The Ozark Mountains, or Ozarks for short, are not actually mountains, but a high plateau, which extends mainly over the south of Missouri and the northern half of Arkansas. Streamers reach into Oklahoma and Kansas. The region is more than 120,000 km² in size and includes several rivers, streams, lakes and forests. The Ozarks offer a high recreational value, which is often used by tourists. In addition, the area plays an important role in the cultures and traditions of this region, as can be seen in numerous small towns in the Ozarks. Others have become destinations of their own, including Branson, Missouri, which is known nationwide for its extensive entertainment offerings.
The closest, easily accessible airports are those of Little Rock, Kansas City and especially St. Louis. From there, Interstate I-44 runs southwest to Tulsa and Oklahoma City, providing a quick way to the Ozark Mountains. Depending on which destination you want to drive, it takes about three hours to get to the heart of the Ozarks. Accommodation is available in numerous areas of the vast area, with a particularly wide selection around the Lake of the Ozarks in western Missouri.
The Ozark Mountains are home to the Buffalo National River, the national forests of Mark Twain and Ozark-St. Francis and several wilderness areas several nationally protected sections, which are particularly suitable for excursions for hiking, walking, cycling or horseback riding. These recreational opportunities are at the heart of the region’s tourist offer, which lives off a good deal of visitors’ business. Other industries of importance are mining – zinc, lead and iron are the main products -, agriculture and forestry. Many historic sawmills, sometimes driven by water wheels, are now among the sights. Even the largest company in the world, in terms of turnover and employee numbers, is based in the Ozarks: Walmart was founded in Rogers, Arkansas and today has its headquarters in Bentonville .
Alice Walton, daughter of one of the founders of Walmart, gave Bentonville an art museum in 2011, which has since become one of the region’s major attractions. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, closed on Tuesdays) is one of the best art collections in the country, with free entry. The exhibition features works by US artists from all eras, including works by Lichtenstein, Hopper, Morse and Warhol.
The section of the Ozarks in northern Arkansas is also known as the Boston Mountains. Here are some peaks with heights between 750 and 800 meters as well as the somewhat lower Sam’s Throne (reachable via the village of Mount Judea), which is extremely popular with rock climbers. There are several rivers on the mountains, including the Kings River, which by law must remain in its natural state and the Buffalo River, also popular for its naturalness. Lakes such as Lake Fort Smith, surrounded by a state park with picnic and camping facilities, or mountain bike trails such as Devil’s Den State Park near West Fork provide plenty of outdoor options. Not far away is the small town of Harrison with some well-preserved historic buildings and the Buffalo National River Administration headquarters. Just outside the village are the Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, with a height of almost 64 meters one of the highest waterfalls on the East Coast. Several short trails lead to the waterfalls, which in summer however often lead very little water. Every year in Harrison, a hot air balloon race takes place in September. The largest city in the Arkansas part of the Ozarks is Fayetteville, home to nearly 79,000 people and the University of Arkansas, whose football team regularly attracts thousands of visitors to the city. Fayetteville has several historic buildings, the theater and entertainment district on Dickson Street and the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. Further south is Russellville, the small town closest to the Ozark National Forest. The city is adjacent to the 160 km² Lake Dardanelle, which can be used by all kinds of boats and on whose shores are numerous facilities such as campers. The National Forest, 1908 by Pres >Ozark Highlands Trail, which leads into the most interesting sections of the area.
In the section of the Ozarks in the state of Oklahoma, the city of Tahlequah, originally founded in 1839 as the capital of the Cherokee Nation, is home to around 16,000 inhabitants. A popular destination in this section is the Grand Lake near the village of Grove. The lake was created by damming the Grand River for the purpose of generating water energy for the Cherokee. The almost 1600 meter long Pensacola Dam was completed in 1940. The lake is a well-known fishing area and is also used by sailors.
However, in terms of visitor numbers, the section of the Ozark Mountains, north of the center of the state of Missouri, is even more popular, especially around the Lake of the Ozarks, where around 5 million visitors are welcomed each year. This 220 km² and up to 40 meters deep lake was created in 1931 with completion of the Bagnell Dam, which dammed the Osage River. There are many tourist facilities around the lake, including thousands of cottages, several golf courses and, above all, a whole series of state parks, with opportunities for camping, walking, picnicking and sanitation. In the southeast of Missouri is the St. Francois Mountains, the center of mining in the Ozarks and several other state parks. The area here is relatively mountainous, including the 540-meter high Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest natural point in the state. Here there is a paved hiking trail to the summit and a wilderness area, which is very popular with hikers and nature lovers. Very close to the mountain is the small town of Ironton, home to a beautiful historic County Courthouse. This serves as the backdrop for the bi-annual Mountain Music Festival, which gives an excellent impression of the region’s traditional music. The section of the Black River that flows through this area is a popular area for canoeists and rafters, and there are several outfitters in the towns along the river.
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