LAKE OF THE OZARKS — The last big weekend at Missouri’s largest water spot and the state’s second largest tourist destination takes place during the Labor Day holiday.

Eight million visitors travel to the Branson area every year, which includes two lakes along with the city and strip. Lake of the Ozarks has 4.5 million to 5 million visitors each year, largely drawn to its waterways, and much of it between Memorial Day weekend in late May and Labor Day in early September.

On any given weekend during the summer months, 100,000 people flock to the lake in central Missouri from the metro areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, and as far away as Chicago and Dallas.

Lake of the Ozarks is different from most other large inland bodies of water in that it’s privately owned and not subject the same regulation and government oversight of publicly held lakes. Table Rock Lake in Branson, for example, is publicly owned and under the supervision of the Army Corp of Engineers.

While Table Rock is visually striking like Lake of the Ozarks with lush tree filled hills as a backdrop, it has far less private business along its shoreline.

Tim Jacobsen with Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau says boaters are drawn to commercial developments on Lake of the Ozarks. 

“We’ve got over 60 waterfront establishments, as far as restaurants go, that the boaters visit,” said Jacobsen.  “There’s just more development on our lake than you’ll find on lakes that are governed by the Corp of Engineers.”

Lake of the Ozarks is among the busiest, if not the busiest lake in the U.S. for boat traffic, with more than 40,000 docks along its 11,500 miles of shoreline. Jacobsen says the large number of boats and personal watercraft on the water translates to record boat sales.

“There are more sold here on Lake of the Ozarks than anywhere in the world,” Jacobsen said.  “And that’s typical with most all of the boat brands.  Whether its Formula, Fountain, Cigarette, Scarab, Sea Ray, all of those brands, there are more of them sold here at Lake of the Ozarks than anywhere in the world.”

High-end performance and racing boat businesses have also found a home at the central Missouri lake. A quick glance at Performance Boats’ website brings photos of a couple Cigarette vessels selling for $700,000. Jacobsen says Performance is joined by a number of other shops that modify and sell high-performance boats.  He said that after winning a major international competition in Key West, Florida two years in a row, Performance Boats ships six out of ten boats it sells to buyers around the world.

At the same marina where Performance Boats is located is a large restaurant/bar complex under the same ownership known as Redhead Lakeside Grill. It is part of a growing number of establishments on the lake that offers poolside restaurant and bar service.

Jacobsen notes a couple of restaurants have incorporated such options in recent years but says full-service food and beverage swimming pools have multiplied rapidly in the last 18 months.  

“What’s happening is a lot of individuals that used to go out and cove out at particular parts of the lake, including Party Cove, are now going to these waterfront establishments that have food and beverage service and entertainment and spending the day there at those establishments,” said Jacobsen.

Mark Barrett owns three eating establishments at Lake of the Ozarks, including Dog Days Bar and Grill, which has two pools with restaurant and bar service. He says the option allows more than just boaters to experience the lakeside atmosphere.

“You feel like if you go to the lake you don’t have to have a boat anymore,” said Barrett.  “You can be lakeside and at the pool. People come there by boat, but if you come by car you’re still going to have fun and feel like you’re part of what’s going on at the lake.”  Barrett expects roughly 2,500 people a day to pass through Dog Days this weekend.

He also owns Shorty Pants Marina and Wobbly Boots Roadhouse.  He says his lakeside establishments, Dog Days and Shorty Pants, operate seasonally from early March into October, as do most of the restaurant/bars located on the water.  Wobbly Boots Roadhouse, a barbeque restaurant off the water in Osage Beach, is open year-round.

Barrett, who grew up in the area, says the lake has gone through a massive demographic evolution.  He says twenty years ago, families comprised 75% of visitors while they now only account for 25%.

“You have a lot of individuals that are coming down here that couples, and we’ve had a large influx of second homes being bought as future retirement homes,” Barrett said.  “So our demographics are a little higher than some of the other lake areas.”

Barrett noted that many absentee homeowners will rent out their houses over the summer months, often for short stays.  He say’s it’s difficult to get those people to pay the lodging tax that’s levied on hotel overnight stays.  Lake of the Ozarks has 5,000 hotel rooms and 1,700 campsites.  The lodging tax on the lake in 3 percent in Camden and Morgan counties and 5 percent in Miller County.

A novel attraction during the Labor Day weekend will take place at the Ozarks Amphitheater in Camdenton, where the second season of the Netflix series “Ozarks” will be screened.  Free binge watching of the show’s 10 one-hour episodes that are based on the area will start at 12 p.m. Sunday and run well after 10 p.m.

The theater’s Mary Kay Von Brendel says the acoustics and viewing, even in the daytime will be impressive.

“The luminescence per square inch is state of the art,” said Von Brendel.  “We actually had it here for a concert before, and it is absolutely brilliant, even in the day.”

Ozarks Amphitheater was built in 1993 as a large concert venue. Von Brendel says it has never realized its potential with poorly funded ownership. She said at one time it was close to being bulldozed over to make way for a subdivision.

Weather at Lake of the Ozarks this weekend is forecast to be mostly sunny Saturday, Sunday and Monday with highs in the upper ’80s to lower ’90s. There’s a 30 percent chance of rain Sunday afternoon.