Photo Courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge
You’ve probably heard about Big Cypress Lodge, the new Bass Pro resort and retail mecca that opened in May at the Pyramid. But you might not be familiar with its posh country cousin, Big Cedar Lodge. Located on the shores of Table Rock Lake in Ridgedale, Missouri, this wilderness resort calls the Ozarks home, with its lush, rolling countryside and sprawling lake views.
Ranked by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the nation’s top 50 family resorts, it was new to me. Curious, I contacted Big Cedar to learn more and they hosted a three-day visit.
Just five hours from home
Leaving Memphis on a cool April morning, I notice our dogwoods and azaleas are practically spent. But three hours north of Little Rock where the Ozarks begin, nature’s clock has turned back. Some trees are still bare or newly leafed, the gentle yellow-green of early spring, and daffodils and tulips are ablaze as I drive the winding entrance to Big Cedar’s main lodge. I also find myself fording several streams. Too much rain? I wonder. Nope, it’s evidently part of Johnny Morris’ way of getting visitors to slow down and begin to tune in to nature.
After checking in, I do just that, gazing out from the porch at the view of Table Rock Lake. The three lodges and various restaurants you’ll find here are an attractive mix of Bavarian and Adirondack styles, a continuation of earlier structures built by a railroad executive who lived here in the 1920s and ’30s. Accommodations include cottages, cabins, or handsome hotel rooms.
I bunk in a lofty A-frame log cabin, accented with several stained -glass windows. The interior is suitably rustic but polished and so cozy I’m tempted to tuck in; the king-sized bed and egg-shaped spa tub whisper my name. A host of cabins face this finger of the lake, about a 20-minute walk from the heart of the resort. The privacy is welcoming, and so, too, Big Cedar’s free shuttle service. One family I spoke with said they hadn’t driven their car all week. Talk about relaxing.
Be prepared, however, for the bevy of mounted forest critters that appear as part of the décor virtually everywhere. If you’re familiar with Bass Pro, then you know. In my cabin alone I count two deer heads, two squirrels, a raccoon, and a sly red fox that eyes me from its roost above the kitchen cabinets. I can’t help but wonder how many animals were commandeered for the entire place.
What to do
The resort’s design does much to highlight the layered basalt that gives the Ozarks its distinctive topography. I take a golf cart ride at Top of the Rock golf course along a nature trail where whole hillsides have been exposed, revealing rocky grottos and streams, even caves. It’s unexpected and interesting. If Dad’s into golf, this 9-hole golf course has a commanding view of the lake and recently hosted the PGA’s Legends Tour.
But what I enjoy is unwinding — doing as much or as little as you like. One day, we lounge at one of several pools watching kids splash in the hot tub while others play shuffleboard nearby. You can bring gear for fishing, rent a canoe or powerboat, play golf, ride horses, play miniature golf, and more. Some activities are complimentary; others are an additional cost. If you’re on a budget, consider determining ahead of time what you might want to do, since fees add up quickly.
It’s only a 30-minute drive to Branson, with its music theaters, Silver Dollar City theme park, and shops galore. I elect instead to spend an afternoon riding bikes through Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, another Morris property that’s a popular destination for hiking and biking. It’s scenic, if a bit more manicured than wild.
What’s for dinner?
As for dining, you’ll find an array of options. Devil’s Pool is casual, moderately priced, and offers terrific sunset views. My friend raves about the cornbread, dappled sinfully with maple syrup and bacon. But our favorite is the Osage at Top of the Rock. From the well-prepared dishes and panoramic lake views (at 1,480 feet, it’s the tallest point in Taney County) to the striking Native American artwork that surrounds you, it is beautifully done. Be sure to check out the wine cellar and whiskey-tasting bar on the bottom level. Seemingly carved out of stone, my hat is off to the architect and craftsmen who tackled this engineering feat.
On my last morning, I find my way to Cedar Creek Spa. As I walk through the stand of birch trees that marks its entrance, I immediately regret not having come sooner; it’s simply beautiful. Opened last November, the spa boasts an amazing grotto pool, fireplaces in the waiting area and Jacuzzi, and first-rate masseuses. I could definitely see spending a girls’ weekend here. I talk with two sisters in the changing room who came to the resort from Wisconsin and Georgia. “I’ve been to a lot of spas,” offers Debbie, “and this definitely ranks as one of the best.” I would have to agree.
So if you’re looking to relax and indulge yourself a bit, Big Cedar offers just the place to put your feet up. • For rates and more, go here.