photo: Sharon Day/stock.adobe.com
- Finger Lakes, Photo: yossarian6/stock.adobe.com
- Long Branch State Park, Photo: Carol/stock.adobe.com
- Mark Twain State Park, Photo: Luckyboost/stock.adobe.com
- St. Joe State Park, Photo: pimonpim/stock.adobe.com
- Stegall Mountain Natural Area, Photo: Prin/stock.adobe.com
- Stockton State Park, Photo: yossarian6/stock.adobe.com
- Table Rock Lake, Photo: Josh/stock.adobe.com
- Trail of Tears State Park, Photo: Stephanie/stock.adobe.com
- Wakonda State Park, Photo: renamarie/stock.adobe.com
- Washington State Park, Photo: Maksim/stock.adobe.com
- Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, Photo: Juhku/stock.adobe.com
- Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, Photo: Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: MEndersbe/stock.adobe.com