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The best hiking, rivers & lakes in the Ozark Mountains

There are many ways to discover the natural beauty and wonderful recreational opportunities of the Ozark Mountains. Here are some of the best.

Bull Shoals Arkansas
White River, Arkansas (Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism)

The Ozark Mountains stretch from central Missouri to northern Arkansas and all the way to eastern Oklahoma and are home to some truly wonderful recreational opportunities, whether you’re looking for a long-distance hike, great fishing or simply a lazy river to float down on a summer day.


From state parks to trails that stretch through scenic woods, the Ozark Mountains are home to wonderful hiking opportunities. In Missouri, the Ozark Trail runs for nearly 400 miles (645km) through the southern part of the state, passing wonderful waterfalls and traversing scenic woodlands. (Sections of the trail are also open to biking and equestrian traffic.) The Ozark Highlands Trail in northern Arkansas covers 270 miles (434km) of scenic, rugged terrain and is considered one of the top long-distance hiking destinations in the United States.


The Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a National Park Service site in southern Missouri, was established to protect the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, and today offers great opportunities for canoeing, rafting and other watersports. These spring-fed rivers are cool and clear, and outfitters along both rivers rent canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes. Outfitters will drop you off at the start of your trip down the river and pick you up when you’re done; some outfitters will even pick you up at your campsite and bring you back after your trip.

The Buffalo National River flows uninterrupted for more than 150 miles (241km) and is one of the few undammed rivers remaining in the United States. There are three main areas of the river to float or paddle: the Upper District, where the water is in general the fastest; the Middle District/Tyler Bend Area, home to thrilling rapids and calm pools; and the Lower District/Buffalo Point Area, which is typically navigable year-round.


The river systems in the Ozark Mountains offer an unparalleled fishing experience. Arkansas’ White River is famous across the world for its brown and rainbow trout fishing, and resorts along the waterway offer not only top-notch lodging but also offer guided fishing excursions. The James River in southwest Missouri is home to smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish and walleye.

Bull Shoals Lake—the largest lake in Arkansas—is a great place to find largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, trout, catfish and more. Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri covers 54,000 acres (22,000 hectares) and is home to bass, crappie, catfish and walleye.