1960s Camdenton boat float parade
Photo by Gerald Massie via Missouri State Archives

by Al Griffin & Nathan Bechtold

In the 1960s, the Lake of the Ozarks truly came into its own as the Midwest’s playground. Amid the ups and downs of the tumultuous decade, Lake of the Ozarks proved to be the perfect place for a summer getaway.

The magnet of a huge lake in the beautiful Ozarks along with the glitter and entertainment along the Bagnell Dam Strip drew more than 100,000 people a year, according to a local developer at the time. Tours through the hydro-electric plant within the dam averaged 50,000 people a year; it was one of the major draws at the Lake of the Ozarks. Another was Lake of the Ozarks State Park, the largest state park in Missouri, bordering the Grand Glaize Arm of the lake.

This was the era of the Lake’s most unique and zaniest tourist offerings. The Ozark Opry music/variety show became a Lake entertainment mainstay. Visitors toured caves, marveled at nature’s oddities (like piano-playing chickens and a five-legged ox), played “Hillbilly Golf,” and watched graceful “mermaids” at AquaRama.

Vintage photos courtesy of Todd Franklin, Ozark Opry circa 1955 by Ralph Walker via Missouri State Archives

And in the winter, Tan Tar A resort beckoned tourists back to the Lake, with a ski lodge! A resort postcard read, “When nature doesn’t provide snow, tons of man-made snow deeply cover the slopes. Big indoor ice skating rink, 8-lane bowling alley and indoor swimming pool add to family enjoyment.”

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