The Lake of the Ozarks is located within the Ozark Mountains with the dam (Bagnell Dam) lying at an elevation of 659 feet . It lies in central Missouri on the Salem Plateau of the Ozarks. The lake extends across four Missouri counties, from Benton County in the west through Camden and Morgan counties to Miller County in the east.
The reservoir is impounded at its northeastern end by Bagnell Dam, and the Osage River is both its primary inflow and outflow. Long and winding in shape, the lake consists of the main, 93-mile-long (150 km) Osage River channel as well as several arms, each fed by a different tributary. The southwestern arm is fed by the Niangua and Little Niangua rivers, the southeastern arm by Grandglaize Creek, and the northern arm by several streams including Gravois, Indian, and Little Gravois creeks. Many smaller tributaries also drain into the lake, creating numerous small coves and indentations in its shore. As a result, the lake has approximately 1,150 miles (1,850 km) of shoreline.
U.S. Route 54 runs east-west across the reservoir’s southwestern arm and then generally northeast-southwest along its eastern shoreline, crossing the southeastern arm at Osage Beach. Missouri Route 5 runs generally north-south along the lake’s western shoreline, crossing the main channel at Hurricane Deck. Missouri Route 7 runs generally northwest-southeast to the lake’s southwest, crossing the southwestern arm. Missouri Route 134 runs southeast from U.S. 54 north of Osage Beach to its southern terminus in Lake of the Ozarks State Park. In addition, a network of supplemental state routes provides access to various points along the lake shore.
Numerous settlements are located near or on the Lake of the Ozarks. With a population of 4,570, the largest city is Osage Beach which sits where the lake’s southeastern arm joins the main channel. The second largest is the city of Camdenton, located a few miles east of the southwestern arm. Lake Ozark lies immediately north of Osage Beach and just south of Bagnell Dam. Other, smaller communities along or near the lake include (from east to west): Kaiser, Lakeside, Linn Creek, Village of Four Seasons, Rocky Mount, Sunrise Beach, Hurricane Deck, Gravois Mills, Laurie, and Lakeview Heights.
During the process of land acquisition for the lake during the 1920s, 17,500 acres of land were set aside for a national park along the Grand Glaize Arm of the lake. In 1946, this land was acquired by the State of Missouri for Lake of the Ozarks State Park, the largest State Park in Missouri. Lake of the Ozarks State Park is home to Party Cove, a gathering spot that a New York Times writer called the “oldest established permanent floating bacchanal in the country.” The Missouri State Water Patrol has estimated that the cove attracts up to 3,000 boats during the Fourth of July weekend.
Another state park on the shores of the lake is Ha Ha Tonka State Park on the Niangua Arm of the lake