Friday, January 10, 2020

Table Rock Lakeshore Trail

Table Rock Lake Dam

The Table Rock Lakeshore Trail is my favorite hiking trek in the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri. The 2.2-mile paved Lakeshore Trail connects the Dewey Short Visitors Center to Table Rock Lake State Park Marina - which makes this a very beautiful (and easy) hiking trek along the shoreline.

Dewey Short Visitors Center

Congressman Dewey Short was responsible for the construction of Table Rock Lake in the 1950s. The Army Corps of Engineers built a series of dams built along the White River Valley in the Ozarks to protect towns like Branson from flooding. In addition to flood control, Table Rock Lake generates electricity, as well as lots of outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors. 

The Dewey Short Visitors Center tells the history of Branson and Table Rock Lake. You can even watch a video about the construction of the dam. The Army Corp of Engineers thought that it would take several years for the lake to fill with water. However, a large flood in 1957 filled most of the lake before the dam was even finished. There are a lot of fun exhibits too. For example, one exhibit puts you in charge of controlling the dam's spill gates. You are given different scenarios about lake levels and expected rainfall. Then, you must decide how much water to release without flooding other areas downstream. Another fun exhibit lets you generate electricity using a hand crank. The object is to spin the crank fast enough to generate power for different devices: light bulb, mixer, and hair dryer. (The hair dryer was impossible to power with a hand crank). 

The Dewey Short Visitors Center has a nice balcony with awesome views of the lake and dam. I consider this place the best free attraction in Branson. Speaking of Branson, the visitors center staff are very friendly and more than happy to answer any of your questions about the area. You can also find local maps, as well as brochures and coupon books for music shows and attractions.

Hiking The Lakeshore Trail

The Lakeshore Trail is a 4.4-mile round trip hike. You can find the trailhead next to the Army Corps of Engineers building which is on the other side of the parking lot from the visitors center. The area next to the trailhead has several picnic tables right next to the lake. I have enjoyed many picnics by the lake. Many visitors swim along the shoreline. However, you must swim at your own risk  - because there are no lifeguards on duty. Also, the water can get choppy from the wind.

When there are leaves on the trees, much of the trek is shaded. While you are hiking, you will definitely be able to tell why the lake was named "Table Rock" from all the large rocks along the shoreline. Most people that you meet practice good trail manners. You will often see fishermen standing on rocks as they cast their line into the water. The lake level often changes, but most of the shore is a few steps from the trail. This makes it nice when hiking on a hot day you can dip your feet in the water to cool off. The Lakeshore Trail is one of the few hikes where I will take my time to enjoy the scenery. I love the beautiful lake views with the Ozark Mountains in the background. I will often just sit for a while at different spots along the trek.

White River Landing

Showboat Branson Belle on Table Rock Lake 
This hazy photo was taken on a hot, humid Ozarks summer day.

The Lakeshore Trail passes by the White River Landing: Home of the Showboat Branson Belle. (This is where you go to board the Showboat Branson Belle). 

The White River Landing was also where the Duck boats (Ride the Ducks) would enter Table Rock Lake. I used to enjoy watching the Ducks splash down into the water. I also rode them many times. 

Table Rock Lake State Park

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of family vacations to Branson. We would often say near Table Rock Lake State Park. I can remember having many picnics by the water. I guess this portion of the hiking trail makes me feel a bit nostalgic. I still bring along a picnic lunch for this hiking trip. In addition to lots of picnic tables, the state park has public restrooms which are always nice when nature calls. The state park is another popular place for swimming. Just be careful as there are no lifeguards around.

If you are interested in more hiking, you can easily access the White River Valley Trail system in the state park. These trails aren't paved and some of the are quite challenging. Just look for the crossing on HWY 165. Be sure to carefully study the map at the trailhead, so you don't get lost!

State Park Marina

The Lakeshore Trail ends at the State Park Marina. The State Park Marina is the largest marina on Table Rock Lake with something like 650 boat slips. If you don't have your own boat, you can rent one. You can also rent kayaks and paddle boards. I would like to see the Lakeshore Trail extended past the marina to make this a longer hike because I can't get enough of Table Rock Lake!

Table Rock Lake

The next time you are in Branson and are looking for a fun, FREE activity, check out the Dewey Short Visitors Center and then take a hike on the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail.

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