The Ozarks are a fantastic destination for families to enjoy a summer vacation, but they also offer surprising winter activities for those willing to explore. Located in the central part of the US, this region covers most of southern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas. With rolling mountains and hills covered by deep, vibrant forests and fast-moving rivers, many towns in the Ozarks have an ambiance that celebrates the mountain way of life. The residents welcome travelers with a warm hospitality that reflects their deep reverence for family and faith.
Whether hiking through a snow-covered forest, exploring the beauty of an underground cave, or enjoying the harmony of 1,000 twinkling Christmas lights, the small towns offer the ideal place for a weekend getaway or romantic escape. For travelers willing to slow down, take in the sights, and leave the stresses of daily life behind, these are the best towns to experience the unique treasures of wintertime in the Ozarks.
Osage Beach, Missouri
This mid-Missouri town swells with tourists during the summer but still has plenty to offer when the temperatures drop. The area has three stunning caves open year-round for tours, including Bridal Cave, which stays at a toasty 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Cave tours happen daily, leading visitors along concrete paths through room after room of incredible mineral deposits and staggering columns. Families will love squeezing through tight spaces or standing over the crystal-blue cave lake. Nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park is filled with popular hiking trails for adventurers who want fresh air and offers pristine views.
While Missouri winters can be pretty cold, with an average of 100 days of below 32 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, there is still plenty of sun, and fishermen often venture out onto the water in January and February. Though it might surprise you, these months can be the best time to catch many fish like crappies and bass. If you need an excellent family activity, try the outdoor rink at the Ice at Old Kinderhook. Many hotels offer lower rates during the winter, like the Margaritaville Resort, a family fun-filled accommodation with an indoor waterpark to keep the kids occupied.
The winter festivities in Branson center around Silver Dollar City's Christmas celebration. During the winter, the amusement park opens for the perfect family getaway, featuring 6.5 million twinkling lights, over 40 productions, and a Christmas parade led by Rudolph himself. Sip on a cup of hot chocolate as you watch blacksmiths, potters, and glass blowers create their crafts, or take in a Broadway-style theater production of Dicken's Christmas Carol.
While in town, the Titanic Museum is a popular attraction filled with artifacts and displays detailing the tragic voyage of the world's most famous oceanliner. Outdoor lovers will enjoy trout fishing on Lake Taneycomo or bass fishing on Table Rock Lake. The best place to stay is in the Big Cedar Lodge, which has many activities, including roasting smores over an open campfire on the lawn.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This popular Arkansas destination has Victorian architecture, quirky boutiques, and many historic sites. Most visitors travel to Eureka Springs to enjoy Great Passion Play during the summer, but with the mineral hot springs flowing nearby, the small town is also a winter destination. Beaver Lake is an excellent bald eagle habitat, as many migrating eagles make their way south during the fall and winter months. With the area's many hiking and biking trails, it is not unusual to find elk or deer roaming through the lush forest.
Try Miner's Rock Trail or hike to Tea Kettle Falls for challenging hikes that will lead you deep into the woods. If you arrive on the third weekend of January, the Ozark Mountain Music Festival fills the town with high-quality acts and down-home folk music. Be sure to stay at the iconic Crescent Hotel for excellent accommodations and a royal spa treatment.
Located in the heart of Missouri wine country, this quaint small town offers several romantic bed and breakfasts perfect for a weekend escape. Up, Up, and Away is a modern B&B, while The Inn at Hermannhoff is also one of the best, combining Old World elegance with gracious hospitality and upscale amenities. Although the harvest season for grapes is late summer into fall, most wineries in the area are open year-round, offering daily wine tastings.
Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the Grand Bluffs Conservation Area, which features spacious and scenic views of the Missouri River Valley. During the snowy season, the numerous trails offer excellent cross-country skiing opportunities.
Bella Vista, Arkansas
Bella Vista sits just south of the Missouri state line and is a golfer lover's paradise. The town has six eighteen-hole courses managed by the local POA and open year-round. These courses are designed to blend in with the natural landscape and offer a variety of challenges, such as doglegs, well-maintained fairways, and severe water hazards.
With temperatures hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, winters are pretty mild, so it's not unusual to see golfers practicing even when the temperatures dip. Plenty of trails surround the town, perfect for hiking and mountain biking. Adventurers should try the new Little Sugar trail system, which offers almost 50 miles of wilderness trails designed for mountain bikers and pedestrians. If you decide to stay in Bella Vista, Cedar Lodge is a lovely and rustic lakefront retreat filled with antiques and collectibles.
The tiny Arkansas town of Jasper sits right on the Little Buffalo River, and during the summer months, it is a haven for many outdoor activities like canoeing and tubing. While the winter season won't allow for a leisurely float, there are still trails to explore through the Ozark National Forest. One of the most popular is Round Top Trail, which is relatively easy, at only 3.5 miles, but offers an excellent chance for families to experience the outdoors. The Buffalo River Trail leads to Triple Falls and is a more strenuous hike to one of the prettiest sights in the Ozarks. (While you can drive down the rocky road to get near the falls, most hikers opt for a longer hike starting at Kyles Landing).
Fishing is an excellent way to spend an afternoon in the Buffalo National River Park, where trout can be found in the cold waters. Try Ozark Mountain Cabins for a rustic, intimate retreat perfect for a family getaway.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs, Arkansas, celebrates its rich history as a place for healing and relaxation. The thermal mineral springs have enticed travelers for hundreds of years, and today, the ornate bathhouses in the historic downtown district (aka Bathhouse Row) are still very appealing. Several spas are open year-round if you wish to soak away your troubles.
Stay in the iconic Hotel Arlington or Hotel Hale for a restful experience. (The latter hotel has only nine luxury suites, each equipped with soaking tubs that use the thermal waters). While in the area, hike through Hot Springs National Park, with its many trails leading up to the mountains surrounding the town. The Goat Rock Trail is a healthy climb offering scenic views.
Mountain Home, Arkansas
This charming community in the Ozark region is among the rare places that experience an average of 9 inches of snowfall yearly, with some years even creeping into the double digits. So, this is the perfect spot for cross-country skiing when it snows. The Pigeon Creek Trail system and David's Trail are great options for outdoor enthusiasts as they follow along the shores of Lake Norfolk. If you're visiting in January, you can sign up for the endurance race on David's Trail that features both a half marathon and a full marathon race, testing the limits of even the best cross-country runners.
Bull Shoals Lake is just west of the town, and it's widely known among anglers that early winter is the ideal time to catch bass in its shallow rocky points. Walleye and crappie are also abundant here. For a comfortable stay, Mountain Memories B & B is the best option for the weekend, boasting stunning lake views.
Eminence, Missouri, is a serene town in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest, about 150 miles southwest of St. Louis. While the town bustles with life during summer, the colder months offer a peaceful climate perfect for unwinding away from the crowds. Betty Lea Lodge is a well-known getaway that offers discounted rates during the off-season.
Families can hike or mountain bike through the Mark Twain National Forest on 32 miles of trails. As you hike, watch for the herds of wild horses that roam the area, but remember to maintain a safe distance as they are untamed. If you prefer horseback riding, Coldwater Ranch offers deluxe cabins, campsites, and wilderness trail rides throughout the year, even during the off-season.
The small towns in the Ozark region provide a peaceful atmosphere during winter, giving visitors a chance to experience the tranquility of the wilderness away from the crowds. The cooler months are the ideal time to enjoy the raw, natural landscape, observe wildlife, or simply relax next to a roaring fire. These towns offer a wide range of activities, including fishing, hiking, and cross-country skiing, making them the ideal getaway for families or couples looking to take a break from their daily routines.