The sign welcoming guests to Big Cedar Lodge says, Folks been havin’ fun here since 1921—and there’s no arguing that! From horseback riding and campfire wagon tours to kayaking, water-skiing and fishing; and even sand volleyball, ‘dive-in’ movies and yoga hikes, the 800-plus-acre resort, nestled in vast Missouri Ozark wilderness, is a playground for every man, woman and child.
The vision for Big Cedar Lodge was conceived by Bass Pro Shops mogul and avid outdoorsman Johnny Morris, who purchased the resort in 1987. The property was originally developed in the 1920s as a posh country retreat for two prominent Missourians of the time, business entrepreneur Jude Simmons and Frisco Railroad executive Harry Worman. When Morris assumed ownership of the property, he initially planned to convert it to a fishing camp for Bass Pro Shop employees and customers (the company is headquartered in Springfield, just 40 miles north of the resort).
Lucky for us, Morris reconsidered. Inspired by the majesty of Table Rock Lake—on which Big Cedar Lodge sits—as well as his own memories of family fishing trips, Morris instead decided to transform the property into a place for all families to become one with nature and learn about preservation and conservation in the process.
There is no shortage of options for lodging, with 246 guestrooms dotting the property in the form of lodges, cottages and private log cabins. Our accommodation of choice was a secluded lakeside cabin, complete with a fully equipped kitchen, wood-burning fireplace and whirlpool bath, as well as a deck for enjoying morning coffee or grilling the catch of the day.
If you’d rather leave the cooking to someone else, all you have to do is trot on over (or arrange for the omnipresent Big Cedar shuttles to pick you up) to one of four restaurants on-property. Whether you’re celebrating a wedding anniversary or a special family get-together, dining at The Worman House is a must. The restaurant embodies the Big Cedar Lodge experience in a nutshell: Equal parts elegant and at ease, the 1920s Tudor-style building was the country home of railroad tycoon Worman and his wife, Dorothy. Step inside to see the beautifully restored original railroad tie beams and handmade stained glass windows which return the home to its original grandeur. But the real reason to visit is to sample the upscale comfort cuisine made with the freshest and finest Ozark ingredients. The trout, for instance, is from the northern Ozarks and the produce is sourced from nearby farms.
For a more casual option, there’s Devil’s Pool Restaurant, a great place for Sunday brunch, or to enjoy some only-in-the-Ozarks menu finds like Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers, BBQ Bison Meatballs and Fried Catfish Tacos. The restaurant, once the home of original landowner Jude Simmons, also houses the popular Buzzard Bar downstairs featuring entertainer Clay Self, the resort’s own ‘singing cowboy.’
To say Big Cedar’s offering of amenities and activities is abundant would be an understatement. For this visit, we chose to set sail on Lady Liberty, the resort’s newly acquired 65-foot luxury yacht. Our sunset cocktail cruise had us exploring Table Rock Lake as dusk settled, and then, the bright lights of Branson in the distance as night fell.
By day, there’s even more to explore, including scenic hiking and jogging trails, a lazy river and the Little Cedar Kids’ Club. But a favorite destination always has been The Carriage House Spa, where tried-and-true healing hands massage your worries away.
In recent years, Big Cedar Lodge has attracted the attention of travel industry connoisseurs. Conde Nast Traveler recently declared Big Cedar Lodge its No. 2 Top Resort in the Midwest (Readers’ Choice Awards), and Travel + Leisure has ranked it No. 6 in its ‘Best U.S. Hotel for Families’ category.
It’s about time that this Ozark gem gets the glory it deserves. After all, ‘folks have been havin’ fun here’ for more than 90 years.
IF YOU GO:
*Big Cedar Lodge is approximately a four-hour drive from St. Louis.
*Springfield/Branson Regional Airport is 50 miles away.
*For reservations or more information, call 1-800-BCLODGE or visit big-cedar.com.