Missouri's Big Cedar Lodge

Author: Rachel Coleman

Tags : Adventure Trip, Missouri, North America, USA

The Ozark Mountains of Missouri welcome families seeking the Great Outdoors, relaxing accommodations, children's activity programs and the excitement of a nearby entertainment capital at day's end.

Theme parks, beach resorts and big cities are great vacation spots, but why not really enjoy nature for a change? Missouri has wonderful entertainment options that don’t involve manmade thrill rides and water slides. Instead, the state invites visitors to step outside and see the beauty that surrounds us but is often overlooked.

In Ridgedale, Missouri, about 60 miles south of the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport, you’ll find Big Cedar Lodge (417/335-2777; in the beautiful Ozark Mountains along Table Rock Lake. Big Cedar Lodge offers not only a place to rest your head, but every outdoor activity you can dream of. From fishing to golfing, from shopping to biking, you’ll never get bored when you’re at this nature’s paradise.

A few members of my family and I, including my 17- and 19-year-old brothers, have left our home in Louisiana to visit Big Cedar three times, and it keeps us coming back for more.

Family Lodging

Guests can choose from a variety of rooms in three different lodges, a pine cottage or a log cabin (visit BigCedar.com for a 360-degree tour of the lobby, the Falls Lodge and one of the private log cabins). Falls Lodge, for example, is made of stone and timber, and has wildlife mounts, wood furniture and stained glass windows inside. The lodge rooms include a fireplace, Jacuzzi and a spectacular view of Table Rock Lake. The most affordable family rooms are in the Valley View Lodge; each has two queen beds and a full bath, with rates starting as low as $79/N. Some are equipped with kitchenettes while others offer relaxing Jacuzzi baths. At all facilities, baby cribs or rollaways are available upon request; families needing wheelchair-accessible rooms should book cabins.

On my most recent trip to Big Cedar, my family and I stayed in one of the private log cabins. This cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, two large bathrooms and a great view of the Lake. The refrigerator was stocked with complimentary sodas and there was even a complimentary snack basket on our dinner table when we first arrived. On each day of our stay, complimentary gingerbread cookies were brought to our cabin. My family also enjoyed free movie rentals and van service around the resort each day. 

Dining and Family Facilities

There are many delicious dining options available at Big Cedar, but I personally recommend the Devil’s Pool Restaurant, fittingly located near the main Big Cedar swimming pool called Devil’s Pool (the area also includes a hot tub, fitness room, and an opportunity to feed the fish in the nearby lake). A breakfast buffet is offered here at $6.95 for children 12 and under and $11.95 for all others. If you want a great view of the golf course and delicious steak or pasta, the Top of the Rock Restaurant won’t let you down.  

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Located 16 miles from Big Cedar Lodge, Dogwood Canyon is part of the Big Cedar and Bass Pro Shop family. A visit here in summer is a must; you can walk, kayak, bike or take a guided tour through this 10,000-acre park that includes striking waterfalls and wildlife sightings. From late May until early September each year, guided 90-minute kayak tours are offered. Year round, bike rentals are available on a first come, first serve basis (kiddie carts are also available). If simply walking is more your style (stroller rentals are available for $5/day), then take a stroll around the six-mile park path; a printed guide of the history of the Park and its sights will accompany you. My family and I took the Wildlife Tour, and I definitely recommend the experience. This guided, two-hour tram tour takes you across the Arkansas border and also allows you to get face-to-face with bison, elk and other animals. The tour guide stops randomly to allow passengers to take pictures of the beautiful animals and waterfalls, and gives children the opportunity to throw fish food into a stream and watch the fish go into a feeding frenzy. This tour is available from early March to the end of November. 

There are many learning programs for children. Those over 12 years can enjoy one-hour horseback rides on the Dogwood property, while children 3-11 can experience 15-minute rides (Memorial day through Labor Day). 

Children 12 and older can take advantage of 90-minute fly-fishing clinics and learn about fly-fishing terminology, equipment and technique while gaining hands-on experience. Seasoned fisherman or beginners can take a guided Trophy Trout Fishing trip or fish independently in a Dogwood stream that is periodically stocked. My family and I have a theory that the Dogwood fish must be very well fed by the owners because the fish would swim right up to our lines, stare at our bait and then look away. Those of us who lost our patience and retired our rods left empty handed, but my dad wouldn’t give up, and he ended up supplying our dinner for the night.

Ask about the Adventure Pass that offers great value for a combination of activities at Dogwood Canyon (417/779-5983). 

Wintertime at Big Cedar

In years past, trams stop running in Dogwood Canyon and horseback riding was reduced to Saturdays only by late November. However, the Top of the Rock restaurant and golf course remain open (with the exception of a few snow days), a heated pool is available, and the marina stays open along with year-round fishing. In January and February, Dogwood Canyon shuts down, but there are still plenty of things to do at Big Cedar. 

Although spending winter days here may seem like you’re missing out on some of the warm, summer fun, there are actually many bonuses to booking a trip around Christmas. According to a resort representative, some of Big Cedar’s best lodging rates are offered from mid-December to just before the Christmas holidays and include these winter attractions: 

• Nov/Dec: The Holiday Wagon Light Tour runs every 30 minutes around the resort to look at the Christmas lights. The wagon takes you to a campfire where marshmallows are roasted and hot chocolate is served.

• Thanksgiving to Christmas: Let your children pretend they live in the North Pole by interacting with Santa Clause and his elves. Elf Tuck-Ins are offered; an elf will come to your room and read a bedtime story to your child. December: Every Saturday, breakfast with Santa at the Worman House restaurant.

• December: At Dogwood Canyon, you can experience Christmas in the Canyon where children can take a picture with Santa and his sleigh. For $5, children can go into Santa’s Workshop and pick out a toy. 

• Christmas Eve: One of Big Cedar’s most popular offers. Upon request, Santa will come to your room to personally deliver a gift for your child.