Exploring Destinations

Ozark Retreat

Jackie Sheckler Finch |  Photography courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge nestled in the mountains outside Branson honors conservation, family traditions, and a chance to reconnect with nature.

As soon as I arrived, I knew Big Cedar Lodge was my kind of place. The rustic stone fireplace was ready to light. The curtains were open to glimpse mountains in the distance. And a plate of fresh-baked gingersnap cookies waited on the kitchen table.

“The ginger cookies have become our tradition,” says Janet Glaser, public relations manager for Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., near Branson. “We make ours in the shape of a cedar tree.”

Known as Pepparkakor, the “wish” cookies also come with an old Swedish custom. “You place the cookie in the palm of your hand,” Glaser says. “Then you make a wish.”

Using the index finger of your other hand, tap the cookie in the middle. Swedish tradition says that if the Pepparkakor breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true. Worked for me. My appropriate wish was to return to Big Cedar Lodge for an even longer visit.

Tucked deep in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, the Big Cedar region attracted Native Americans who once roamed the hills and hunted the abundant wildlife. Outsiders were slow to arrive since the land was accessible only by horseback or foot. After the turn of the 20th century, however, railroads began chugging through the Ozarks, turning it into a vacation paradise.

In the 1920s, two Missourians — Jude Simmons and Harry Worman — built luxurious homes on the land known as Big Cedar Hollow. Then the Great Depression hit. The Simmons and Worman families spent less time at their country retreats and eventually abandoned them altogether.

A logging company took over the property and stripped the towering trees. Heavy rains washed mud and gravel into streams, clogging once crystal clear waterways. Concerned conservationists brought the land’s plight to public attention.

In 1947, businessman Dan Norris bought the property, added a lodge, swimming pool, and stable for a resort. When White River was dammed in 1958 to form Table Rock Lake, another jewel waterway was added to the Ozarks, enhacing the resort’s attraction.

Forty years later, Bass Pro Shops’ founder and noted conservationist Johnny Morris bought the property in 1987 and set about making it a premier wilderness resort. With conservation his number one priority, Morris created a destination that is both rustic and elegant.

“An avid outdoorsman, Johnny Morris was inspired by the majestic beauty of Table Rock Lake and his own childhood memories of family fishing trips,” Glaser says. “He decided to create a place for all families to reconnect with nature and established Big Cedar Lodge as a wilderness resort where conservation and family traditions come together.”

Built to embrace the natural landscape of the Ozark Mountains, Big Cedar Lodge offers 317 accommodations across three grand lodges, cozy cottages, private log cabins, lakeside glamping and camp cabins. Exclusive accommodations include the Carriage House Cottage, the Spa Cottage, Governor’s Suite, and Jack’s Cabin.

Many guest cabins have been named to honor people, legends, and organizations that have ties to Big Cedar Lodge. Ernest Hemingway, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicklaus, and Waylon Jennings are among those honored with cabins.

“Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter were friends of Johnny Morris,” Glaser says. “The Goin’ Jessi, an exact replica of a 1934 Chris Craft that is named after Waylon’s wife, will take you on an hour-long cruise of Table Rock Lake.”

Popular activities at Big Cedar Lodge range from fishing and water sports on the 43,000-acre Table Rock Lake to golfing on five world-class courses; indoor games and activities at the Fun Mountain entertainment complex; horseback riding and wildlife tram tours at the nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park; and the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail cart tour and impressive Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at the Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve.

For dining, Big Cedar Lodge offers a diverse array of dining venues including Truman Café and Custard, Osage Restaurant, Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl & Grill, and Devil’s Pool Restaurant, which got its name from the famed Devil’s Pool about a stone’s throw from the restaurant.

When the holiday season rolls around, Big Cedar Lodge transforms into a winter wonderland each November and December with beautifully decorated Christmas trees in cabins and cottages. Millions of twinkling lights, a Winter Wonderland ice skating rink with illuminated lights and music, holiday light tours, and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies are part of the holiday celebration.

“Festive holiday activities include ornament decorating, a Sleigh Bell Scurry which is a fun holiday scavenger hunt, gingerbread build-offs, elves and Santa visits, and more,” Glaser says.

Big Cedar Lodge appeals to people of all ages, Glaser adds.

“It is a place that invites guests to unwind, connect with each other and to the great outdoors while exploring the beauty of the Ozarks and making memories that will last a lifetime.”


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