Where: Mark Twain Lake – Corps of Engineers Site (http://www.mvs.usace.army.mil/MarkTwain/)
Mark Twain State Park (http://www.mostateparks.com/twainpark.htm)
County: Ralls and Monroe
Closest Town: Paris, Perry
When: June 21 to 25, 2008
What: Useful information (hopefully) from our recent trip to Mark Twain State Park and Lake.
People normally don’t think of Northern Missouri when the term Lake Country is used. But Mark Twain State Lake is certainly of the caliber to compete with Truman, Lake of the Ozarks, Pom De Terre, and Table Rock. Nestled in the Northeast part of the state, this many fingered lake is one of Missouri’s secret gems. This article covers the lake, State Park, Mark Twain historical site, fishing, camping, and a few miscellaneous items.
Mark Twain Lake
I tend to be an explorer on our vacations, but to explore this lake a person would need a couple of weeks. Mark Twain has many access points via the recreation areas and the State Park. There are several arms and many little coves. In addition to the lake itself there are also other attractions, such as the Mark Twain Museum – discussed below. I was amazed at how few people were using the campgrounds and actually on the lake. I never saw more than one or two boats at a time; of course we were there mostly during the week. The weekends are probably another matter.
There is still plenty of standing timber in the water. Boats venturing out of the deep water need to be careful. However, for our kayak this was not a problem.
The state park has numerous campsites – basic, electric, and some wonderful camper cabins. We stayed in a camper cabin. They have electricity, a microwave, a queen bed, a futon, a table, and a loft that can sleep two children. “Children” is the operative word for the loft. My 6’3” son would have been a little uncomfortable up there, although he could have done it in a pinch. The cabins do NOT have water, thus the name “camper cabin.”
A camper cabin hint – the units at the west end of the campground have better views of and access to the lake. We stayed in cabin “A” which had a trail to the lake, but the lake was full of logs and weeds; pretty hard to fish there. However, we were close to the shower house and restrooms – which are very modern. The shower house has individual showers with private doors.
The park also has it’s own boat ramp and a great fish cleaning station.
There are several trails in the park. We only walked a few yards them. But they looked well maintained and mowed.. The terrain will give you a workout. There are several miles of listed trails, and some on others on Corps of Engineers ground.
Mark Twain Birthplace Museum
The Mark Twain Birthplace Museum is a neat place to spend a few hours. The original house is in an attractive enclosed shrine. It’s furnished with period piece artifacts and has a few items which belonged to the Clemmons family. It also has items from Twain’s Connecticut years including: furniture (very nice), a buggy, and beautiful portrait of his daughter, Clara. There are also some riverboat historical items, and samples of Twain’s writing, of course. A highlight of the museum is a hand written draft of “Tom Sawyer”. High compliments go to the museum attendants who were very helpful and informative.
There are giant fish in this lake. Not that we caught any, but we saw evidence via pictures in the bait shop; I never catch fish worthy of bait shop pictures. We did catch a few catfish and bluegills – enough for a small meal. If you’re going to fish from the bank, look for the “recreation areas” marked on lake maps. They typically have several places mowed, or with rock banks which provide good access. We had a small kayak which makes for fun drift fishing, or casting to the shore. We could also tie up to trees standing in the water and fish.
There are also several fishing ponds in addition to the actual lake. Tom Sawyer pond is in the State Park and has very clear water. We stopped, but didn’t have time to fish it. We did fish the pond at the Frank Russell recreation area. It’s managed so that kids can have fun catching bluegills. But my wife and I also had fun catching them.
We saw red-headed woodpeckers, blue herons, bluebirds, goldfinches and red-tailed hawks. A highlight was seeing a red-tailed hawk with a snake dangling from his talons while I was in my kayak. A camera would have been great to have at that moment. But due to a previous incident with cameras and kayaks, I was on probation from carrying one while paddling. The hawk landed on a high branch and another hawk swooped in shortly. They had a brief spat over the snake. The original hawk won and the other flew off.
There are literally hundreds of camping spots at many places around the lake. In addition to the State Park, the Corps has numerous sites. We drove through one and actually thought it was nicer than the State Park’s sites (although they were very adequate also.)
The night view at the State Park was spectacular. With no light there was a great view of the sky. The particular night I noticed this was also moonless, thus highlighting the star scenery. It’s a view not seen much in Kansas City.
We shopped in Perry at the IGA store. It was stocked with what we needed. We also had occasion to use the medical clinic in Perry. They worked one of our daughter’s in to treat an ear infection. Fortunately they had antibiotics on hand, otherwise we would have been driving a few extra miles to a pharmacy.
The small beach at the State Park was in good condition, although the water was pretty murky from all the recent rain. Not near as bad as Lake of the Ozarks however. There was also another beach at a recreation area north of the dam, but we didn’t have time to visit it. I understand it is used more than the State Park beach.
There are several other small towns around with stores. Paris is one we drove through, but didn’t shop at. It appears to have stores providing items necessary for a lake visit.
The only thing that would make this lake better is if it was a few hours closer to our home.