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Grand Central’s waterways

Maybe they’re not exactly known for their waterways, but the Grand Central states are scattered with lakes and crisscrossed by rivers. Visitors have plenty of opportunities to get on the water — or practically in it — by kayaking the Kaw, or they can cruise in luxury high above the Lake of the Ozarks on an 80-foot yacht. There are more opportunities to enjoy Grand Central waterfronts in Hannibal, Missouri; North Little Rock, Arkansas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

It may not be as “great” as the Great Lakes, but Lake of the Ozarks is pretty impressive when it comes to size. Formed when the Osage River was dammed in 1931, the reservoir has 1,150 miles of winding shoreline and 55,000 acres of surface area, making it one of Missouri’s most popular water playgrounds.

Because the lake is so large — the main arm on the Osage River is 92 miles long — there are several full-service marinas that offer boat rentals, private charters and fishing trips, said Lagina Fitzpatrick, director of group sales for Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau. Parasailing, kayaking and Jet Ski riding are all available at various marinas, and visitors can even try a Flyboard, which is a sort of water-propelled jet pack.

But the most popular on-the-water options for groups are the lake’s three cruise boats, each of which can hold 150 passengers. Cruises are available aboard the Tom Sawyer, an early-20th-century-style paddle-wheel boat; the Celebration, an 80-foot motor yacht; and Tropic Island Cruises, a 75-foot motor yacht.

All three boats offer various sightseeing cruises as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner cruises, Fitzpatrick said. Groups can also arrange for private charters.

Aboard its 36-passenger catamaran, Playin’ Hooky offers four-hour bar hop cruises that take guests to more than a dozen bars and restaurants along the lakeshore. Playin’ Hooky also offers water taxi and shuttle services.

People also flock to the lake twice a year for two high-speed powerboat races, “for viewing, not doing” purposes, Fitzpatrick said. The Lake of the Ozarks Offshore Super Series Boat Race takes place every June, and August marks the annual Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, which is going on its 26th year.


Hannibal, Missouri

Just as Huckleberry Finn wouldn’t exist without Mark Twain, Mark Twain wouldn’t exist without the boyhood influence of the Mississippi River in Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.

“Mark twain” was a term boatmen on the Mississippi River used to announce a water depth of 12 feet, which was deep enough for a steamboat to pass safely, and Clemens adopted the phrase as his pen name.

Today, the Mark Twain Riverboat, a replica paddle wheeler, cruises the Mississippi River from April to November, said Megan Rapp, assistant director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Riverboat Excursions Inc. offers one-hour sightseeing trips that showcase different points of interest that Twain mentions in his books, as well as evening dinner cruises complete with live music and dancing. Both options are available for large groups, or groups can privately charter the triple-deck riverboat.

At Glascock’s Landing, a two-acre riverfront park at the foot of Hill Street, visitors can watch the large passenger riverboats — the American Queen, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen — dock.

“If a group is coming in the summer, we always let them know if it’s going to be a day when one of the big boats is going to be in the docks,” Rapp said. “It makes a great photo opportunity; they’re just huge.”

Groups can also walk, hike and take in scenic views of the mighty Mississippi from the 465-acre, wooded Riverview Park overlooking the river. Buses should not try to get into the park because of the road’s sharp turns; but it’s not a problem because the Hannibal Trolley Co.’s sightseeing tour takes groups through the park, stopping at many statues and scenic overlooks along the way, Rapp said.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.