Explore Land and Water at Table Rock Lake

December 1, 2011
Filed under Camping Destinations, Southeast Camping

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Table Rock Lake is a large reservoir on the White River covering just over 43,000 acres with almost 745 miles of shoreline at normal pool. That translates into a lot of recreation — fishing for many species, all kinds of boating, water-skiing and swimming. The fact that the lake is located in the steep and rugged Ozark Mountains among its many arms and valleys with significantly varying depths and elevations helps make Table Rock an incredibly scenic lake and an extraordinary camping destination as well.

Several marinas can be found along its shores for boaters, with boat rentals, fishing supplies and fishing guides. Table Rock State Park is located on the east side of the lake and is adjacent to Table Rock Dam. Below the dam, the Missouri Department of Conservation operates Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, which stocks trout into Lake Taneycomo (between Power Site and Table Rock Dams). Taneycomo provides fishermen with one of the best opportunities in the region to catch trophy trout. The nearby city of Branson with its family-oriented Broadway-style shows and many restaurants is also one of the points of interest for visitors to Table Rock Lake and the surrounding area.

Mark Twain National Forest
Table Rock Lake is in Mark Twain National Forest’s Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs ranger districts, which have a variety of landscapes ranging from oak and hickory forests, short leaf pine forests and limestone outcroppings to cedar glades. Cedar glades are open areas of native tall prairie grasses in dry, shallow soils.

This unique blend of habitats is home to such wildlife as bald eagles, roadrunners, armadillos, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and black bears. Such are characteristics of the Ozarks and these districts of the national forest.

Wildflowers are numerous in the area. Some of the more common are coreopsis, cardinal flower, various trillia, lobelia, rose verbena, impatiens, violets, cone flowers and even prickly pear cactus.

On the extreme western side of Mark Twain National Forest, Roaring River State Park butts against the national forest south of Cassville, Missouri. The 3,403-acre park has largely been preserved in its natural state. Roaring River Spring forms the headwaters of Roaring River as more than 20 million gallons of water rush from it daily. The river gets a daily stocking of rainbow trout during fishing season and provides anglers an excellent place for fly-fishing or spin-casting. There are seven trails, including the longest of the state park’s trails, Eagle’s Nest Trail. The trail follows the river before ascending to one of the high points in the park.

Ozark Chinquapin Nature Center has exhibits and interpretive displays with park naturalists presenting programs on the park’s natural history. The park has 187 campsites, from rustic to those with electric hookups.

Sugar Camp National Scenic Byway offers visitors 28 miles of wooded hills and hollows to explore by car, bicycle or motorcycle. The scenic byway allows opportunities for viewing wildflowers, wildlife and bird-watching while taking in the surrounding countryside.

Two Mark Twain National Forest recreation areas near Table Rock Lake are Shell Knob and Big Bay. The relatively well-developed Shell Knob Recreation Area sits along a bluff overlooking Table Rock Lake. It’s within the unincorporated area of the town of Shell Knob on the site of an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp and features a scenic view of Table Rock Lake. It’s a day-use area with no camping facilities.

Big Bay Recreation Area is located on the shore of Table Rock Lake and has a campground, and swimming and boating access. Big Bay is south of Shell Knob.

Two of Mark Twain National Forest’s congressionally designated wilderness areas near Table Rock Lake are Piney Creek and Hercules Glades. Wilderness areas are primitive and do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles or equipment. Visitors need to be prepared to find their own way and be self-reliant. Hercules Glades Wilderness is 12,413 acres located in the section of the forest east of Branson, between Forsyth and Bradleyville. There are three trailheads providing entry into the wilderness area. From the trailheads there are 32 miles of maintained trails following along open glades, forested ridge tops and Long Creek. The main attractions along the trail are Long Creek Falls, panoramic views of the Ozark countryside and a varied landscape of open limestone glades and mixed forests. The three trailheads are Hercules Tower, Blair Ridge and Coy Bald. There is parking available at all three locations, but space for camping only at Hercules Tower Trailhead.

Piney Creek Wilderness is 8,178 acres located 32 miles west of Branson, off Highway 76. There are two trailheads with 13 miles of trails, including Pine View Tower and Lake Road 391.

Mark Twain National Forest’s Swan Creek is 10 miles due north of Hercules Glades Wilderness Area. It is an 8,488-acre area off Highway 125 south, with no motorized transportation allowed. There is about 23 miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. Another area to view wildlife and see wildflowers is Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area. It is on the west side of Branson on Highway 76, three-quarters of a mile west of the state Route 376/state Route 76 intersections. It is a 1,534-acre mostly forested tract with several hiking trails, White River Balds Natural Area and Roark Creek. The largest trail (Homesteaders) is a 3.4-mile interpretive hiking trail. The 362-acre White River Balds Natural Area contains many glades, barrens, or, more commonly, balds. Glades, or balds, are small areas of rock outcrops or shallow, rocky soils on hilltops, and other similar kinds of land. Missouri has a greater diversity of balds than any state. There are limestone, dolo­mite (a sedimentary carbonate rock), chert (fine-grained silica-rich sedimentary rock), sandstone, shale and igneous glades.

White River Balds Natural Area contains some of the largest dolomite glades in Missouri’s Ozarks. According to Missouri’s Conservation Department, the glades contain many plants (more than 200 native species) and animals adapted to the conditions found here (hot, dry and sunny). There are many blooming wildflowers — such as the spring yellow coneflower, Trelease’s larkspur and cobea beardtongue — all of which are limited to the Ozarks.

Table Rock Lake
Table Rock Lake provides many acres of water-related activities. There are both developed and undeveloped areas around the lake. Numerous lodges, resorts and marinas offer alternatives to enjoy the recreational possibilities. Fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie, walleye and spoonbill is enjoyed on the lake. Guides are readily available from many marinas.

Boats of every sort are available for rent — from runabouts to houseboats. Five Star Houseboat Vacations in Kimberling City is the only company renting houseboats. Big Cedar Lodge Marina has a fleet of fishing and pontoon boats for rent, and is located on the southeast side of Table Rock Lake south of the dam.

The services at Table Rock State Park Marina include boat rentals, parasailing, catamaran sailboat excursions, scuba diving, kayaking and fishing guides. Scuba diving is popular because of the clarity of the water. The dive shop at the marina is a full-service dive facility located at the boathouse. There is a two-hour Discover SCUBA course available to guests who have previous diving experience.

Table Rock State Park is adjacent to the dam and is just a few miles southwest of Branson. The 356-acre park on the shore of Table Rock Lake offers two campgrounds with 152 sites ranging from rustic to electricity only to full hookups. The camping areas are situated along the shoreline of the lake, which makes for easy access to the water.

Within the state park there is an easy 2.2-mile Table Rock Lakeshore Trail. Several access points, or trailheads, make it convenient for visitors. One is at Dewey Short Visitor Center (Corps of Engineers Visitor Center), another is at the state park visitor center and a third is at the Showboat Branson Belle parking area.

A new 10-mile, natural-surface trail offers three access points and can accommodate hikers and bicyclists. It incorporates the state park and adjoining Corps of Engineers land.

There are 13 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds around Table Rock Lake. A few of note are Aunt’s Creek, Old Highway 86, Indian Point and Long Creek. The complete list is available online at the Corps of Engineers website (www.swl.usace.army.mil/parks/tablerock/campgroundpages.htm). Most of the Corps of Engineers’ campgrounds have boat ramps for easy lake access.

Lake Taneycomo

Lake Taneycomo covers 2,080 surface acres and was created when Powersite Dam was built on White River near Forsyth, Missouri. Later, Table Rock Dam was built 22 miles upstream, creating a southern boundary for the lake. Numerous state records for rainbow and brown trout have been caught in Lake Taneycomo. However, there is a section of the lake that is for artificial lures only. It’s called the Trophy Trout Area.

First-time fishermen should become familiar with the laws concerning this area, specifically which areas are catch-and-release and where natural baits are allowed. The upper three miles of Taneycomo are ideal for wading fishermen. The regulations along that stretch are strict and somewhat complicated, but the fishing is excellent. The remaining 20 miles of the lake are more suited to those fishing from a boat, from the bank or from one of the many commercial trout docks along the shore. Most of the shoreline of Lake Taneycomo is privately owned, but there are several public access points.

No wonder the fishing is so good — about 80 percent of Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery production (rainbow and brown trout) is for Lake Taneycomo. The rest go to other Missouri trout-management areas.

Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is located below Table Rock Dam off U.S. 165. Other public-access points are at Cooper Creek off Fall Creek Road; Rockaway Beach along state Route 176; and at Empire Park in Forsyth, Missouri, on CR Y, south of town off state Route 160.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Although it’s a 10,000-acre privately owned property, Dogwood Canyon Nature Park has 2,200 developed acres that offer self-guided hiking and biking trails, guided tram tours of the six-mile-long paved pathway, trout fishing and horseback riding. The main road through the park winds through limestone bluffs, across creeks and past waterfalls. This park is developed, yet natural. It’s laid out around the natural features of the canyon and is enhanced with paved roads and stone bridges. The tram tour takes visitors to the nature park’s bison and elk range, which crosses into Arkansas. But those ranges are only accessible for visitors by guided tram. Other wildlife is present in good numbers at Dogwood Canyon. Whitetail deer, squirrels, muskrat and mink may be seen along trails in the park. Trout fishermen of all experience levels enjoy Dogwood Can­yon. At Little Indian Creek anglers can catch-and-release or catch-and-keep their trout. For serious fly fishermen, guided catch-and-release trout excursions are available. Orvis even participates in a two-day fly-fishing school on the property. Check the Orvis website for dates and availability. Go to orvis.com and search for “Dogwood Canyon.”

At Dogwood Canyon the only thing missing is camping facilities. Only three rental cabins are available, but it is a great place to visit for the day. Dogwood is owned by Bass Pro Shops and is south of Branson, 16 miles off U.S. 65. Bass Pro’s Big Cedar Lodge is situated on Table Rock Lake and has a marina, lodges, cabins, restaurants and many activities, but no campgrounds.

However, there are thousands of other places to pitch a tent or park an RV around Table Rock Lake’s 43,000 acres and within Mark Twain National Forest’s 1.5 million acres. This part of Missouri has got you covered when it comes to outdoor recreation, whether it’s hiking, biking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, wildlife or bird-watching, or just relaxing by the campfire.

Before You Go
**Editor’s Note: Some facilities are temporarily closed due to area flooding. Call ahead to check about access.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
417/779-5983; dogwoodcanyon.com.

Mark Twain National Forest
573/364-4621; fs.usda.gov/mtnf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
For camping reservations:
877/422-6766; mostateparks.com.

Table Rock Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
800/595-0393; visittablerocklake.org.

Table Rock State Park
417/334-4704; mostateparks.com/park/table-rock-state-park.

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