Planning a family vacation to the Ozarks

At nearly 50,000 square miles, this mountainous region is referred to as simply, "The Ozarks," and comprises a massive area from southern Missouri to northern Arkansas. This diverse destination invites families to participate in scenic hikes and spot wildlife, as well as boating and fishing.

Planning a visit to the Ozark Mountains?

With an array of national forests featuring breathtaking mountain views, picturesque lakes, action-packed activities coupled with tranquil areas that seem to be created for soaking in the natural atmosphere, the Ozarks are an ideal spot for a recreational, yet truly relaxing family vacation.With almost limitless opportunities for camping, biking, fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking and even exquisite cultural experiences, this part of the country lets visitors unplug and unwind with the gorgeous Ozark mountains as a delightful backdrop.

Mark Twain National Forest

Visitors can literally spend weeks trekking through Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, which is situated across one million acres within the Ozark highlands. Featuring six ranger districts and nine forest tracts, the forest has an assortment of exciting activities and many trails which include hiking the Glade Top trail National Scenic Byway. On a clear day, climbers are treated to vistas that span 30 miles (48 km) to the Arkansas Boston Mountains. The Eleven Point National Scenic River takes boaters through 44 miles of scenic shoreline with trees, foliage and steep bluffs along the way. The current varies along with way, with areas of rapids interspersed with calm pools. The river offers eleven official access points and several campsites with facilities along the way. Another must-see destination in the forest is Greer Spring. Not surprisingly, it’s the biggest spring in a national park, as it pumps over 200 million gallons of water each day into the river. Also, winding its way through this national forest is the massive 350-mile Ozark trail system, allowing walkers and hikers to view the splendid scenery on land and at their own pace.

The Ozark – St. Francis National Forest

Although these two spectacular areas are actually two distinct forests, they both come together to form a major section of the national park. Primarily located in Northern Arkansas, these 1.2 million acres comprise a number of jaw-dropping sites, such as Mt. Magazine, the tallest mountain in the state. Another not-to-be-missed site is Blanchard Springs caverns, an incredible underground cave that offers tours daily. Wildlife spotting is a popular pastime here, as the forest is home to a variety of wildlife, such as wild turkey, deer, rabbit, squirrel and waterfowl. For fishing enthusiasts, the creeks and rivers are a dream destination for game fish, including striped bass and catfish. Even if you are not a fisherman, visitors flock to the riverbanks, as the St. Francis National Forest is the sole place in the system where the Mississippi River can be viewed from the shoreline. And road trippers can rejoice, too. There are six scenic byways that cross both forests, providing over 160 miles of breathtaking views from the comfort of your own auto.

The Ozark trail

Beginning in the outskirts of the gateway city of St. Louis and meandering toward the Arkansas boarder, the Ozark Trailis the most popular for backpackers in the entire state of Missouri. With nearly 550 of the 700-mile trail almost completed, it will eventually connect with the Ozark Highlands trail. Hikers can choose from a myriad of trails for all levels -- ranging from short, scenic strolls to lengthy, advanced all-day (or longer) hikes. Well maintained and meticulously cared for throughout the year, the trail is always evolving. In fact, the newly-completed “Middle Fork” section has recently opened a 200-mile path through southeast Missouri and considered by hikers to be one of the best outdoor destinations between the Rockies and the Appalachians. In addition, one of the trail spurs (called the Taum Sauk section), provides outstanding views of Mina Sauk Falls, Devil's Tollgate and Johnson's Shut-Ins – all stunning natural wonders deemed by hikers as Instagram-worthy scenery.

Buffalo National River

It’s time to grab your paddle! The Buffalo National River flows 135 miles, originating in the Boston mountains and flowing to the White river. With dramatic scenery lined with tall trees and featuring a number of designated camping spots along the picturesque river, this waterway attracts visitors who enjoy boating, canoeing and kayaking. Of course, wildlife spotting (such as elk and deer) is also popular as the river is home to over 300 species of fish, insects and plant life. And there are fun activities on the shore, too, such as horseback riding in certain areas. For a change in pace, the region also features the Tyler Bend visitors center with locally-focused exhibits, while the Ponca Elk education center provides an top notch educational opportunity for visitors wishing to learn more about the Ozarks.

Music and cultural activities

For a big cultural slice of the Ozark Mountains, tourists can visit a number of museums that highlight this unique and interesting part of the country. The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History focuses on the historical significance of the region’s towns and rural communities. For art enthusiasts, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American art opened recently, featuring stunning architecture and situated on over 100 acres. Travelers come from across the globe to view it world-class permanent and temporary art collections.

Meanwhile, if you are a fan of Folk and bluegrass music, the Ozark mountains are ground zero for the most authentic live performances – and the site of several large music festivals throughout the year. In fact, the town of Mountain View is considered the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” a major destination for music lovers. The area also features an array of iconic music venues, such as The Imperial Dinner Theater and the famous Cash’s White River Hoedown, so professional live performances and great entertainment are always a stone’s throw away.

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