Six Great Heartland Boating Lakes – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Six Great Heartland Boating Lakes

Perhaps the most compelling reason to cruise America’s inland rivers is the chance to experience our country — its raw beauty, charming towns and gracious people — at your own pace, under your own power. But have you considered what you’re missing by sticking to the waterways? The U.S. also is home to thousands of amazing lakes, each with its own sights to share and stories to tell. Here are six such water bodies that are worth a side trip during your travels, and what you need to know to enjoy them.

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Dropped in the middle of the Ozark Mountains outside entertainment boomtown Branson, this forest-lined reservoir is surrounded by more than 100 resorts as well as ample campsites. Note: Many of the marinas here shut down in winter.

Size: 43,000 surface acres of water; 750 miles shoreline

Location: In southwestern Missouri a short drive from Branson and the more peaceful town of Kimberling City; 175 miles from Jefferson City on the Missouri River; 253 miles from St. Louis

Fishing: Nationally renowned for largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and white bass; crappie and bluegill; catfish

Boating Season: Mid-May through mid-October

Weather: Average high temperature is 68 degrees in spring; 88 degrees in summer; 71 degrees in fall; 47 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities
Marinas include Baxter Boat Dock, Big M Marina, Bent Hook Marina, Campbell Point Marina, Cape Fair Marina, Eagle Rock Marina, Hideaway Marina, Indian Point Marina, King River Marina, MarineMax Kimberling City, Port of Kimberling Marina & Resort, Rock Lane Resort & Marina, Table Rock Lake Pontoon Rentals and State Park Marina; 24 boat ramps are located around the lake

Activities: Branson is a prime-time tourist draw with dozens of live shows, museums and an award-winning theme park, plus shopping galore and a wide range of dining options; outdoor activities include championship golf courses, public caverns and caves, great hiking/biking trails and wildlife refuges; take a ride on a 48-passenger sailing catamaran or on the Showboat Branson Belle paddlewheeler

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Over 200 islands, crystal-clear water and no shoreline homes make this reservoir within the Ouachita National Forest a paradise for boaters, divers and nature lovers alike. It’s one of five sparkling selections in the Arkansas Diamond Lakes region.

Size: 40,000 surface acres of water; 690 miles shoreline

Location: Just 13 miles from Hot Springs, famous for its thermal-heated mineral waters and New South ambiance; 85 miles from Little Rock on the Arkansas River; 216 miles from Memphis

Fishing: All kinds of bass and catfish, plus crappie, bream and walleye; spearfishing season is from June 15 to March 15

Boating Season: April through October-November

Weather: Average high temperature is 73 degrees in spring; 92 degrees in summer; 75 degrees in fall; 54 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities: Marinas include Brady Mountain Resort & Marina, Crystal Springs Resort, Echo Canyon Resort & Marina, Lake Ouachita State Park, Lake Ouachita Shores & Resort, Little Fir Landing, Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa, North Shores Resort & Marina, Shangri La Resort and Spillway Resort & Marina; 18 boat ramps are located around the lake

Activities: A 16-mile Geo-Float Trail guides boaters around Lake Ouachita, highlighting geological formations unique to the area, including one of the world’s largest crystal veins; camping, hiking and fishing among the uninhabited islands and rugged shoreline are popular, and nearby Hot Springs is Arkansas’ leading tourist destination, with a revitalized downtown featuring historic Bath House Row


One of the most popular recreation sites in north-central Tennessee, this mid-size reservoir receives millions of visitors a year who come for the great boating, fishing and camping, along with convenient access to neighboring “Music City.”

Size: 14,000 surface acres of water; 265 miles shoreline

Location: Less than 15 minutes from downtown Nashville; other nearby river cities include Chattanooga (133 miles), Louisville (196 miles) and Memphis (212 miles)

Fishing: Largemouth bass, striped bass, white bass, smallmouth bass, crappie and bluegill are all abundant on the lake

Boating Season: Mid-May through mid-October

Weather: Average high temperature is 70 degrees in spring; 88 degrees in summer; 71 degrees in fall; 50 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities: Marinas include Elm Hill Marina, Fate Sanders Marina, Four Corners Marina, Hamilton Creek Sailboat Marina and Nashville Shores Marina; nine public boat ramps are located around the lake, with many more in the recreation areas and campgrounds here

Activities: Nashville will not disappoint country music fans, and the city also has a full menu of attractions, from inviting museums, galleries and performing arts institutions to vibrant shopping and cuisine; Percy Priest’s Nashville Shores offers a sprawling waterpark, treetop adventure park, mini golf, boat and Jet Ski rentals, and lake-view cabins; Party Cove is located on the east side of the lake near Long Hunter State Park

Less a remote environment and more of a social one, this reservoir boasts luxury lodging, world-class golf courses and an array of events throughout the year, including fishing tournaments, fireworks displays and musical performances.

Size: 44,000 surface acres of water; 750 miles shoreline

Location: In central Alabama a short drive from Alexander City; 50 miles from Montgomery on the Alabama River; 146 miles from Demopolis at the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers

Fishing: Not as fertile as some lakes; sought-after species include bass, black crappie, catfish, bluegill and sunfish

Boating Season: March through November

Weather: Average high temperature is 75 degrees in spring; 89 degrees in summer; 76 degrees in fall; 57 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities: Marinas include Anchor Bay Marina, Bay Pines Marina, Blue Creek Marina, Chuck’s Marina, Harbor Pointe Marina, Kowalinga Marina, Lakeside Marina, Real Island Marina, The Ridge Marina, River North Marina, Smith’s Marina, Wind Creek State Park Marina; 20 boat ramps are located around the lake

Activities: Four golf courses, three state parks, and multiple hiking and horseback riding trails offer opportunities for shore leave, or visit Chimney Rock and Acapulco Rock, locally famous as places to raft up and watch people climb 60 feet to jump into the water; also home to the Lake Martin Amphitheater and annual affairs such as the July 4th Boat Parade and Alexander City Jazz Fest

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Once a relatively secluded area, this serpentine reservoir on the Colorado River has risen as a cozy haven of waterfront communities with restaurants, renowned golf courses, and fabulous entertainment and recreation options.

Size: 18,930 surface acres of water; 270 miles shoreline

Location: In central Texas, 20 miles west of the eclectic burg of Austin; 176 miles from Houston and 236 miles from Corpus Christi, both providing access to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

Fishing: Predominant fish species include the rare Guadalupe bass, as well as largemouth, white and striped bass; blue, channel and flathead catfish; sunfish

Boating Season: Year-round

Weather: Average high temperature is 79 degrees in spring; 94 degrees in summer; 89 degrees in fall; 64 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities: Marinas include Briarcliff Marina, Commanders Point Marina, Crosswater Yacht Club, Cypress Creek Marina, Emerald Point Marina, Hurst Harbor Marina, Highland Lakes Marina, Lake Travis Marina, Lakeway Marina, Marshall Ford Marina, NorthShore Marina at the Hollows, Paradise Cove Marina, Riviera Marina, Sail & Ski Center, Sandy Creek Yacht Club & Marina, Siesta Shores Marina, South Shore Marina, VIP Marina, West Beach Marina; 13 public boat ramps are located around the lake

Activities: The rolling green shoreline offers nature trails, camping, zip lining and limestone cliffs with breathtaking vistas; Mansfield Dam Park features an underwater trail that scuba divers can follow to sunken boats and other sites; take in a sunset at The Oasis, the largest outdoor restaurant in Texas, built 450 feet over the water; the town of Bee Cave has upscale shopping and an amphitheater for live music

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Consisting of interconnected East and West Okoboji, this glacier-carved water body is known for its beautiful shade of blue and its standing as the centerpiece of the Iowa Great Lakes. Boating here is a seasonal affair, but other year-round activities exist.

Size: 5,682 surface acres of water; 37 miles shoreline

Location: Northwest corner of Iowa; 110 miles from Sioux City on the Missouri River; 207 miles from Minneapolis and 302 miles from Dubuque on the Mississippi

Fishing: Noted for such game fish as walleye, northern pike, muskellunge (muskie), largemouth and smallmouth bass, perch, crappie and bluegill

Boating Season: Memorial Day through Labor Day

Weather: Average high temperature is 56 degrees in spring; 81 degrees in summer; 58 degrees in fall; 26 degrees in winter

Boat Amenities: Marinas include Mau Marine, Oak Hill Marina, Okoboji Boat Works and Parks Marina; nine boat ramps are located around the lake

Activities: From the full beach and tiki hut-styled Barefoot Bar with live music and cold drinks, to the old-fashioned Central Emporium shopping mall, to more cerebral pursuits like the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum and the Pearson Lakes Art Center, there’s something for every interest; no trip here would be complete without a visit to historic Arnold’s Park Amusement Park, featuring classic rides and games, and a ride on the Queen II excursion boat.

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