What says “school’s out” more than plying mirrorlike waters in a canoe, splaying out on the shore with a cold drink and a good book or rounding up the whole gang to go waterskiing? In celebration of the season, we turn the spotlight on three of the country’s most beloved retreats—Branson’s Table Rock Lake, the Great Salt Lake, in Utah, and Florida’s freshwater Lake Okeechobee—where fun is yours for the having, both on the water and on shore.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
Branson, Missouri, is among the more popular vacation destinations in the country for families, and the fact that it sits adjacent to Table Rock Lake—formed in 1959 after the damming of the White River—is a major reason why. “There’s nothing like heading out for a day of fun in the sun with friends on our lake with your only big decision being what cove to anchor in,” gushes native Rachel Wood, an executive at Branson Airport, who recommends the pristine inlets of Spring Branch, Mill Creek and Clevenger Cove along the lake’s 857 miles of shoreline.
The 200-foot-deep reservoir is chockablock with all manner of bass, including Kentucky spotted bass and white bass; consider booking a guided fishing trip with captain John Sappington of Fishing Guide Branson (417-434-2823; four-hour excursions, from $275 for up to two people), who guarantees you’ll catch a fish (he himself has netted more than $750,000 from fishing tournaments). Or hop aboard the 48-foot catamaran Spirit of America (888-993-2628; two-hour cruises, $40 a person; children 4 and under, free) for a two-hour Everyone-for-a-Swim Cruise, which departs from a marina at the oak- and hickory-tree-shrouded Table Rock State Park. Captain Jack will ferry you to a deep cove and set up an inflated slide or trampoline for you to play on adjacent to the catamaran. You can also opt to rent a canoe, paddleboard, pontoon or boat and water skis right there at the park’s marina.
No trip to Branson is complete without a slice or two of strawberry rhubarb cobbler from the family-owned Sugar Leaf Bakery (2800 W. 76 Country Blvd., Suite 211; 417-336-6618; slice of cobbler, $4*), which is just a breezy 10-minute drive from the lake’s Moonshine Beach. Don’t leave the area without stopping at the Top of the Rock Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail (150 Top of the Rock Rd.; 800-225-6343; adults, $25; children 4–11, $13; children 3 and under, free), a two-and-a-half-mile-long limestone cavern that includes a bar for the grown-ups that you reach by riding a mining-style elevator.
Great Salt Lake, Utah
At just about 1,700 square miles, Utah’s Great Salt Lake lives up to its moniker—it’s the largest lake west of the Mississippi River. And thanks to minerals in its four tributary rivers, it’s two to nine times saltier than the sea, depending on the day. The lake’s stunning beauty made it a prime canvas for land artist Robert Smithson, who in 1970 created his famous Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot-long coil of 6,000-plus tons of black basalt rock. In times of drought conditions, you can view the artwork, and in nondrought periods, it is often completely submerged. Now owned by the New York City–based Dia Art Foundation, Spiral Jetty is a 2.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City—entirely worth the journey for the work’s singularity.
Another beloved Great Salt Lake activity: hiking in Antelope Island State Park, which you can typically drive to since the island becomes a peninsula when water levels are low. “To see the island from its 6,596-foot peak—while watching for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bison and bighorn sheep—take the 3.2-mile Frary Peak Trail,” advises park curator Clay Shelley. “From this vantage point you can see a 360-degree vista of the island and the surrounding lake.” Another Shelley favorite on Antelope Island: the 0.4-mile Buffalo Point Trail. “Benches make it family-friendly, and it’s perfect for an evening hike, with spectacular views of the lake’s famous sunsets.” Along the way you can take a dip at the park’s Bridger Bay Beach, known for saline content so high that you’ll float like a buoy. Afterward, reward yourself with a detour to Park City—a town so picturesque that Robert Redford chose it to host his wintertime Sundance Film Festival—and dinner at Tupelo (508 Main St., Park City; 435-615-7700; dinner for two, $80). Opened by a Jean-Georges Vongerichten alum, the restaurant serves excellent and filling fare like local-elk Bolognese with house-made ricotta.
Lake Okeechobee, Florida
It’s little wonder that Lake Okeechobee is nicknamed the Big O—its 750 square miles make it among the largest freshwater lakes in the nation. Start your visit by dipping your toes into the area’s indigenous history at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (34725 W. Boundary Rd., Clewiston; 877-902-1113; adults, $10; children 4 and under, free), a Smithsonian affiliate filled with 180,000 artifacts where you’ll see everything from mannequins made from life casts of Seminole tribal members to live basketmaking. “You never know what you’ll spot on our mile-long boardwalk through the cypress trees,” says Carrie Dilley, visitor-services and development manager for the museum. “You may see the alligator that hangs out in our front pond, or even a rarely sighted Florida panther, which we capture on our wildlife camera.”
Then consider heading to the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail for a hike, much of it atop the 35-foot-high Herbert Hoover Dike. Dive into the lake—figuratively speaking—with an airboat ride led by biologist and Coast Guard–licensed captain Jason Williams of Florida Airboat Charters (863-697-1084; one-hour rides, $40 a person; children 12–17, $30; children 4–11, $20); each hour-long charter can be tailored to your Okeechobee ambitions, whether that’s to sail into the moonlight or look for manatees up close. Round out an outdoorsy day with a visit to the Flagler Museum (1 Whitehall Way; 561-655-2833; adults, $18; children 13–17, $10; children 6–12, $3), in nearby Palm Beach. The 1902 Gilded Age manse is an American version of Downton Abbey sprung to life, complete with a lush atrium holding a replica of a Venus fountain from Florence, Italy.
RCI® affiliated resorts near the lakes include:
Balconies and patios afford guests a private peek at the pretty Ozark Mountains. 2380 E. Hwy. 76, Branson, MO
Member Review: “Very quiet and very beautiful.”
Pack a swimsuit: There’s an indoor pool, an outdoor pool and a wading pool on-site, as well as three lakes nearby. 700 Blue Meadows Rd., Branson, MO
Member Review: “This was one of our favorite vacations! We loved the resort.”
Amid 146 wooded acres, this property is a peaceful refuge within reach of Branson’s attractions. 2201 Roark Valley Rd., Branson, MO
Member Review: “I would definitely stay there again!”
Outdoor lovers can go hiking, bird-watching and mountain biking and even ride horses. 146 Ozark Mountain Resort Dr., Kimberling City, MO
Member Review: “Pleasant, helpful staff.”
Being healthy is a blast when the on-site spa boasts a yoga center, steam room, fitness center, heated pool and hot tub. 9320 Cliff Lodge Dr., Snowbird, UT
Member Review: “The rooftop pool and hot tub are fabulous.“
A private beach means less competition for the sun and sand. 181 Ocean Ave., Palm Beach Shores, FL
Member Review: “Everything you could want—pool, spa, dining, dancing—is on-site.”
You can test your skills at horseshoes, shuffleboard, basketball and tennis. 1201 Simpson Rd., Kissimmee, FL
Member Review: “Quiet, yet close to downtown.”
Great for those who want to do it all. The theme parks, shops and restaurants are all nearby. 2975 Arabian Nights Blvd., Kissimmee, FL
Member Review: “The free shuttle is super convenient.”
Here, you can stay in your own private villa on a green 1,450-acre property. 8505 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy., Kissimmee, FL
Member Review: “Great amenities and lots of fun things to do.”
Plenty of quiet for those seeking quiet—and a video arcade, movie theater, clubhouse and pool for those who aren’t. 7751 Black Lake Rd., Kissimmee, FL
Member Review: “The staff are incredibly friendly and astutely helpful!”
Pets are welcome so no member of the family gets left behind. 7503 Atlantis Way, Kissimmee, FL
Member Review: “Spacious and well-maintained pool area.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Other vacation options near some of the lakes include:
Caribe Cove Resort
Within a short drive to the theme parks, yet secluded enough that you can unwind after a day of thrills. 9000 Treasure Trove Lane, Kissimmee, FL; 866-246-6290; wyndhamvacationrentals.com; doubles from $119 a night
Black Bear Lodge
Knotted-wood interiors and fireplaces made from river rocks give units a rustic-chic vibe. 7447 Royal St., Park City, UT; 866-910-7407; wyndhamvacationrentals.com; doubles from $199 a night in summer
Crystal Cove B&B
Seven log-cabin suites with fireplaces and Jacuzzis. A private boat dock on the lake is a half mile away. 635 Compton Ridge Rd., Branson, MO; 888-699-0444; crystalcovebranson.com; doubles from $139 a night, including breakfast
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Summer 2018