Islands for visiting, living, and exploring on Lake of the Ozarks
by Tim Snow
Ask any true adventurer about the value of solitude in nature, and they’ll tell you there’s magic in the woods: a peace that can only be observed when no other humans are around. That same magic exists on a boat, a deep calm that can only be brought on by gazing out at the wide reaches of the Lake, wondering what mysteries (or monster bass) lie beneath the blue-green waters. But it’s not just what’s beneath the surface. Throughout the various channels and arms of the Lake of the Ozarks, the Lake’s islands offer opportunities for exploring and even living!
The Lake is home to nearly 20 islands, scattered along the various channels. Some offer the opportunity to explore nature in seclusion or have a unique picnic with the family; others require more financial commitment.
Note: There are certainly some islands to avoid as you venture about on the Lake, though. The general rule of thumb when it comes to modern island exploration is, even if you don’t necessarily see a house (or even if it’s seemingly abandoned)… you might be trespassing. On Lake of the Ozarks, since all the ground under the Lake was bought by Union Electric before it was flooded: many of these islands are privately owned.
Areas like the Twin Islands on Mile Marker 8 on the main channel, Eagle Island at the mouth of the Gravois Arm, or the 14-acre Hawk Island at the 26 Mile Marker may look tantalizing from the water, but unfortunately these islands are privately owned, so if you’re there uninvited, you’re trespassing. However, private islands make for for paradisiacal Lake living! The northernmost Twin Island and Hawk Island are currently on the market, and the former — a .99-acre piece of heaven — already features a partial seawall and foundation.
Or if you’re seeking a more ready-made island life, look to Isla Del Sol. Originally an island, the causeway built from the mainland to Isla Del Sol means residents of the island’s condos no longer have to take a ferry to go to the grocery store. Located on Mile Marker 4, it’s the only true island resort on the Lake. Luxury condos are perched right on the shoreline, and the next phase of the island’s development, The Reserve at Isla Del Sol, is currently under way. Rather just visit the island for the weekend? Some of the condo units are available as vacation rentals, too.
Not far from the Twin Islands, at Mile Marker 7, just across the channel from Shady Gator’s, is Joyner Island. Just a fraction of an acre, really just a unique landmark for boaters. Privately owned… keep moving! There are still some islands that are parceled out and deeded to the state, providing that beautiful and necessary gray area that explorers crave.
Perhaps the Lake’s most-explored and most-beloved island is hardly recognized as an island by those who venture there. Ha Ha Tonka Island offers a loop hiking trail, with fun and only moderately challenging terrain and unique views of the cove on one side and the springs on the other. Boaters frequently congregate in nearby Ha Ha Tonka Cove — on the 14.5 Mile Marker of the Big Niangua Arm — where there’s something for everyone. Calm waters are ideal for swimming, not-too-high cliffs appeal to the daring, and the small, publicly accessible boat dock gives boaters a chance to hop onto land and walk down to the island for a hike. Up for something more vigorous? After hiking the island loop, head up to the castle: the nearly countless steps will leave you huffing and puffing and marveling at some of the most famous views of the Lake and its historic castle.
The next island? Cruise up the main channel to Mile Marker 43 and find a quaint little stop for the family. This island, far less than an acre of land and deeded to Union Electric, is a perfect spot to anchor the boat and amble ashore for a picnic. Bring an umbrella, though… this little sandbar doesn’t have a tree in sight! It’s nestled on the southwest side of the channel, at the entrance to a large cove that hosts Mimosa Beach Resort. As always, pack in and pack out. Leave no trace!
To find the Lake’s really explorable islands, though, you’ll need to head much further upstream. This takes a sharp eye, steady hand on the helm, and ideally a depth-finder (or map of the original river bed), because much beyond the 60 Mile Marker, shallow water abounds… and it can sneak up on you. But take heart, Magellan! For the competent navigator, the reward of island exploration awaits. Beginning at around the 80 Mile Marker is a true little Ozark island chain, stretching almost to Mile Marker 90. Not only that, but all of these islands are parceled out to Union Electric too, so they’re fair game for an adventure.
The southernmost island is a small sandbar with a few trees provides another great opportunity for a quick picnic or even a little shoreline fishing. Up North a ways, the islands get much bigger as the lake snakes and divides, almost resembling a delta at points. Water is water, and an island is an island, however, and these are no exception.
The most downstream islands are long and narrow, with trees and shrubs covering their exposed landmass. As the channel becomes more fragmented, these islets become wider and thicker with brush and tree growth, providing both refuge for wildlife and opportunity for nature-lovers to observe the creatures that call them home.
Robert Fredrich lives near the 84 Mile Marker; he and his daughter love climbing aboard their kayak and paddling around the nearby string of islands, spending the morning exploring. The narrow channels and low-lying clumps of trees and land hold an aesthetic unique on Lake of the Ozarks and a little reminiscent of paddling the Louisiana bayou.
If you’ve gone this far, make the trip (carefully) all the way up to Truman Dam, and marvel at the sights and lazy vibe of what residents around there dub “the small waters.”
So what are you waiting for? There’s never a bad time to take the boat out for a day on the Lake, and set your bearings for one of the Lake’s many islands. You might just find some of the magic that true adventurers are always looking for.