A lazy Sunday afternoon in late August seemed like a perfect time to take the iconic Branson kayaking trip… floating the roughly 10 mile stretch of Lake Taneycomo from Table Rock Dam to the Branson Landing.
Lake Taneycomo is one of the Midwest’s largest cold-water lakes… and it’s definitely cold water, even in the middle of summer! There was no water being released from the Table Rock Dam the day we floated, yet the water was still a chilly 50 degrees! Certainly too cold for a swim, but perfect to dip your hand or legs in for a moment to cool off from the August heat.
We rented kayaks from Kayak Branson, an outfitter on Hwy. 165 across from Table Rock Lake State Park. Kayak Branson offers a number of kayak and canoe options starting at $25 and also offers shuttle services to and from popular boat ramps on Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake. Our two kayaks (including life vests and paddles) and shuttle fee totaled about $100 for the afternoon.
We were shuttled to the public boat access at the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, right below Table Rock Dam.
After putting in, our first kayaking test was to navigate the fly lines and numerous anglers wading in the shallow headwaters. Below the trout hatchery, that part of the lake is known as the “trophy area” and is one of the most popular sites in Southwest Missouri for trout fishing.
Of course, we weren’t looking to catch a trophy Brown Trout … though we saw plenty of the prized fish darting through the water or jumping above the surface to catch an insect. Our goal was a leisurely float down this beautiful, unique lake.
During our trip, the Table Rock power plant wasn’t generating, so the lake had virtually no current. Our guide told us that when the dam is generating power, the current is swift enough to make the 10-mile trip in about two hours. But with no current, that meant the trip was going to take four hours, and that forward motion would be via paddle power. But it wasn’t difficult; with minimal effort, our boats glided downstream at a gentle pace of 2-3 miles per hour.
Floating Taneycomo in a kayak is a very unique Branson experience. It’s not far removed from the hustle and bustle of Branson, but it’s so quiet and peaceful that we found ourselves almost whispering at times. In this solitude, the only sounds you hear were the paddles moving through the water, an occasional quack of a duck or honk from Blue Heron… and several waterfalls streaming down the bluffs adjacent to the lake.
And Lake Taneycomo is completely different than it’s sister, Table Rock Lake, which is bustling with boats, jet skis, parasailers and swimmers. We saw fewer than half a dozen boats along our entire float, and most were jon boats moving at a snail’s pace. Everyone waves, but also speaks in hushed voices… after all, you don’t want to startle the fish!
Along our trip, we were delighted to see a variety of the lake’s wildlife: many herons and ducks, an otter and even a bald eagle. We also took note of the various Branson-area landmarks along our course, including Pointe Royale, College of the Ozarks, Lilley’s Landing and the U.S. 65 bridges.
About four hours after we began, we caught sight of Downtown Branson and Branson Landing, and we took out at the public boat access near Scotty’s Trout Dock. Only after we were back on land did we realize how much of an upper-body workout we had gotten paddling down the lake.
Our shuttle met us at the ramp, and took us on a 15-minute ride back to our cars.
Things to bring with you: Sunscreen, a watertight bag, a small camera, cell phone, snacks, water or sport drinks, towel, sunglasses and a hat. And of course if you fish from your kayak, the appropriate gear and lures. Wear a swimsuit and plan to get at least a little wet.